TT with HD: Debra Power
HD: Shall we teeter?
DP: Let's go! [laugh]
HD: Alright. Is this going to work for you?
DP: I'm good.
HD: Okay. Well, welcome to the teeter totter and Barton Dam--which actually generates power.
DP: It does! How appropriate!
HD: I was going to say, that's actually a better reason, I think, for choosing this location than the actual reason, which was to try to find something that was emblematic of or iconic for Washtenaw. I don't think we did that badly--I'm not sure that there is anything. I asked around, and basically the Huron River for Washtenaw County, and the Arborland sign--the 'A' sign--for Washtenaw Avenue, were the most plausible.
HD: I think people do definitely associate the 'A' sign with Washtenaw Avenue, but not necessarily with Washtenaw County. And really, for me--I don't know about you--but if somebody said fill in the blank: Washtenaw _____, what would you say?
DP: Boy, because, see, for me ...
HD: ... I came up with 'Dairy'.
DP: Yeah, Washtenaw Dairy.
HD: Yeah, and that's the thing that comes easiest to mind for me.
DP: I remember when I used to do economic development in my past life, we would say, Oh, we are from Washtenaw County! No one knew what that meant. So you end up saying you're from Ann Arbor, because Ann Arbor resonated with everybody.
HD: Right. Basically, that's the strategy of Ann Arbor Spark, right?
DP: It is.
HD: They started off as Ann Arbor Spark, with clearly an Ann Arbor focus, but now even though they have essentially become what used to be the Washtenaw Development Council, they have retained the name Ann Arbor Spark. It's not Washtenaw Spark.
DP: Right. And when I was at the WDC it was something that we struggled with somewhat.
HD: So it's a Chippewa word, apparently.
DP: It is.
HD: Or it comes from a Chippewa word, at least, that means 'grand river'. So there is a good linguistic connection at least to the river, so I'm happy that we are here by the river.
DP: Rivers, nature--those are some of the things that I love about living in Washtenaw County--the fact we have access to so many parks and nature, recreation all of those things combined.
HD: So even though you said when you were with the Washtenaw Development Council--something I didn't know before you just said that--that you struggled with this name Washtenaw, yet you have embraced the name Washtenaw Exchange--no, the Women's Exchange of Washtenaw--what is the name of this?
DP: The Women's Exchange of Washtenaw. Exactly.
HD: Okay, I got it right. So you decided to embrace the name Washtenaw, even though you knew that it was fraught with challenge.
DP: We had lots of conversations about this, with our steering committee and lots of other people. And we decided we wanted to be inclusive. We felt that using the name Washtenaw would include everyone in the county ...
HD: ... so a clear sign that you don't mean to exclude Dexter and Chelsea and Saline and Ypsilanti ...
DP: ... right. But what's ironic now is that we're getting registrations for our first event from outside of the county.
DP: Many of them, yes. So people see the list of panelists who are from outside the area and they get excited about it.
HD: So, let's see, Eileen Spring, she is definitely within the area--Food Gatherers. And then there is Melissa Crumm?
DP: Michelle Crumm.
HD: Michelle, okay, sorry. That is also right here in Washtenaw County, right?
DP: It is, she is right in Avis Farms down the road from me, as a matter of fact. So she is Washtenaw-County-based.
HD: But the other two are Detroit-based, right?
DP: Precisely. Marcie Brogan has a phenomenally successful advertising agency that's in Detroit. And then Carol Goss runs the Skillman Foundation, which is a granting foundation organization, also in the city of Detroit.
HD: Right. And the moderator for the event is Gretchen, uh ...
DP: ... Gretchen Driskell, the Mayor of Saline. Let me tell you, the biggest reason that it's the Women's Exchange of Washtenaw was the fact that everyone loved the moniker WXW. So when we saw the logo WXW and we saw the graphical interpretation of that, it was so exciting and all of the women got very excited about the way it just seemed a very powerful. We said we should keep that.
HD: Let me ask you then about the other aspect, the other 'W', the women aspect. I mean, I have to confess that it makes me feel just a little bit left out.
