Next Gen Trustee with Big Shoes to Fill
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
February 22, 2016
by Vivian Henoch
Ask Amanda Fisher what makes her run. She’ll tell you it’s the shoes. Sounds funny, but she’s serious. “Really, one of my biggest motivations for the choices I make are the shoes I have yet to fill,” she says.
But what she’s really talking about is the legacy of the Fisher family: a family of towering figures here in Detroit, leaders and philanthropists on a national scale and builders of Israel.
Giant shoes aside, standing in her own two shoes — a radiant blonde in four-inch heels —Amanda is a living, breathing celebration of her grandfather, Max, of blessed memory, and her grandmother, Marjorie, Co-Founder of the Fisher Foundation and still active in her role as the family matriarch. Through Amanda’s eyes, Max Fisher is forever Pops. “My grandfather had 15 grandkids and we all called him Pops,” she shares. “And my grandmother is ‘Dearie’ to us. That’s the way it’s always been, my Pops and my Dearie.”
By following the lead of her father, Phillip Wm. Fisher, and championing the work of her aunts and uncles, four siblings and many cousins – all considered stewards of the Fisher family heritage – Amanda, indeed, has made her family proud.
Accomplished in her own right, a founder of her own full-service PR company while still in college, a networker and fundraiser of formidable talent, Amanda has carved a career path that has fueled her passion for Detroit and brought philanthropy to the forefront of her daily life. Serving clients of the likes of Compass Sports Management, Amanda helped establish the All-Star Hoops Festival and Gala, which raised more than $100,000 in its inaugural year to support Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation, the Detroit Police Athletic League and Gleaners Community Food Bank.
Last year, Amanda again stretched her entrepreneurial wings to join Renee Acho’s Top Producing Real Estate team at Hall and Hunter Realtors. Even now in her dual role as a top-selling realtor in Birmingham and the newest Trustee of the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, Amanda remains actively involved in many for-impact organizations including JARC, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, Starfish Family Services and the Brightmoor Alliance.
Ask Amanda for the words that best describe her and she comes up unequivocally with one: Grateful! “I’m so beyond grateful. Grateful is the word that really describes how I feel about my family, all the experiences we’ve had together, and all the opportunities they’ve given me.”
Amanda on family, footsteps and “big shoes”
myJewishDetroit: What are your first or fondest memories of your grandparents, Max and Marjorie Fisher?
Talking about big shoes, I think back to the times when I was a little girl and looked up at my grandfather as this giant of a man. I would hear people always say, “He’s a giant among men.” As a young child, I didn’t understand exactly what that meant. To me, he was a giant, literally. He was huge in physical stature; a tall man, 6-foot-4, he played football for Ohio State; his presence was always so large in any room where he was sitting, whether he was giving a speech or at home talking on the phone to a president or dignitary. Seated in his favorite chair, he was a huge and commanding presence. In my mind, he always was this giant.
And my grandmother, my Dearie, was and still is the epitome of elegance. She always had the looks of a movie star – a vision in red, wearing her signature color. We just celebrated her 92nd birthday in Florida, and to this day, Dearie is as glamorous as ever, quick and witty, doing phenomenally well.
What are the greatest lessons your parents have taught you?
“It’s family first.” That’s something my dad likes to say, but as both of my parents have taught us, a family is so much more than genetics in your family tree. As you go through life, your tree grows and branches out and blossoms in many different and unexpected ways. Everyone we’ve touched through our Foundation – our grant partners, our staff, our friends, my team at work – all are a part of my family now. We have a big, beautiful family tree today and it’s amazing to see how it continues to grow.
Secondly – the thing that I keep telling myself, and what my parents also have instilled in me, is the importance of forging my own path and walking with confidence in my own shoes. In that regard, my parents always have been my biggest support system; encouraging my decisions, hopes and dreams.
And another important lesson: never underestimate the value of an education. Besides your family, an education is one of the best gifts in life.
Amanda on entrepreneurialism and forging her own path through college
myJewishDetroit: What drew you to advertising?
I’ve always been creative — loved fine arts, drawing and painting in high school at Country Day. So I asked myself in what field could I draw, paint, write and be creative within the world of business. The answer, of course, was advertising.
