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Rising to the Challenge: Barton Malow’s Ryan Maibach on Leadership Amid Crisis

By Karen Dybis

As 2020 began, Ryan Maibach was anticipating a great year ahead: As president and CEO of construction-industry leader Barton Malow, work was booming, and he was excited to serve as chair of the 2020 Mackinac Policy Conference, a role his father also held.

Then came the pandemic. It brought construction delays, supplier slowdowns and new health protocols. Serving then as the Detroit Regional Chamber’s board chair, Maibach also sat in on Zoom meetings and phone calls as the Chamber decided to cancel the much-anticipated 2020 Mackinac Policy Conference.

In a year like no other, Maibach said he saw the best and the worst of it all. Despite these trials, Maibach said he made a decision to focus on positive leadership in his professional life as well as his role with the Chamber. Rather than dwell on what could have been, Maibach said he sought to share the lessons he learned and boost the support the Chamber gives businesses, especially during this most uncertain time.

“We learned new ways of doing business. … You can’t build buildings at home,” Maibach said. “We all became very comfortable with Zoom, Microsoft Teams and everything else, and there’s value in that. But when you lose that ability to interact in person through freeform conversations, you realize how much you value it and how much you can benefit from it.”

The Chamber served as a guidepost for how to navigate coronavirus, Maibach said. Together, he and other board members as well as Chamber leadership walked business leaders through how to prepare employers for everything from quarantines to vaccines to work-from-home strategies. This information has been instrumental in helping not only Maibach’s business but many Metro Detroit companies move forward,
he said.

“We were a conduit and resource for COVID-related information for Chamber members as well as creating a sense of community as to how we were approaching challenges past, present and future,” Maibach said. “The value proposition of the Chamber really shown through to members and the business community at large.”

In addition to his role at the Chamber, where he is the immediate past chair of the board, Maibach served on Gov. Whitmer’s Michigan Economic Recovery Council, advising the governor on the best way to reopen Michigan. Those lessons are still coming into play, especially with the Delta variant again shifting how people work, go to school and find ways to support
their communities.

“COVID is certainly far from over,” Maibach said. “We’re still wrestling with what do we do to do right by our team members both to ensure their safety on an ongoing basis. Last year, we had a kind of clarity (because of governmental guidance), but now it’s really up to businesses to try to figure out how we put in place the right protocols to ensure the safety of our own team members and clients. These are not easy decisions.”

Maibach said, however, his optimism for Detroit, Michigan and the nation’s economic recovery and business resurgence remains unabated.

“(At Barton Malow,) we have a record backlog and record revenue forecasted – we see tremendous activity in the construction industry. There’s a tremendous influx of capital from clients, and that is encouraging,” Maibach said. “At the Chamber, we’ll continue to be a resource for information and an advocate for Chamber members. As the chair, I got a first-hand seat to see the talent that’s in the Chamber’s leadership, and that was really gratifying. The true test of a leader is how they conduct themselves in the midst of a challenge, and they and the region really rose to the challenge.”

Karen Dybis is a freelance writer in Metro Detroit.