Jackson County candidate drops House bid after threat investigations surface

Fuel Detroit ignites with ideas from Fields, Alba

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Detroit — Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Mark Fields on Monday spoke to area business leaders about taking innovation from a buzzword to an action.

"The ones that are going to succeed are the ones that are going to challenge things, almost be their own disruptors," Fields told those attending the Fuel Detroit leadership conference. "As a company, we are really challenging ourselves to think like a startup."

Fields was one of a dozen high-powered speakers scheduled to speak at the Fuel Leadership conference at the MotorCity Casino Sound Board.

Innovation was the key topic during the morning session's talks with Mayor Mike Duggan, actress and creator of the Honest Company Jessica Alba and New York Times best-selling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin.

Godin pointed out that Detroit, which was the epicenter of the manufacturing revolution, starting with Henry Ford's expansive assembly lines, $5 a day workforce and accessible Model T.

"The reason you could have any color you wanted as long as it was black isn't because Henry Ford liked black, it's because black paint dried four times faster," said Godin. "This culture we all grew up with, it's Detroit's responsibility. That's why we have this system where we have a few people at the top and a bunch of people who do what they're told."

The Internet has created a new reality where businesses are successful because of people, not things, he said.

"Everywhere you look around here, you're finding people who are trying to build new things, bring new things to the market," said Godin. "Things that aren't about a factory per se but about connecting people together."

Fuel Detroit is the first in a series of leadership conferences, the brainchild of Detroit Venture Partners member and entrepreneur Josh Linkner.

"We want people to see what's going on but more importantly we want people to get tools so they can go tomorrow and make a different in their communities and their companies," Linkner said. "We cut all the fat and smashed all the quality content into a single day."

Attendees will also be able to access leadership tools, webinars and videos they can access after the conference ends to create "a resource people can access all year round," said Linkner.

Alba appeared to be one of the biggest draws for the conference, with one man yelling out "I love you Jessica" when she walked on stage.

Just like her company name and philosophy, Alba was honest in her answers. When asked how she balanced being a mom and an actress with running a company, she said she doesn't.

"I don't sleep enough," she said. "I'm always tired."

But she said it's her passion for helping others, for her products and her daughter that pushes her to continue.

"It was really driven out of a need. I just knew that I needed to make this company," she said. "Never doing it before and having that fearlessness propelled me."

Working without fear was also a common theme and one Godin talked about during his talk by speaking of the myth of Icarus, the boy who flew close to the sun.

"If you're spending your days trying to be more average and a little cheaper than everyone else, you're losing," he said. "The only choice is to be the irreplaceable one. Flying closer to the sun. Risking the fall."

Meanwhile, Duggan touted some of the changes his administration has brought to the city, including more streetlights, maintained city parks and a better strategy for abandoned homes in the neighborhoods. He said he knew they had reached a turning point when a city-owned home in the Boston Edison District went to auction through the city's website and so many people were interested, the website crashed mid-auction. The would-be winner was angry and threatened to sue, said Duggan.

"If the worst thing that happens this week is some guy sues me because I wouldn't sell him a vacant house in Detroit, we can handle that publicity," he joked.

Since he started the neighborhood-wide nuisance abatement program, the city has sold 350 homes at an average price of $10,000 each, he said.

lrazzaq@detroitnews.com

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@laurenarazzaq