When I got accepted into Michigan, I was so excited, I cried for about a week. But I was petrified to tell my grandfather, a passionate alum and ardent supporter of Ohio State. I’ll never forget: he was sitting in his favorite chair; I walked in and said, “Pops, I have something to tell you. I got accepted to U. of M. and I’m going to go.” And he looked at me, and he was very pensive in his usual way, and he said very slowly with a smile, “I am so proud of you, but forgive me if I don’t wear your colors.”
So, I went off to Michigan to study marketing and advertising – where I actually designed my own major because there’s no advertising program in the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science and the Arts. I wrote my own syllabus and lesson plans, took all these courses in fine arts and in the business school, mixed and matched all theses different majors . . . and, as I look back over the four years, I think I did three times as much work as I needed to graduate. But it was the best of all worlds for me.
What got you started with your own production company, AFP?
I fell into it in my junior year when a client asked me to organize an event and do some public relations for them. The project turned into Amanda Fisher Productions (AFP), a full service company where I could choose my clients and the kind of community work that would make an impact.
Amanda on the Fisher Foundation
myJewishDetroit: With the mission “to enrich humanity by strengthening and empowering children and families in need,” the Fisher Foundation shares many of the priorities of the Detroit Federation, specifically by “providing for the needs and ensuring the future of the Jewish people,” and respecting the [Fisher family legacy of tzedakah] and commitment to the Detroit community.”
Those are tall orders for your family. Amanda, what is your role?
My role is shared by the entire family; we’re the ‘glue’ that binds our Foundation.
To answer your question more specifically, here’s what my grandfather had to say regarding our roles: “I believe that the family, acting together, creates more impact than any one individual. I would like you to make judgments jointly as a family, with no individual’s interests benefiting more than another’s, or the family’s . . . This requirement of having to come together will create additional glue that binds you.”
To date, we have placed in motion over $100 million in grants on three continents in the areas of education, arts and culture and health with a particular attention to HIV/AIDS.
There are two levels of governance of the Foundation – the Board of Trustees and the Next Gen Board. All of our family members are invited to get involved at any age and participate in the work of our Next Gen. I was active with Next Gen, chairing activities work groups for many years, before I moved my way up to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees.
Next Gen elects the incoming members of the Board. We all have the opportunity to serve, but we are required to apply. I was chosen for a two-year term, along with two other cousins, Caroline and David. Getting elected to the Board was one of the proudest moments for me. You feel like you’ve been sitting at the kids’ table your whole life, and suddenly, you’re welcome to the adult table; it’s a thrilling a rite of passage.
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve had so far in your service on the Foundation Board?
One of our challenges is harnessing our passions so that we work towards the same goal. And for me, personally, being a Trustee feels like big responsibility. There are so many causes, it’s so hard to choose, hard to say no.
But as my Dearie often says, “Giving starts with your heart, then you have to use your head.” At the Foundation we’ve added to the adage . . . “and then you use your hands.” It’s important for us to really dig in deep, and always to remember that we’re working with the people, not doing for them.
What are some of your favorite causes?
Brightmoor first comes to mind . . . because my grandmother is so involved in that community. Our work is really a partnership. You can choose your favorite causes. But the community has to choose you, too. The Brightmoor Alliance has been a great partner in creating the change and growth we’ve seen in the neighborhood.
Motor City Blight Busters is another favorite partnership. Over the past two years, more than 200 structures and lots have been cleared with a commitment of $500,000 from the Foundation and a gift of $100,000 from Ajax Paving.
I also have a special interest in early childhood education and children’s causes. I have especially enjoyed our partnership with Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation and Leader for Kids, and of course, Starfish Family Services.
Besides your family, are other mentors working with you now?
I would say Doug Bitonti Stewart, the Director of the Foundation, embodies all of the qualities my grandfather worked to instill in us. My dad considers Doug the brother he never had. Doug is our sounding board and compass . . . where everyone is so accomplished and strong, he has this uncanny ability to helps us reach consensus.
