What Leaders Look Like

Q&As with five women from Michigan Central and Newlab.
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Michigan Central and Newlab boast amazing women with fascinating backgrounds at the forefront of this exciting venture. We asked five of them to tell us more about themselves, the work they do and what they think the future looks like. And finally, they offer words of advice for other women eager to make their own mark. To learn about three more women making their mark at Michigan Central and Newlab go to michigancentral.com and newlab.com.

Liz Keen, Chief Business Officer, Newlab

Photograph courtesy of Michigan Central

How would you describe what you do?

My job is to chart future growth of the business, which can come in a few different vectors. One is new geographies — where is the next Michigan Central? Our whole model at Newlab is centered around place-based innovation. We started in Brooklyn; we now have a flagship location in Detroit. We have activity across Latin America in Chile and Colombia, but our headquarters is in Montevideo, Uruguay; we have a public private partnership with the government there.

A lot of what I do is capital partnerships and scaling capital formation for the venture capital activities that we do. And then the other side of our value equation is more tied to short-term revenue — thinking about general strategic partnerships in capital formation for the business.

When it comes to our work in Detroit, Michigan Central is responsible for building a comprehensive innovation ecosystem, and a physical platform that will help drive economic development in Michigan. Newlab represents the curation and activation of one part of that total ecosystem. Our lane is 100 percent focused on venture scale startups in key sectors of mobility, energy and materials. We are focused on climate tech, deep tech, whatever buzzword you want to use….The labs that we operate inside of Newlab locations are purpose-built to support that type of startup.

What former work prepared you for this?

I was in Silicon Valley at a venture capital fund that then spun out an advisory business. Through that advisory business, I started working with Michigan Central. It was in 2019, right after Bill [Ford] bought the train station. We were engaged to help think through the innovation strategy for the district.

What excites you the most about your job?

I love this project. There is a fascinating moment in time, right now, where you have a fundamental platform shift in mobility. You are effectively re-industrializing an entire sector from internal combustion engines to the future of mobility, which is electrification and alternative fuels. That necessitates a new workforce, a new supply chain, new infrastructure. And in order for Detroit and Michigan to retain its primacy in terms of being the center of gravity for that sector, a lot has to change. And that’s all going to be driven by next-generation technology and talent… So that’s what excites me, is that the right conditions exist in Detroit to have an innovation ecosystem. There just hasn’t been a central coordinating entity until now.

What is the most challenging part of your position?

There’s a lot of legacy in Detroit. It’s a complex ecosystem with a lot of entrenched dynamics. There is always a perception when someone like Newlab comes into a new geography where there’ve been actors involved for a really long time. A lot of it has been clarifying what we do and what we don’t do. We’re here to add to the ecosystem and play a very specific role that we believe will ultimately add to the community and economy for everyone.

I would say the biggest challenges are finding the right positioning for Newlab and Michigan Central in the broader ecosystem and creating a level of coordination across all of the entities that are doing this type of work. And then figuring out the right mechanism to stimulate more risk capital in order for this venture scale startup ecosystem to take hold because absent capital, it won’t work in the long term.

Where do you see the innovation hub in five years?

There’s going to be a critical density of venture scale companies that are developing, deploying, and scaling technology through the supply chain in Michigan. Ideally there are a couple of companies that are breakout, global success stories.

Right now, it’s not the easiest sell to catch a venture scale company and say, “Move your company to Detroit.” However, in the future, if you are building an advanced technology mobility company, we hope to turn Detroit into the definitive place that you go. We should be creating high skill, high value jobs year over year in a measurable way. There should be real economic development indicators at the five-year mark that we can point to, to say, this is working.

What advice do you have for other women in the workplace?

Don’t try to beat men by being like them. You don’t need to come with masculine energy. Beat them with soft power, like emotional intelligence and collaboration. Use your instincts to connect the dots and create the right human dynamics for outcomes to occur. I feel like society has trained us to not lean into that superpower that women tend to have. It’s our ability to see nuance, to listen and actually hear what’s being said and then using that to engineer whatever we’re trying to do. That is, I think, where women can win.

Marcy Coburn, Head of Curation and Programming

Photograph courtesy of Michigan Central

How would you describe what you do?

I oversee Michigan Central’s physical, indoors and outdoors, and drive the conception, development, and management of activations, events, and programming in those spaces.

