Detroit – A Living Example of the Power of Positive Business


Our mission to develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world continues to generate a lot of interest. Increasingly, I have had the opportunity to talk with journalists who are interested in our focus on positive business and ask if there are specific examples of this working in the real world.

The answer is yes, and we don’t have to look too far to find them. The historical transformation of the city of Detroit is rewriting how business can provide value for stakeholders and the community, and it’s an impressive living example of the power of positive business.   

I often cite Dan Gilbert’s investment in Detroit as a specific example. Through the revitalization of the city of the Detroit, he and several other key business leaders, such as Christopher Ilitch (a Ross alum!), are initiating many development projects that stand to be excellent investments and greatly beneficial to the community. It’s also an example of a point I often make, which is that in order to solve the world’s toughest challenges, business must be involved, in partnership with governments and civil society organizations.

What makes this even more relevant for Michigan Ross students is our school’s commitment to engaging with organizations and leaders within the city of Detroit. While we are a global business school with far-reaching connections from India to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Manhattan, our proximity to Detroit provides our students, many of whom are from different cities around the world, with high-quality learning experiences and community engagement opportunities in one of America’s greatest cities.  

A Legacy of Impact

Our annual Ross Leadership Initiative Impact Challenge is a great example of this type of action-based learning with a purpose. Each year for the past 20 years, we have engaged our incoming MBAs with community service projects in and around Detroit during their first days on campus.

Over the past few years we have elevated this commitment, last year hosting a back-to-school fair in Eastern Market and this year working with 1,600 of our students across five degree programs to create and launch an operating start-up venture to support youth entrepreneurship in Detroit. These experiences prepare our students to lead with a positive focus and amplify their classroom learning. It also showcases the powerful and inspiring spirit of the Detroit community and makes a lasting impression on our students, as you’ll see in this video.

Student Engagement

This type of student engagement goes even deeper through Ross’ student-led Revitalization and Business Club. This group’s focus is to connect University of Michigan students with Detroit’s evolving business landscape and promote Detroit’s assets to encourage students to discover, engage with, and commit to the revitalization of the Motor City. The group, which was launched in 2010 by Ross students, organizes consulting projects each year for a variety of Detroit organizations and hosts an annual conference which examines key business initiatives and career opportunities in Detroit.

Earlier this year, our students put their minds and passion to work to Drive Positive Change in Detroit, which was the theme of our annual Social Impact Challenge. This year, student teams worked to develop strategies to improve transportation access for Detroit neighborhoods, in partnership with Detroit Future City.

Detroit was also at the heart of our recent Social Innovation Summit, where students from across the university converged at Ross to hear from Detroit organizations focused on innovative solutions for issues such as homelessness, hunger, and education.  

Faculty Thinking Creatively

The Integrated Product Development Course works with organizations in DetroitRoss faculty are also working alongside companies and organizations to further students’ education and support the city’s revitalization.  

For example, Professor Bill Lovejoy connected students from the university’s Integrated Product Development course to develop a project to recycle materials and create jobs for homeless citizens. Out of this idea was born a new coaster product that helps people build skills, earn an income, and help the environment, captured best in this story and video from Michigan News . 

Even when not at Ross, our faculty are sharing knowledge in Detroit. Professor Michael Gordon, who will be taking over as faculty director of the Center for Social Impact in July, is spending his sabbatical interviewing and studying social entrepreneurs in Detroit.

We tell our students that when you come to Ross for an education, you can go anywhere in the world for your career.  That will always remain true. But wherever in the world their careers take them, they will also take with them respect and admiration for the city of Detroit, and gratitude for their learning experiences there.

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