DP: Oh, I am so sorry about that! [laugh]
HD: [laugh] I mean, I am half kidding, but I am actually half serious. You know, one wonders, is there really a need for an organization of just women? Right before we hopped on we were talking about the building of this teeter totter and I mentioned that essentially the skills that I used to build it, I learned in 7th grade shop class--which now that I think about it, was an all-boys enterprise, the girls they were taking home ec[onomics]. They were learning how to make--I don't know--sit upons, and pot-holders, and basic recipes ...
DP: ... brownies!
HD: ... basic recipes for how to feed your husband, I guess.
DP: I guess, yeah.
HD: So in a way, to me, it kind of feels like a bit of a throwback.
DP: Mm, okay, that's a very interesting perspective. And we have heard some feedback like that. But our perspective is that women talk differently around other women than they do around men. And I think you'll find that men have many organizations for themselves--they may not be formally named or codified in that manner, but they do exist.
HD: Actually, I think there is an Ann Arbor Men's Club?
HD: Oh, you know about this? I have heard rumors to the effect.
DP: They are kind of under the ...
HD: ... yeah, it's not like they advertise in the Ann Arbor News that they are having their next meeting or anything.
DP: No. [laugh]
HD: So that feels definitely like a throwback to an earlier time really, the Ann Arbor Men's Club.
DP: The other important thing to consider is that women face unique issues in the business world. As businesswomen, many women are called upon to fill many roles. Those of us like myself and the founder of the organization, Carrie Hensel, from Inner Circle Media, we were concerned that we wanted to grow our businesses. And we have found in the more informal networks--going out to dinner with other women, sitting down and having conversations with them--they would share the war stories, they would share their successes, they would share problems that they had overcome.
HD: So the panel then, it's four women and they have a moderator. How is that conversation going to go? Is there a set of questions that the moderator is going to give them? Is it going to be kind of like a debate, except really friendly? Or is it going to be more freewheeling?
DP: We have already put together a series of questions that will lead into our breakout sessions. So the idea is built around these four breakout sessions and the breakout topics: managing growth, learning to lead, creating culture and relationship building, and visioning for your business.
HD: So each of the breakout sessions will have one of the panelists, is that the way it will work?
DP: Yes, we hope that each of our panelists will be able to stay for the entire event--and help us lead those panels and sit in on those. But when we have the panel discussion, they've gotten a series of questions built around those breakout sessions, so that our attendees will begin to start thinking about, Okay, this is what we're going to talk about, and Oh, she did this with her business, I want to talk about that more, I want to learn more about that. So I want to go to the breakout session on visioning, say.
HD: So it's not like--oh, shoot, I've forgotten her name again ...
DP: ... Gretchen?
HD: No, Melissa--or is it Michelle Crumm? Michelle, she is not going to necessarily talk about fuel cells?
DP: No, not necessarily.
HD: Because if she were going to talk about fuel cells specifically and talk about how they work and various assorted visions for a different kind of products, that would be something where I would probably lobby you really hard to please let me come even though I'm a guy?!
DP: Oh, right, right, because you want to hear about the fuel cells!
HD: I would like to hear about the fuel cells. Because that is something that I look at and I think Well, okay that's something that could save the Michigan economy--I mean not fuel cells alone, but certainly alternative energy. And I guess they seem to have found like the magic potion for fuel cells.
DP: She seems to have. We need to keep her here in Michigan.
HD: Is she thinking about leaving??
DP: No, no. Not that I know of. But I'm a big advocate for keeping business here. I think what happens very often is that we start great companies in Washtenaw County. They spin out from the University--I'm a University grad and I have decided to start a business--and sometimes they leave, for whatever reason.
HD: Do you have like a specific example of that right at your fingertips?
DP: Not offhand, but there are countless examples.
HD: Like maybe FluMist? Do you remember FluMist?
DP: Yes, I remember them.
HD: I mean, they are no longer here, I don't think, but they came out of a University of Michigan technology.
DP: They get bought out by bigger companies who gobble them up, or they pursue VC investment elsewhere, so--I'm just a big advocate for keeping people here as much as we can. That being said, maybe our destiny is to really be a place that creates companies. We are sort of like this massive incubator here in Washington County, who knows?
HD: So the thing [WXW kickoff] starts around 1:00 in the afternoon and goes until 6:00 or so?
DP: It does.
HD: So it starts like right after lunch and then goes right up until before dinner? So you're not serving food, is that the deal?
