Back Story

Janis Clark

Director of Business Engagement, Western Michigan University

Janis Clark is a connector. The former lawyer, QVC host and game show contestant who landed in Kalamazoo 26 years ago, is a go-to person for putting people together with other people, resources and ideas. The New York City native, who still has that iconic, brashy accent, worked in fundraising for the Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan and as membership development director at the Beacon Club before she landed at WMU. Clark is hyper-involved in her adopted community. A two-time Ambassador of the Year for The Chamber, she has been on numerous boards and committees over the years and currently serves on committees for the Kalamazoo Promise’s 10th anniversary, Binder Park Zoo and the United Way of the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek Region and as a tourism ambassador for Discover Kalamazoo. Ask anyone, Clark seems to know everyone and everything — a quality she is happy to share.

How do you describe what you do?

I meet with small- and mid-sized businesses in the community, many of whom have never had a relationship with WMU, and explore possibilities. WMU has a multitude of services and programs that are available to the business community at little or no charge. I act as a connector and introduce them to the right departments, people or programs within WMU that are best suited to the company’s mission and goals. As the relationship develops, I also try and find ways for the business to engage with our students, our alumni, our staff and the University as a whole and help each find a way to make a difference.

What do people say when you tell them what you do?

“What a perfect job for you!” The comment I get the most is, “You are such a great connector.” Someone said to me recently that it seems when I meet someone new, I’m flipping the Rolodex in my head, saying, ‘Who would be a good connection for that person?’ It’s true. Because I love to do that.

Why do you do what you do?

I truly believe we can all do anything with a little help from our friends, and my friends are your friends, and since I never met a stranger, neither have you. I would never do anything I didn’t believe in from the heart. What I do is good for the community; it’s good for everyone.

I feed off of people. I really like people. I like knowing about them and helping them, and good gossip (I don’t like bad gossip, just the good kind). I am the only person I know who really does like to look at other people’s pictures of their children and grandchildren.

What’s an ideal day like for you?

I meet someone for coffee and muffins, I meet someone for lunch, I meet someone for coffee, I meet someone for drinks, and I tell them all the great things WMU can do for them. I eat four times a day. It’s amazing I’m not bigger.

What keeps you up at night?

Nothing. I am so happy. Things are just great and I love what I do and I get so much support at work. I know that nothing is that bad that you can’t find that silver lining. I ask what can you gain, what can you get out of it and is it at least a great story?

What has influenced you most in your life?

My mom. She raised me to think I could do anything. She doesn’t realize I can’t sing, even though I had a voice teacher who told me I would have to have surgery just to be able to carry a tune (and this was after I paid for lessons). But still I delight in singing in front to everyone, and it was because I was raised to believe that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do.

What do you do outside of work?

If it’s summer I like to be at the beach, I like being by the water. I like art, theater …I do all those art things. I work out. I like doing exercise classes. It’s fun and social and changes the routine.

What words do you use to describe yourself?

Explosive (laughs). I like to have fun. As I get excited, I get louder, hence the explosive.

But I would also say I am incredibly loyal. I would do anything for my friends. I never met a stranger so everyone is my friend. I really care.

Loyalty, integrity and honor are super high for me. I really value integrity, honesty and doing what you say when you say it. If I say I’m going to follow up, I do, because my word is really important to me.

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