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11th Annual Family Business Forum

Wednesday, October 4, 2017
7:30 am
- 11:30 am

Public Event


Amway Grand Plaza, Ambassador Ballroom
187 Monroe Ave NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503 United States
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Undefeated: The True Story of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry Service

Operating in the historically rich Straits of Mackinac waters of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, Shepler’s Mackinaw Island Ferry is a three-generation family-owned and family-operated business that has had to fight for survival for nearly 70 years. Fierce competition from other ferry lines, treacherous weather conditions, costly maintenance on passenger and freight vessels, changing governmental regulations, and depressed economic conditions in the State of Michigan are but a few of the challenges the Sheplers have faced over the years.

During this Family Business Alliance event, Shepler’s Ferry President Chris Shepler will engage in on-stage conversation with Saginaw native Dr. Don Steele. Co-author of the recently-published book Undefeated: The True Story of How the Family-Owned Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry Service Survived and Advanced through Three Generations, Don will talk with Chris about Shepler’s founding, its advancement through the years, the existential threat of potential monopolization of Mackinac Island ferry services, and the recent generational succession.

Keynote Speakers

Christopher B. Shepler, President, Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry Service

Boating and skiing, community service and contributions to his profession, entrepreneurism and family business – Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry Service third-generation President Chris Shepler comes by all of his passions naturally.

The son of Bill Shepler and grandson of Cap Shepler – founder of Shepler’s Ferry – succeeded his father in the leadership of the family business, and follows in Bill’s footsteps with many of his avocations as well as literally being “at the helm” of the family enterprise.  He is a licensed “Master of the Great Lakes” pilot through the United States Coast Guard.

Dr. Don Steele, Ph.D., Founder and CEO, Performance Learning, Inc

Don earned his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts Degrees from Central Michigan University and Doctor of Philosophy Degree from The Ohio State University.

Don is passionate about teaching, coaching, and writing. He started his career as a teacher and coach and within nine years served as the Superintendent of Schools in his home town of Saginaw, Michigan. Don then served as Superintendent of Schools for the Toledo Public Schools and for the Seattle Public School District. In 1985, Don founded Performance Learning, Inc. a business dedicated to educating, motivating and empowering athletes, entertainers, leaders, and teams across the spectrum of business, industry, and education. 

Panel: Attracting and Retaining Talent in Family Business

Moderator: Chuck Smeester, Partner, WilliamCharles

Chuck Smeester brought a 15-year career in Corporate HR and Operations leadership as co-founder of WilliamCharles. Familiar with C-Suite recruitment dynamics, he understands the challenges that senior managers and top-level executives face in acquiring and retaining talent. Chuck’s experience gives him the ability to coach business leaders through even the most complex hiring challenges across many different industries and functions.

Chuck’s community leadership experience includes board leadership roles with both the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre and the GRCT Endowment board. He is also a past Board Chair of the West Michigan Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) as well as Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes.

Sandy Buchanich, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Director of Talent Development & Engagement, BYRNE

Sandy currently serves as Director of Talent Development & Engagement for Byrne Electrical Specialists. Buchanich is responsible for facilitating organizational design initiatives to better align Byrne’s structure with business and customer needs. She has completely transformed the HR function by aligning HR to the Vision, Values, culture, and strategic direction of the organization. Sandy Buchanich has over 26 years of experience in the Human Resources field in a variety of industries and organizations. She has worked in large family owned businesses, such as Amway, smaller family owned businesses, such as Nucraft Furniture and Byrne, and also Fortune 500 companies, such as United Parcel Service, Kimberly-Clark, and Alcoa.

In addition to her Bachelor of Science Degree in Communications, she holds Master’s Degrees in both Labor Relations and Human Resources from Michigan State University and Organizational Communications from Western Michigan University. Sandy Buchanich is also currently serving as a Rockford Education Foundation Trustee.

Louis C. Rabaut, Partner, Warner Norcross and Judd

Lou Rabaut practices employment and labor law, representing both unionized and nonunionized employers. He frequently counsels employers on discipline and discharge decisions, employment policies, workplace safety, workplace violence and harassment issues. Former chair of the firm’s Labor and Employment Group, Lou is a frequent speaker and teacher who provides inhouse training sessions for client management teams.

Amy Saunders-Ferriell, Vice President of Human Resources, Praxis Packaging

Amy has held a variety of roles as Human Resources executive and strategist in the finance, healthcare, sales and nonprofit sectors around Leading People.  Most recently held the Executive Human Resources role at the KMW a family owned, privately held company. Currently, Amy is the Vice President of Human resources with JC Huizenga Group. Amy is appreciated for her professionalism, creativity, and entrepreneurial mindset.  Well respected and valued for developing people, Amy has the strong belief that commitment and focus on culture ensures teams achieve a greater impact. You will see that she is very high energy and has a natural ability to lead and inspire people.  Amy holds a Master’s Degree from Western Michigan University in Human Resources Management, she has her Senior Professional of Human Resources Certification and is a Certified Myers Briggs Administrator.


Event Sponsor

BDO is the brand name for BDO USA, LLP, a U.S. professional services firm providing assurance, tax, and advisory services to a wide range of publicly traded and family owned companies. For more than 100 years, BDO has assisted family owned clients in meeting their business and family goals through the active involvement of experienced and committed professionals. The firm serves clients through more than 60 offices and over 550 independent alliance firm locations nationwide. As an independent Member Firm of BDO International Limited, BDO serves multi-national clients through a global network of 67,700 people working out of 1,400 offices across 158 countries.

Table Sponsors:





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Registration $100