June Member Spotlight: Tifani Sadek and Shannon Smith

Detroit's rebound is fully underway and that's great because it means that people are actively working to make this city a better place. We're constantly stumbling upon newsworthy stories of our members making great strides towards becoming the next leaders of our generation and we're extremely proud that 2 of those Detroiters are DYP family. Tifani Sadek, co-founder of Sadek Bonahoom, and Shannon Smith, an analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank and advocate for financial literacy, both made headlines last week for having their accomplishments recognized.  Read below to see why Tifani was selected as an Emerging Leader by the Detroit Regional Chamber and why Shannon was inducted into Crain's 2015 class of 20 in their 20's.

Tifani Sadek

When Tifani Sadek was selected as an Emerging Leader by the Detroit Regional Chamber and invited to attend this year's Mackinac Policy Conference, she was thrilled but tempered about how many serious connections she'd be able to make at a gathering of more than 1,500 of the state's most powerful people. She wrote a list of five she really wanted to meet, hoping she'd get to all of them by the end of the three-day event.

"I met all five of them on the first day," Sadek said. "I had to go back to my list and see who else to meet."

Sadek said the trip was a tremendous learning experience, one she hopes will enhance her efforts as a lawyer representing local small businesses (she started her own firm, now Sadek Bonahoom, in 2013) and as a board member with FoodLab DetroitDetroit Garment Group and DYP. Sadek is a Detroiter by way of her native Texas and then Chicago, where she met her husband, Brian, also a lawyer and DYP board member. 

"It's hard to meet people after school. You can't just go to the bar and pick up friends without being the weird person," she said. "I had been going to some entrepreneurship events after we moved to Detroit, but it was really hard to meet other people like us, young professionals living in the city or at least working or playing in the city. (DYP) was really the first time we made friends in the city, and it was great. A lot of our close friends to this very day, three years later, are people we met at DYP. Moving to Detroit's been one of the best things I've ever done - professionally and personally, it's been phenomenal. But I've met people who have moved to Detroit, similar circumstances, and it's not been a good experience for them because they haven't figured out how to plug in. An organization like DYP is really important because it's a landing spot." 

Sadek opened her practice to cater to what she saw as an underserved market for small businesses, startups and non-profits. She teaches at the Build Institute for entrepreneurs, and as a small business owner herself, she tries to be honest in her criticisms of those thinking of following suit.

I think entrepreneurship’s really sexy, and I think a lot of people want to jump into it when it’s really not right for them,

Sadek's mission: "I want to promote entrepreneurship, but at the same time, it's not for everybody and that's OK. We have one mode in society - in the '60s, it was like, 'everybody go be an engineer!’ and then it was like, 'OK, everybody go to law school!' and then that bubble burst; and now it's, 'everybody go into tech!' and that bubble's about to burst. So, "everybody be an entrepreneur!" - it's not for everybody, just like being an engineer or a lawyer or a tech person isn't for everybody. It has to fit your personality and fit your goals. I see a lot of people square peg-round hole-ing it, and I'm trying to balance promoting entrepreneurship and not pushing it on people for whom it's not right."

 One of her big suggestions: due diligence about the people you align yourself with.

 "A business that's otherwise a good business - well-funded, good idea - can fall apart because of team issues, either because you don't put together a good team or you don't have the conversations that you need to have before you join up," Sadek said. "It's like marriage, and having a business partner is like being married without being in love. When you're married and you have issues, love can make you overlook a lot, but you don't love your partner. They're just your partner. They have a big impact on your finances, you spend more time with them maybe than you do with your spouse, and you have to make important decisions together. I don't see people fleshing out those relationships really well before they decide to go into business. You have to think, in theory, this might last 15, 20 years. Is this a person you want to spend that much time with?"

Those types of questions are more important than ever for powering a city Sadek has quickly grown to love from her Woodbridge home. One of her big takeaways from Mackinac was the emphasis on young professionals and Detroit.

There were a lot of politicians there, and the ones I came across are very cognizant that they need to make the city more palatable to millennials

Sadek said. "I specifically had some state reps - it's very personal to them - they're like, 'I want my kids to come home. My daughter lives in Chicago, my son lives in New York - I really want them to come home and start their families here, but they love it where they are. What can we do to compete with those cities?' It's not just a business decision for them. For a lot of people, it's really personal. I had never really thought about that aspect of it. That's a conversation that we needed to have."

Shannon Smith

Shannon Smith knows a lot about interpreting. His mother, Shari, was born deaf, so he grew up involved with the Detroit Black Deaf Advocates and says if he sees a deaf person trying to communicate with someone, he will offer his sign language fluency to help.
Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that Smith, a DYP Executive Team member, has become such a strong ambassador for strengthening his hometown, sharing the message of its revival and working to make connections within and outside it.

I was one of those kids who said I would never come back to Detroit.

Smith is a proud graduate of Martin Luther King High. "It was my father (Gary) who really spoke to me a lot about brain drain and how inner-city communities continuously decline because the problems that come from those communities are something people want no part of when they get successful. He really challenged me to push back against that." 

Smith returned to Detroit after graduating from the University of Michigan and began working at the Federal Reserve, but he says he had a hard time convincing many of his friends to stay. He continued recruiting, telling them "you don't know what you're getting in Detroit unless you're here," and now has seen many of his friends return to the area as positive attention on the city and efforts to attract young professionals have increased. 

People are really starting to see the opportunities

Shannon feels that, "Detroit pretty much has this blank slate. I think a lot of people saw (the recent bankruptcy resolution) as, Detroit is a place I can create a future." 

Smith said he and his girlfriend are burgeoning foodies in the city, which surprises him because "in college, i was a ramen noodle chef." He also serves on DYP's Community Outreach committee, a natural fit as he champions a new financial literacy program for high schools through the Fed and works in outreach and policy research for a City Council member. He discovered DYP while searching for like-minded young professionals he could share ideas with.

"It wasn't hard for me to find DYP - they were pretty much at the top of that list," he said. "I've been very impressed with the group of individuals I've been working with at DYP. All of them seem very passionate about Southeast Michigan and its turnaround, and I really do think this is the new class of leaders who are going to push Michigan forward."

Last month, the 24-year-old Smith was the youngest Detroiter recognized in Crain's Twenty in their 20s feature about influential young professionals, an honor he hopes is a sign of more progress to come. 

I was happy to be recognized, but it really is just the beginning.

Shannon continued, "I really want to bring these types of programs, from providing a platform for artists to providing a platform for high school students for financial literacy to a mentoring program from young professionals to students, providing that for Detroit just so we can have a better path forward."


DYP Member Spotlight is a special feature in order to showcase the amazing work of our diverse DYP member community by highlighting their industry experience, backgrounds, and passions. DYP’s membership ranges from school teachers to investment bankers, from entrepreneurs to web developers, and everywhere in between. Every month, the Membership Committee will present our members on the Member Spotlight platform, a great way to meet your fellow DYP members and discover new friends in your network.

If you would like to be considered, fill out this FORM.

Tom Keller is a professional writer born and raised in Metro Detroit. His online home is http://kellerinstinct.com.