DP: We are going to do the hors d'oeuvre-y thing. So there will be plenty of that. And then the cocktail hour, actually starts at 4:30, so we wanted to leave a lot of time at the end for that. Because we're not doing a lot of networking in the beginning, and a breakout sessions are going to be pretty intense.
HD: [laugh] So there's going to be plenty of time for drinking is what you're saying?
DP: Oh, yeah. That's pretty important to people. Conversations over beverages!
HD: Now, what you said at the very beginning about conversation was that women talk with women differently than they talk with men. Now, I don't find that hard to believe that all. But you know as a man that's hard to observe, because if I'm a part of the conversation, well, then by definition it's not women talking to women. But you, as a woman, you know what it's like for a women to talk to a man, and you also know what it's like for one women to talk to just women, so can you sort of describe what kind of thing you're talking about? Surely, it's not at the level of grammatical structures?
DP: No, no.
HD: So is it like maybe whether people speak in terms of sports analogies, allusions to football and whatnot?
DP: I know plenty of women, and there are there is one on our steering committee who is a sports nut. So that's not necessarily it. I think some of it is a little bit about directness, I think sometimes men might be a little more direct. I think women are a little bit more willing to talk to other women about their vulnerabilities. So, for example, maybe in my business I'm struggling with how to fire somebody. So how do I do that? And I could call up this person who is in my Exchange network and say, How did you do that? And you can be really frank about it and feel very trusted. But let me say this I think that the gap, if there is one between men and women, is closing.
HD: You mean in the way that they talk and the strategies they use interactionally?
DP: And the way they cooperate together. Because I'm finding that in my own personal business relationships--I have many with women, I have many with men--but the ones with men, especially the ones who are my age and younger, we have a lot of respect for each other. And that's key, I think, to respect each other for our strengths.
HD: So back to the issue of how to fire somebody. Have you ever actually personally had to fire someone?
DP: I have not! Knock-on-wood [literally knocks on the wood of the totter], never had to do that. But that's just an example.
HD: But maybe it's easier, then, to give advice about how to fire somebody.
DP: It might be, it might be.
HD: So have you ever heard an interesting how-someone-got-fired-story through the Women's Exchange?
DP: That wasn't a great example, because I haven't! Although I learned a lesson at our steering committee meeting, because we have a lawyer on our steering committee, and she said, Well, we have a whole process for that. They have a document that lays out 10 steps of what you should do. And right there I picked up a piece of knowledge, that I had no idea a lawyer could provide. I mean, I would go to a lawyer to get advice, obviously, about that kind of thing, but they have a whole process for it, and I felt very comfortable.
HD: So, step one is tell the person, I am going to fire you? And number two is, I don't know, okay. [laugh] So how often do you suppose in the real world the phrase, actually gets uttered for real, You're fired!
DP: Boy, I don't think that happens anymore. I think it's, Here's your box! Your services are no longer ...
HD: ... required.
DP: What is it they said on The Office on the BBC special? Redundant. You have become redundant. I thought that was pretty fascinating when I saw that.
HD: So do you watch the American version of The Office?
DP: I do! I think it has somewhat eclipsed the British version in terms of comedy.
HD: Well, they have taken a different direction slightly, I think. The first season, where they were literally re-creating the same episodes--that was my understanding anyway--the characters didn't really seem American really. They didn't really seem to have a lot of depth, but now that there's a couple of seasons worth of material there, and baggage that they all have, there is way more texture than the British series ever had. Just because the British series didn't go on for that long.
DP: Right, right. Which is a strength, I think, of British comedy series especially.
HD: Yeah, they generally don't do them to death.
DP: Right, right. If you look at the end of Monty Python those last few episodes, oooh, they were kind of dismal, but. But there are plenty of examples of short-lived, or short season based British comedy, that's very, very funny.
HD: So what else are you watching besides The Office?
DP: Well, you know, I don't watch television very much.
HD: Well you are missing a lot. [laugh]
DP: I'm sure I am!
HD: You are missing Survivor, for example! Where there is, actually--it's evolving to be girls-against-the-guys this season. I'm trying to think, I think there's only two guys left, and there's maybe six or seven women. So their conscious strategy is, Yeah, we're just going to pick the men off, one by one. But if they were real students of Survivor they would know that historically that has never worked in the game. I mean that has been tried in the past and basically, you know, you have to be loyal to your group up until the very last moment, but there is some point where you have to not be loyal anymore, and typically that comes sooner than anyone expects for at least one member.