What former work prepared you for this?

I was a Placemaking Executive with Brookfield Properties and former CEO of the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market in San Francisco. I also produced the Eat Real Festival, one of Oakland’s most beloved sustainable food events which brought together local eco-friendly restaurateurs, food startups, business owners, and of course, hungry Bay Area residents. My career has centered on creating inclusive, lively, unforgettable, enduring, and profitable experiences throughout the course of large-scale community development projects.

What is the most interesting part of your job?

I thrive in a collaborative environment. Michigan Central is highly collaborative, with an impressive group of people. I care passionately about this work and give it everything I’ve got. I love working with the team, asking questions, ideating, listening, learning, and ultimately producing great results.

What is the most challenging?

So much of what we are doing – and striving to do — at Michigan Central has never been done before anywhere, which means every day is different and requires a positive attitude, a problem-solving approach and lots of flexibility.

What about the Michigan Central excites you the most?

I am most excited by the opportunity to create, work and live amongst Detroiters, who are incredible people, in an incredible place.

Where do you see the innovation hub in five years?

I see Michigan Central as a bustling, thriving ecosystem of great minds leading the nation and the world at the intersection of mobility and society… and a fabulous place to visit and experience joy and delight.

What advice do you have for other women in the workplace?

You don’t have to do this alone. Find professional women you respect and reach out to them. Despite what you will hear, no one has everything figured out and we are all learning as we go. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or admit you don’t know something. We are made better by seeking and listening to help and advice from trusted colleagues and mentors.

Clarinda Barnett-Harrison, Director of Skills

Photograph courtesy of Michigan Central

How would you describe what you do?

I develop and lead Michigan Central’s Skills initiative with a focus on providing equitable access to skill-building for technology-based jobs that will support the future of mobility companies while providing economic opportunity for Detroiters and beyond.

Our work spans across ages and experience levels, and while we are just getting started, we’ve already successfully launched: K-12 initiatives such as drone pilot training for high-school students; re-skilling the existing workforce through the Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) Technician training program with ChargerHelp!, and retaining graduates from Michigan’s colleges and universities by creating opportunities to work with industry (professionals) through internships and fellowship programs. The goal is to support 3,000 learners over the next 10 years in high-growth areas that will make Michigan Central a magnet for developing and attracting talent that will support the growing mobility industry.

What is the most interesting part of your job?

Building something novel that will create a legacy for Detroit that changes the course of the mobility industry while providing opportunities for local residents to participate in the economic growth. I believe that we will not only solidify and grow an emerging economy in Detroit, but I believe that our efforts will transform the livelihoods of residents who aspire to be a part of the future of mobility.

What is the most challenging?

While recognizing that people are rooting for Detroit, I think we are still underestimated – which makes our work of spreading the word about the many successes that we have already achieved even more important. We have to change the narratives that have been associated with Detroit so that we can attract world-class companies and entrepreneurs, and the talent that we will need to support their growth.

What about the Michigan Central excites you the most?

As a native Detroiter, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of taking a seemingly impossible project, like redeveloping 30-acres of property, that includes Michigan Central Station, and restoring it beyond its former glory. Our team also is leading the way in how to support ensuring the local community benefits from our efforts. The totality of Michigan Central’s efforts symbolizes that the impossible is possible in every domain for what we aim to accomplish at Michigan Central.

Where do you see the innovation hub in five years?

I know that we will have a bustling campus of world-class buildings, beautiful public spaces, and an eco-system of companies that will support hundreds of workers and visitors who will all be proud members of the Michigan Central community — all of which will establish and maintain our prominence as the world’s quintessential hub for mobility innovation.

What advice do you have for other women in the workplace?

Identify your core values, both professional and personal, and allow those values to be a guiding compass in how you choose to lend your talents to endeavors that align with your purpose. This will ensure that the work remains personally fulfilling and that there is an innate sense of passion that you can contribute to your body of work.

Roslyn Karamoko, Director of Brand

Photograph courtesy of Michigan Central

How would you describe what you do?

When creating a retail concept, I consider it a synthesis of the community and neighboring environment and think about how an individual might desire to feel in the space in addition to what they will want to buy. In this role, I am channeling that approach to activate unique and exciting retail opportunities that reimagine the iconic train station as part of Michigan Central’s new innovation ecosystem.

What former work prepared you for this?

