Diversity director will strive to bring about 'positive change'


 By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
Joni Thrower-Grundy, a senior attorney with Miller Canfield, works on deals ranging from a couple hundred thousand dollars to several billion. As a member of the firm’s Financial Institutions and Transactions Group, she most enjoys work that fosters “positive change” in her native Detroit. 

“Of all the deals I’ve worked on, I particularly enjoy working on those that provide working capital for local charter schools,” she says.

Thrower-Grundy began her legal career in 2003 as an intern with the firm. 

“I absolutely fell into financial law,” she says. “I enjoyed the projects I worked on and the people I worked with. I enjoy banking law because with each deal closed it’s very likely the bank’s customer will spur a positive change on the economy – such as sell more furniture or use the working capital for the day-to-day operations at the middle school.”

The Financial Institutions and Transactions Group allowed Thrower-Grundy to hit the ground running. She took the Michigan bar in July 2004; and two weeks after she started as an associate at the firm, her group leader asked her to sit for the California bar.  

“I shifted nervously in my seat and told him ‘sure’ – when I studied for the Michigan bar, I never thought that I would sit for another one,” she says. “I sat for the California bar in February 2005. My firm never hesitated to make the investment in me.”  

She pays kudos to her colleagues in the group. 

“We have a great team and wealth of knowledge,” she says. “I can pop my head out of my office and immediately run into experts in real estate, aircraft financing, or consumer regulatory matters.”

Named a Michigan Super Lawyer, Rising Star, Securities and Corporate Finance 2013, Thrower-Grundy has extensive experience in negotiating secured and unsecured transactions and assisting in transactions involving letters of credit in support of tax-exempt financing. She has represented financial institutions of varying size and complexity in both Michigan and California, including a bank that was financing the purchase of several high-end condominiums located throughout the United States. The deal was on a fast track, and she successfully negotiated several mortgage documents within the extremely challenging time frame set by the bank’s client.

Thrower-Grundy was recently appointed as the firm’s new Diversity Director. 

“Diversity is a moving target – every few years, the definition seems to change,” she says. “It’s especially challenging when you are in a depressed economy – but as a premier Michigan law firm, Miller Canfield will boldly embrace the full spectrum of diversity. In my role as Diversity Chair, I’ll ensure this position is visible to the community, clients and employees through rigorous recruitment efforts, innovative retention policies and sponsorship of forward-thinking community initiatives.”

A proud product of the Detroit Public School System and graduate of Cass Technical High School, Thrower-Grundy earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Michigan, and her juris doctor from Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. Her career decision was a practical one. 

“Law is an area that touches all facets of life – business, health care, entertainment, real estate – everyone needs a lawyer at some point,” she says.

She already had a strong background in business; her family has owned and operated McDonald’s restaurants for nearly 25 years. 

“I grew up in the business and even though I’m no longer flipping hamburgers, there’s still ketchup running through my veins,” she says. 

Her financial expertise was a huge asset for Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s Crisis Turnaround Team in 2009. Her team worked with the mayor’s office to assess and identify opportunities for process improvement, elimination of waste, and cost savings and avoidance, and worked with several City Departments – 311 Call Center, Neighborhood City Halls – and several directors (Communications, Community Affairs, Legislative Affairs, Appointments/Protocol and Senior Citizens/Faith-based). 

“I had an extraordinary opportunity to serve my community as executive liaison to the mayor’s office,” she says. “It was an amazing experience. It was great to see so many people – residents and non-residents of the city – volunteer their time and energy to move Detroit forward.”

A resident of one of Detroit’s historic communities, she has been a commissioner with the Historic District Commission and the Elected Officials Compensation Commission for nearly four years.  The HDC meets once a month and reviews commercial and residential applications that arise in historic districts.  

“The meetings are long but they are interesting because we get to see the plans of upcoming restoration projections or brand new projects,” she says. “We also get to serve our community by protecting our historic jewels – how cool is that!”  

The EOC meets a couple of times each odd numbered year, and last met in 2011. 

“That was a difficult year because we had to cut the salaries of the elected officials,” she notes. “If the city workers were being asked to take a pay cut, then we felt the leadership should do the same.” 

Thrower-Grundy is an active member of several organizations including the American Bar Association, the State Bars of Michigan and California, Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc. and Oak Grove A.M.E. Church.
Committed to community service, she regularly volunteers at several local nonprofit organizations.  

She also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. 

“The museum is one of the many jewels of the city of Detroit, and I’m very honored to be a trustee,” she says. “Just recently, we unveiled an exhibit honoring Ingrid Saunders Jones, a native Detroiter and former senior vice president of Global Community Connections and chair of the Coca Cola Foundation. I chaired the event that raised over $48,000 to benefit the Museum.”

And to cap it all, this year she is a part of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Leadership Detroit’s Class XXXV. 

“The best class ever,” she says. “I’ve already made some great connections and I’m looking forward to the upcoming events.

“I love Detroit.  I was born and raised here. I’m homegrown and I’m staying put. I lived in Atlanta while in law school but anyone who knew me would tell you that I was coming home to DEE-TROIT.  If I was going to work hard anywhere, then it was going to be for the city that I loved.”