DP: Ah, okay! No, after Arrested Development was canceled that was sort of the nail in the coffin for television for me, I just ...
HD: ... oh, were you one of the people who e-mailed in protest and ...
DP: ... I signed every petition I could, that was one of my favorite shows. The only thing I found that has come a little bit close is a show called It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Danny Devito is the big star of it, but he really wasn't in the first season. He didn't come in until later to help.
HD: Is this regular network television or is this some cable deal?
DP: This, I think, is on FX.
HD: Okay, so I don't get that.
DP: It's kind of irreverent, a little bit of the style of Arrested Development.
HD: So for Arrested Development, was part of the appeal for you that one actor who played the--I don't know--the head of the family, the guy who was trying to keep it together?
DP: Oh, I am blanking on his name... but we know who we're talking about, right?
HD: Yeah, the guy who he played the prospective adoptive father in Juno, that same guy.
DP: Right. Oh, Michael Cerra, you're thinking of Michael Cerra.
DP: Well, oh, oh ...
HD: ... that's the kid who was the father.
DP: So, you are thinking of ...
HD: ... I think his name is Michael as well.
DP: Michael Cerra's name was George Michael and his father's name was Michael.
HD: Okay, but the actor's name is?
DP: The actor's name is ...
HD: ... well, I don't know, but I will look it up and fill it in.
DP: We'll get it, we'll get it. His sister was on Family Ties, she played Mallory.
HD: Right, well, I was going to say that, but I was thinking, is that useful information? No that's not useful information because I don't know what her name is, either. That's not helping us along. [laugh]
DP: When we look it up on IMDB, we can remember, ah I can't think of his name, but I can see his face, anyway, no. [Ed. note: DP thought of the name on her own as she was walking back to her car and emailed it to HD, refuting any concerns readers might have that she was not a true fan of Arrested Development.]
HD: So IMDB is where you would look first? You wouldn't just go to Google?
DP: No, I would IMDB it. That's my favorite place to look up movie trivia and information about actors and things.
HD: That's interesting. I mean, to me, my first step is some general internet search engine. I don't even think about what specific database.
DP: I use Google a lot, but anything film-related or television-related I just head right there. It's just my favorite little database.
HD: Well, the only reason I even brought him up was that I wanted to ask you if you had seen him in this trailer, and I don't remember the name of the movie, but Will Smith is in it, he plays a superhero ...
DP: ... yeah, yeah, yeah. Yep, I saw that.
HD: Does that look appealing or attractive to you at all as a movie you'd like to see?
DP: It looks interesting. It looks like it's a little bit irreverent, so that's kind of exciting to me. But for Arrested Development it was the ensemble, I think it was the perfect ensemble cast. And the way that they interacted with each other was perfect, they were like an old family.
HD: It had sort of a the same feeling that that old show Soap had. That was a very ensemble-y kind of deal.
DP: And people did compare it to that, too.
HD: Did they really? I thought I was first to have that insight. Dang.
DP: [laugh] That's okay.
HD: So is there anything else you wanted to make sure we covered while we are here at out on the teeter totter by Barton Dam?
DP: Well, we are excited about the number of attendees we're going to have at this conference. Our registration is going very well. But we are also planning on thinking about the future at the event. So in other words we don't want to just host an event every year just to host an event.
HD: So it's an organization and this event is the kickoff of the organization, so the question is then, What's the organization going to do?
DP: Right, What should we do next? And that will be built into the process of the event as well. So by participating in the event, the attendees will create the direction of the organization. So maybe after we are all done with the event, I say, We need to talk more about visioning. And I'm going to think about the people who are in the room with me and I'm going to go on a Google group with them, and we're going to get together every quarter and talk just about visioning.
HD: And this event is going to be out there on State Street, between the interstate and Eisenhower?
DP: It is. It's right near Briarwood Mall, Kensington Court, so plenty of free parking, a great event lots of goodies for people.
HD: If somebody said, Hey, you can't have it out by the mall, you've got to have it in downtown Ann Arbor somewhere, what would be your strategy for pulling off the same kind of event within the DDA district?
DP: Well, we tried to do that, actually. We had set up a series of dates we wanted to host the event. Talk about local economy, every place that we were looking for was booked.
