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Fuel: Detroit - Lessons in leadership

Fuel: Detroit opened for the first time on Monday, April 13, 2015. Fuel: Detroit 2016 is already being planned, but not before the Fuel Leadership concept hits other cities in the US. But, it’s important not to gloss over this fact…it started here…in Detroit.

It was a single day filled to the brim with shining examples of some of today’s most effective leaders. While national in scope, it screamed Detroit. Fuel leaders and co-founders Josh Linkner and Jordan Broad made sure to drive that point home.

The stage was literally set up as a garage. “Fuel”…get it? Each time the garage door opened, a new compelling star walked out, some very famous – Jessica Alba, Seth Godin, and Magic Johnson, others famous in their own right, but perhaps not yet know to this Detroit audience – Brian Lee, Adam Lowry, and Commander Michael Abrashoff. Then, driving the Detroit point home, the event wasn’t without powerful words from current Detroit champions, Mark Fields, Mayor Mike Duggen, and our Governor, Rick Snyder. The only person who had to “duck” while walking through the make-shift garage door was, of course, Magic Johnson.

The much anticipated leadership event kicked off with an interview by Josh Linkner of Jessica Alba and Brian Lee. The conversation focused on their new endeavor, The Honest Company, a consumer goods company that emphasizes non-toxic household products.

Next up was Ford’s new CEO, Mark Fields:


It was the interview on stage conducted by CNN’s Poppy Harlow that drew out the real pearls of Mark’s character and wisdom. My twitter feed @NatalieBruno11 was active all day long with highlights from the event. These were three of Mark’s quotes I tweeted that resonated with me the most:

“Run to the Fire.” And… “As a leader, it is important to be self-aware and self-reflective.” Followed by, “It’s about serving others…” when referencing leadership. Okay, Mark…I’m so glad you’re at the helm of Ford.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone when I wondered who could possibly follow Mark Fields. And then author Seth Godin bounded onto the Sound Board stage at Motor City Casino, and we were completely transfixed for 45 minutes. My three favorite Seth Godin quotes from the day were:

1. “Treat different people differently.” Yes!
2. “Human beings want to be in sync.” Yes!!
3. “Our best work is when we create change. Change always creates tension.” Yes!!!

I haven’t been this excited by the discovery of an author since I learned about Chris Guillebeau who started and runs the The World Domination Summit in Portland each summer.

Next up? Detroit’s mayor, Mike Duggan. I already had warm and fuzzy feelings about Detroit’s comeback, but after hearing Duggan…I now have facts. Detroit has put in street lights, revitalized parks, and significantly reduced blight. Thank you, thank you. Keep doing what you’re doing.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the inspiring talk by Commander Mike Abrashoff, whose book, “It’s Your Ship” may very well sell another 1,000 copies after the Fuel: Detroit event. The man was a shining example of servant leadership. With a story focused on taking charge of one of the worst ships in the US navy (the USS Benford), and in less than two years, turning it into one of the best, we as audience members were enveloped in the story before we really knew there was a new speaker on stage. And by the end, we were in tears and couldn’t wait to buy his book. Ultimately, we all want to have the kind of impact he’s had.  I have just one great quote from Mike: “Great leadership is: leadership without arrogance.” Yes. Thank you.

Next up, Michigan’s Governor: Rick Snyder.


You know, I’m a Democrat, but I greatly respect Rick Snyder, and I think he’s done a terrific job. He talked about the importance of mentors and mentoring; he also had this to say, “Vision, engage, adjust, attack.”

Following, Snyder, Adam Lowry, Co-founder and writer of “The Method Method” took the stage, towering above everybody, save Magic Johnson. My favorite quote of his: Learn how to think and say, “YES…AND.” (instead of “yes, but…”) He and his business partner Eric Ryan, have created Method (products) and it’s probably best just to read about them here: Method.

And the power-packed day ended with a motivating talk by business man, Magic Johnson.


What can I say? There was a bit of Magic…on stage…and off (as he walked around the auditorium.) The talk is best encapsulated by four of his quotes:

1. “Know when you’re gonna exit.” (when talking about getting in, but always with a plan to get out.)
2. “OVER DELIVER”…his manifesto about living life.
3. “Self evaluation is always hard.” (A moment of quiet insight.)
4. “You have to dream it before you can become it.”

Fuel: Detroit. You did it. You focused on leadership for an entire day…in Detroit. Normally, we have to travel far away to experience this kind of infusion of leadership. This week, it was at our fingertips. I attended as part of a group of 12 people from Mango Languages. Not our owners; not our leadership team; but our managers and trainers; our next generation of leaders. Thanks for giving us the opportunity. Thanks for delivering in Detroit. It was a success.

Natalie Bruno
Natalie Bruno is the Director of Talent & Organizational Culture at Mango Languages, a business that enriches lives through language and culture, via cutting-edge language-learning software. Prior to this appointment, she was the Chief Operating Officer & Vice President for Development with Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings, Eisenhower Dance, and the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival. In 2009, she launched Detroit Passport to the Arts with a group of young professionals and was named one of Crain’s Detroit Business 2010 “40 Under 40” honorees for her work in attracting audiences to cultural organizations. A native of Chicago, Natalie has made Metro Detroit her home since 2003. She remains active on the board of Detroit Passport to the Arts, and also serves on the board of Challenge Detroit. Follow her @NatalieBruno11.