Another mentor is my boss, Renee Acho, who has inspired me along my path in business. I met her through a client at AFP doing a fundraiser for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Renee reminds me of my grandfather: when she walks into a room, everyone stops – she has such a strong presence. I immediately had a connection with her and admired her as such a powerful woman in a very tough industry. Renee has taught me such an important lesson. She says, “Think of experiences in your life or people you meet like collecting keys on a key ring. Some you will put in your pocket or put them away for a future use. As you go through life, when one door shuts, you will use these keys to open another.” The day I met her, she gave she gave me a”key.” I had no idea at the time that I would have any interest in real estate or that I’d use my public relations skills to start working for her a year later. She has completely changed my life.
Amanda on the Detroit Jewish Federation
How does it feel to walk into the Max M. Fisher Federation Building and in what ways do you feel especially connected to the work of Federation?
Federation, of course, was one of my grandfather’s long-term partners, so the Fisher Foundation continues to support Federation’s mission to provide for the needs and secure the future of our Jewish community.
The Max M. Fisher Federation Building, itself is one of rare places where I can walk in and I feel that’s where my grandfather lived and his work is carried on. It can be daunting at times to be there and feel the weight of so much of our history; but it makes me proud.
Israel is another place where my Pops’ legacy lives on. There’s a square outside the Jerusalem International Convention Center that was dedicated in his name in 2006.
In your view, how has Federation changed in its influence on your generation?
I think the difference is that NEXTGen is no longer a ‘division’ of Federation’s activity – it’s a driver. And for that reason, Federation seems more approachable, a place not just for leaders in our community, but also for everyone. It could be the influence of social media, but I believe that Federation’s NEXTGen is growing in numbers because we’re more connected as a community, pulling together to re-energize our city and looking for more ways to give back.
Amanda on Detroit and next big things
One of the greatest joys of working with the Fisher Foundation is having a finger on the pulse of so many things going on with our grant partners downtown. For instance, there’s ArtPlace focusing on the importance of art and culture to a healthy economy and how it strengthens our community. Another one of my Dad’s favorite projects is the Empowerment Plan, a model of social impact investing which aligns with my dad’s newest ventures with his company, Mission Throttle.
What’s next for you?
In business: my plans are to keep growing with Team Acho, currently Number One at Hall and Hunter in Birmingham. We have big things in the works, so stay tuned. In community service: I look forward to continuing my term of service on the Fisher Board, with hopes of championing some of my own projects in the near future. And the next biggest step ever? Getting married this year to Ben Hubert!
Restaurants: Phoenicia in Birmingham, for sure. Luxe Bar and Grille, Selden Standard in Midtown and Buddy’s pizza.
Place(s) to meet for coffee: The Roasting Plant – but I don’t drink coffee. Caffeine is my arch nemesis; I already have too much energy.
Building in the Detroit skyline: The Fisher Building (my Uncle Peter Cummings just purchased the building back.) The RenCen because my Pops and Al Taubman championed that project together, and it stands today as Detroit’s iconic landmark.
Place to take kids/ visitors: Cranbrook is big on my list. Henry Ford. Greenfield Village, especially for the fireworks and the DSO concert on July Fourth.
Vacation spots in Michigan: Bay Harbor, Charlevoix.
Places in Israel: The Max M. Fisher Square in Jerusalem. The Gonkie, a little dive bar in Tel Aviv. It’s a local thing, where singers come in and everyone dances on the tables.
Sports: Tennis. Just picked up golf a couple of years ago. And Fantasy Football. I play in an all-women’s league and was the champion this year.
Jewish holiday: Chanukah, because my Aunt Gail makes the best latkes – really thin and crispy!
Jewish expression: Oy-vey. (But my Pops used to say something like this in Yiddish: “The smartest man is dumber than the dumbest women in affairs of the heart.”)
Guilty pleasures: Yoz’ Frozen Yogurt. Oreos. And the TV show, Top Chef.
Websites you frequent: Facebook and Realcomp. I’m addicted to staying connected in social media as are many in our generation!
Never leave home without: My phone, my business cards. And optimism. (As my grandfather used to say, “If you don’t have optimism, it will never happen.” So I never leave home without optimism.