HD: Huh. So like what for example?
DP: For example, Campus Inn. Because we said, okay it has to happen on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. [Ed. note: a woman walks up the path with two dogs on leashes.]
HD: Hi, how are you?
DP: Oh, hello, hi!
Dog Lady: They have never seen a teeter totter before!
HD: Well, I am glad that you called it a teeter totter and not a see-saw. Bless your heart! [laugh]
Dog Lady: [laugh]
DP: They want to do it!
Dog Lady: Okay, let's go!
HD: Those are really handsome dogs. Those are boxers, right?
Dog Lady: They're boxers, right.
DP: And they're energetic! How old are they?
Dog Lady: She's two and he'll be three shortly.
DP: Oh, I thought maybe they were littermates, they seem to get along so well.
Dog Lady: No, just a boy and a girl. Together from when they were fairly young. Okay now, let's get those paws off!
HD: Do you have dogs at home?
DP: I have a cat. Her name is Spooky! She's a little devil. But I do love animals, very much so.
HD: So what were we talking about just before the Dog Lady walked up?
DP: Oh, downtown!
HD: Yeah, the current Campus Inn was booked.
DP: So we said it has to happen on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday those are the best dates to host an event, we had already set time aside, and we are fairly close to the post-graduation season for the University. And there are still some graduations occurring ...
HD: ... so like the individual schools like the Law School has their own separate deal, because I guess they are just too good to be a part of the regular graduation. [laugh]
DP: Even if it would be on the Diag! No, but we knew we were expecting at least 200-250 people, so with all of those things combined, we ran through the list of every university venue, and they were all booked--which is great. I am so happy for that. And next time we will do something downtown maybe, maybe another time we'll do something in Dexter, who knows.
HD: Because the reason I asked, was in the context of a conversation that is happening now about whether or not Ann Arbor needs a convention center of some kind. I think there are a lot of people who contend that some sort of additional conference meeting space would be nice. I think more hotel space that is not at the absolute top end of a luxury would be nice, too, although downtown real estate is the most expensive real estate, so.
DP: It is, it is.
HD: It's kind of a conundrum.
DP: It's kind of telling about the transformation of Ann Arbor, as well. I think we are transforming into something a little bit different from what we used to be. I have sat on the marketing committee for the Convention and Visitors Bureau for now it must be 12 or 13 years, and we've often talked about the lack of a convention center, and how every other major market that is similar to Ann Arbor has a convention center of that sort. So I know that there is probably some consensus building in both camps--the pro and con for that. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
HD: Well listen, thanks for coming out to Barton Dam to ride the teeter totter with me. This was a good ride.
DP: It was, thanks for asking me here, it's beautiful. I love being outside and getting the opportunity to sit out here.
HD: I think it's going to be a spectacular day. I mean, they forecast rain.
DP: I don't think it's going to happen. And the water fowl here seem to be enjoying the day, too.
HD: When you are driving here did you see the rowing team--they came right up to the bridge and then they turned around and went back the other direction. So they've got a good day for practice.
DP: They do!
HD: Did you come out Huron River Drive?
DP: No, I came through Maple. And past the new high school.
HD: And then down Bird Road?
HD: That's the way I came, too, because I wanted to avoid Huron River Drive--that section from North Main, because with the bike pulling the cart ...
DP: ... oh, right, that would be difficult for you.
HD: I was checking the construction schedule. They are supposed to start the reconstruction, I think, any day. But boy, until they get that fixed it's a stretch of road I just always try to avoid.
DP: Right and they're doing a lot of construction out down by Plum Market as well. That was down to one lane and the other direction is kind of tied up as well. But that's progress, right? [laugh]
HD: It is! The orange barrels are a sign that there is still enough money to fix roads. We have to take that as a good sign of spring when the orange barrels bloom.
DP: I just got my Prius, and I keep telling my car, I am sorry I am going over these rough bumps, I apologize!
HD: So is there still like a wait list for those things?
DP: Oh, I was very lucky I only waited a few weeks. It just happened to be the right configuration--it was 'coming in on the truck' as they say. But I can tell you that probably right today as we totter, I'm sure there is a wait list being built. Because as gas prices are increasing and high demand.
HD: Oh, right. Well listen, let's hop off this thing.