I’ve worked in a number of unique and challenging retail environments throughout my career. Specifically, my work in Detroit through my brand and former shop Détroit is the New Black prepared me immensely for this opportunity. It gave me first-hand experience with a broad community of retailers and makers that helped shape the way that I conceptualize what a “Detroit place” might feel like.

What is the most interesting part of your job?

Interacting with so many different types of people. The diversity in leadership at Michigan Central is unmatched, and it feels really special to work with so many experts in various fields. I’m always curious to know what the other business units are working on and how they are approaching their work. It’s also super interesting to hear so many fun facts and historical references about the station.  It’s been humbling to understand just how much the station has meant to the city and American history.

What is the most challenging part?

The most challenging and most interesting might be the same thing! It can be challenging to process varying perspectives and create a cohesive narrative that represents the collective. Also, most recently coming from an entrepreneurial background, it’s been a bit of a learning curve for me to operate in a more corporate-like environment.

What about the Michigan Central excites you the most?

I’m most energized by the possibilities, for the station and the larger project. The physical place along with the planned programmatic elements feel unlike anywhere else. It’s so exciting for Detroit to have a beacon that encapsulates so much of its past, present, and future identity.

Where do you see the innovation hub in five years?

As a thriving center that attracts people from all over the region and the world. I believe it will become a must-see destination and an example for how cities think about purpose-driven development. My hope is that Michigan Central is the destination for human connection and the manifestation of world-changing ideas.

What advice do you have for other women in the workplace?

Be confident and own your expertise. By just being present, you’re inspiring women that you may have never even met to be the best and most impactful versions of themselves.

Catherine Kelly, Head of Communications and Editorial, Michigan Central

Photograph courtesy of Michigan Central

How would you describe what you do?

At Michigan Central, I lead the communications and editorial team. We are developing Michigan Central’s narrative, brand story and editorial strategy.

Tell us about yourself and former work that prepared you for this job?

I graduated from Renaissance High School in Detroit and attended the city’s public schools. My parents started a community newspaper, The Michigan Citizen, on their dining room table. I grew up delivering papers, writing stories, and helping with production.

I became a huge hip hop fan in Detroit in the 1980s and ’90s. In those days, New York City was the only place to explore hip hop music and culture.  There, I was able to work on the launch of Vibemagazine, and later, with Russell Simmons. I also worked at Savoy magazine, at that time, one of the largest African American publishing companies. However, I always stayed close to Detroit.

I returned to Detroit in the early 2000s…(and) became publisher of the Michigan Citizen and ran that newspaper for 10 years. The newspaper chronicled Detroit from an African American perspective and was instrumental in helping to document the effects of emergency management, changes to Detroit schools and what the city’s bankruptcy meant to residents.

I also worked with Rocket Mortgage/Bedrock and was the founding editor of BridgeDetroit, a nonprofit newsroom that serves city residents.

What is the most interesting part of your job?

The train station’s heydays are different for every generation. In my lifetime, the train station was mostly abandoned. but that period was also significant. It represented a culturally rich time when hip hop, graffiti. and dance music flourished in the city. We want to be able to tell this story too. As we are developing cultural events and programming for the station, we want to make sure this time is celebrated.

What about Michigan Central excites you the most?  

Michigan Central Station is an iconic landmark that is deeply connected to Detroit’s history and future — I think about what it has meant to so many families including my own. My grandmother, Catherine, arrived in Detroit via Michigan Central Station in the 1930s. Yet, Detroit needs a vision that will make a way for future generations.

 Where do you see the innovation hub in five years?

I am excited by the possibility of evolving an iconic train station to an entire platform where public space, art, discourse, technology, and history live. I am most intrigued by the economic development opportunity and the discoveries that will happen. In late 2023, Michigan Central helped pave the way for the nation’s first wireless charging road for electric vehicles. The pilot project can help mass transit operators better understand how to move us to a more carbon neutral planet. Our skills programs are helping Detroit youth learn drone technology — experts say this will be a $50 billion industry. These are a few small examples of our team’s vision for programming Michigan Central; there is so much more to come. We are establishing a destination where mobility and tech startups develop their ideas alongside artists and culture makers. It’s a place where cultural collisions happen and great ideas are nurtured.

What advice do you have for other women in the workplace?

Work hard and be confident, the world will catch up.