Homecoming a way to gather ex-Detroiters who could give city boost

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Jules Pieri has been on a roll since she left Detroit in 1983.

Over the next three decades, the Harvard Business School graduate created three startups, worked as industrial designer and as an executive for Stride Rite. She was named one of the 10 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs for 2013 by Fortune Magazine, as well as among the 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs by Goldman Sachs 2014.

Yet Pieri jumped at the chance to return to Detroit this week, along with nearly 160 other expatriates, for The Detroit Homecoming, an event created by city business leaders and philanthropist to offer former Detroiters the opportunity to reconnect and reinvest as the city moves through bankruptcy and embraces dozens of initiatives aimed at revitalization.

“I’m coming back because my roots are in Detroit. Those years were incredibly formative to me as I’ve been building this start-up,” said Fieri, whose latest start-up, The Grommet, based in the Boston area, launches undiscovered products and helps them succeed by telling their story.

“Detroit is national news. However I don’t know any of the players. I’m looking to build some personal relationships,” she said. “I love the idea of taking an expat approach and shining a spotlight on Detroit to create a true connection.”

Starting Wednesday, the invitation-only group of expatriates is returning to the city for the inaugural event that is gathering entrepreneurs, celebrities and movers and shakers with ties to the city together for a close up view of Detroit’ rebirth.

Crain’s Publisher Mary Kramer, a co-director of the event with former Fortune magazine publisher Jim Hayes, said the event has 30 speakers including philanthropist Eli Broad and Bloomberg President Dan Doctoroff, as well as 160 influential expat guests from across the country.

The list of invitees focuses on the elite: billionaires, sports stars, company presidents, venture capitalists, journalists and entertainers. One highlight of the event will be a conversation between Quicken Loans Inc. founder Dan Gilbert and investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett on “Why I’m Bullish on Detroit.”

The Homecoming will be held over three days with a packed agenda that includes tours throughout the city, a concert at Chene Park, dinners at the David Whitney Building and the Globe Building Outdoor Adventure & Discovery Center. Batting practice at Comerica Park as well as experiencing a driverless vehicle on Belle Isle are also on the agenda. Then the expats will learn how to join the effort to help move Detroit forward, officials said.

“There are so many people who were so excited about this, saying ‘I’m so glad. I want to do something for Detroit, but we don’t know where to start or who to talk to.’ This brings back, shows them what’s going on here and lets them meet the people,” Kramer said.

Billy Dexter, partner at the global executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles in Chicago, said he is excited to return to the city where he was born and raised.

“Even though I’ve been in Chicago the last 25 years, I have always worn my badge of being a Detroiter very proudly. It’s a city that shaped and influenced me,” Dexter said.

“I’ve watched as the city has had all the challenges. I was disappointed to see all that. But I’ve always rooted for them. It’s exciting to come back and see first hand some of the things happening to bring the city back and even more exciting that I can play a role in that.”


Detroit Homecoming

Wednesday: David Whitney Building, 1553 Woodward at Washington Boulevard

Thursday: A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education – College for Creative Studies, 11th floor, 460 W. Baltimore

Friday: A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education – College for Creative Studies , 11th floor, 460 W. Baltimore