Leadership West Michigan will help attorney hone his skills


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

There is no question that Charles N. Ash of Warner Norcross and Judd is fascinated with leadership.

His interest extends to the overall concept of leadership; what skills and characteristics it entails; and what can be done to develop and nurture it. “It’s a real passion of mine,” Ash states.

And he admits he is also interested in assuming a leadership position at Warner Norcross someday. With a combination of self-confidence and humility, he says, “I love the practice of law, but I also enjoy the ‘where are we going’ piece. But I recognize I’ve got some dues to pay yet.”

Ash will be doing the right thing to set himself on that path when he attends Leadership West Michigan starting Sept. 8.

The West Michigan Chamber Coalition, which is composed of the Grand Haven/Spring Lake/Ferrysburg, Grand Rapids, Holland, and Muskegon-Lakeshore Chambers of Commerce, developed the Leadership West Michigan (LWM) program to “create a regional mindset by developing and engaging an effective and diverse network of regional trustees – leaders working for the benefit of the entire region.”

This distinguishes the program from others that are run in the separate jurisdictions which give the Chambers their names. Making the connections within the region, many feel, is critical to resolving challenges, despite the less-connected nature of political jurisdictions in West Michigan.

Many of the principles LWM follows, as well as the term “creating a regional mindset,” come from the West Michigan Strategic Alliance’s (WMSA) work to pull the region together. A WMSA-hired consultant’s evaluation indicated that only by pulling together would the region  reach its impressive potential.

 There are many resonances, small and large, between WMSA and LWM; for example, the chair of the LWM alumni group was an early employee of WMSA, and the West Michigan Chamber Coalition itself stemmed at least in part from WMSA-led discussions.

The LWM program will also provide participants with systems-thinking and dialoguing skills along with an understanding of West Michigan’s diversity. Participants will conduct a personal leadership skills assessment, and go on a two-day bus tour focused on the area’s assets.

As Ash points out, Warner Norcross has participated heavily in LWM for years. The firm has offices in Muskegon and Holland as well as in Grand Rapids.

In fact, the LWM website (www.leadershipwestmichigan.com) quotes WNJ Partner Steve Waterbury. He comments, “Leadership West Michigan not only impacted me during the programs and in the immediate aftermath of the programs, but has left a lasting imprint on the way I look at our region and its challenges.”

Ash is excited about the opportunity for a number of reasons. “I hope two things: to bring what I see as the Warner perspective on leadership to the program — all for one and one for all is what I think Warner is about. And to keep my eyes and ears open and learn from what’s offered me, and from the colleagues who are in the program, to take things from their leadership skills.”

Ash explains, “I’m a native Grand Rapidian, I went to public school here through Creston High School, and then on to Calvin College, so there are  all those community ties.”

He attended Stanford University in California for his law degree, and practiced there briefly before returning to Michigan. After a stint at Varnum, he transitioned to Dickinson Wright’s Detroit office, where he worked closely with Dennis Archer. “Then in 2006 I got an offer I couldn’t refuse from Warner Norcross. Grand Rapids is my home, and my time with Mayor Archer ran its course. Warner was a perfect fit.”

Ash says that although he has had offers to work as in-house counsel, he believes that Warner Norcross is the place where he feels he can make a real difference. Though he enjoyed working with Archer, Ash says he has no political aspirations at all, and feels his leadership skills can be best used at the law firm.

Ash is a litigator, who counts among his successful cases representing famous professional golfer Gary Player in a licensing dispute. Interestingly, Ash has developed expertise in a very specialized area: mining, oil, and gas industry law.

Ash represents natural gas producers; there is a Michigan statute that regulates their lease agreements. Says Ash, “Our firm has been the first to go all the way through a trial on the implications of that statute. We’re on the cutting edge of the law in that area.”

He finds the specialty fascinating in part because “I love the learning that you experience when you get into an area that’s so rich and deep in the technical aspects of science and engineering.”

Ash is also part of Warner Norcross’s Emergency Managers Law practice group started after Michigan’s PA 4 passed in March.

“I’m dealing with potential consent agreements now. What I bring to this practice group is a background in conflict and dispute resolution,” Ash says. “There are issues with the emergency manager situation that are all about power and conflict and control, because local citizens ad elected officials feel a strong sense of being displaced, of not having a voice when someone is, from their perspective, imposed upon them and making very significant financial decisions for the community. What we hope to do is help clients resolve their financial problems and get back on the road to financial stability, which consent agreements can do. We see a significant need for skilled legal professionals to assist.”

Ash will join Troy Cumings, Warner Norcross’s legislative lobbyist profiled in the July 22 Grand Rapids Legal News, for a webinar on Sept. 20 called “Consent Agreements: EM Power Without the EM.” to address some of these issues. The webinar calls the consent agreements “the remedy to a financial crisis that will allow local officials to remain in control.”
Those interested in registering for the webinar should visit http://www.wnj.com/News-and-Events/Events/Consent-Agreements---EM-Power-Without-the-EM.

Ash feels his Leadership West Michigan experience can help with all of this work. “First of all, it’s very humbling to be accepted. But further, I’m going to be challenged to really expand my point of view and to take some steps that get me out of my comfort zone. Oftentimes as lawyers we think a lot of the same types of things, and we need to be challenged in the way we think. I hope to be really shaken up by this program.”