Fireside chat discusses success, goals and failure


GVL / Sydney Lim

Grace Smith, Staff Writer

The Frederik Meijer Honors College hosted its first fireside chat of 2023 on Feb. 20. The event was hosted by Grand Rapids mayor and Meijer Endowed Chair for Leadership and Innovation, Rosalynn Bliss. 

Bliss engaged in a discussion with Mike Verhulst who has served as the executive vice president of strategic growth for Acrisure Benefits Group since April 2022. Previously, he served as Rockford Construction’s vice president and Wolverine Building Group’s vice president. 

Additionally, Verhulst serves on the board of Convention Arena Authority, Grand Valley Metro Council, Priority Health, YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Symphony, Gerald R. Ford International Airport, Experience Grand Rapids, the Foundation Board of Grand Rapids and is an advisory committee member of ArtPrize Leadership on Canvas. 

Verhulst’s business journey began when he founded Summit Landscape Management. For nearly 16 years, he served as president and owner until he sold the business to pursue other passions. 

Verhulst said he overcame many challenges when starting Summit Landscape Management. He said it was difficult to obtain the money needed to purchase equipment for the business and he was shot down by many investors, leading to him working long hours to be able to pay his own way without the help of loans. 

Although it was a large undertaking at the time, he said the hard work benefited him in the long run as Summit Landscape Management is now one of the top 100 largest landscaping companies in the United States and is one of the top five minority-owned landscaping companies.  

Verhulst said many successes in his career have come from grit, hard work and risk-taking. 

“I think risk-taking is instrumental to personal growth,” Verhulst said. “It depends what you define as risk, it can be time, it can be monetary, it can be material, but when you take that risk, that’s when you start learning.” 

Prior to becoming a businessman, Verhulst served in the military as a petroleum supply specialist and a door gunner. He said during his service, he would sometimes find himself making suggestions for how to improve various aspects of his responsibilities, resulting in the process being more efficient. Verhulst said his suggestions always got him in trouble with his superiors, yet were implemented only days later. 

Verhulst has been able to apply his service to his current business practices, creating Rockford’s Veterans Committee, where he served as leader of Veterans Day activities. Verhulst has also used his position to advocate for other veterans in the community. These acts of service led to Crain’s Detroit Business recognizing Verhulst as the Notable Veteran of the Year in 2020. 

Verhulst said it’s important to recognize dreams versus goals. He said goals may not come easily or in the form one might think they will, but that people should work to achieve these goals and accept failure is part of the process. 

“If you haven’t failed, then you’re not trying,” Verhulst said. “I would highly encourage you to fail, I know it might sound weird, but if you don’t fail, it means you’re just complacent.” 

For the time being, Verhulst said he plans to continue to serve on his various boards and committees. However, he said he has his sights set on eventually serving on the boards of some of the largest companies, such as Google or Apple.