Detroit Regional Chamber > Chamber > Sandy K. Baruah Recognized as a 2024 Michiganian of the Year

Sandy K. Baruah Recognized as a 2024 Michiganian of the Year

June 7, 2024

Detroit Regional Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Sandy K. Baruah has been named a 2024 Michiganian of the Year. Baruah is one of a number of leaders recognized for their energy and talent that help make the state a better place, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Chamber Board Member Frank Venegas, and Detroit Lions Principal Owner and Chair Sheila Ford Hamp.

Read the full story below.

The Detroit News
Luke Ramseth
June 6, 2024

One of the most memorable moments of Sandy Baruah’s 14-year run leading the Detroit Regional Chamber came just as the city declared bankruptcy in 2013.

He recalls an interview with a Los Angeles Times reporter who asked him something about how he’d work to market the city in such a trying time.

“The best way to solve our PR problem is to fix the damn problem,” the executive was quoted as saying in that piece headlined “Out of money, Detroit calls it quits.” He added the bankruptcy was “without a doubt” the best way forward.

It was a message he said he’d realized was true in that moment and continued to repeat publicly in the weeks ahead. Fast-forward about a decade and that problem, in many ways, has been fixed.

Michiganian of the Year Sandy Baruah, Detroit Regional Chamber's president and CEO, stands in a reception area at the Chamber’s offices in Detroit on May 2, 2024.

Michiganian of the Year Sandy Baruah, Detroit Regional Chamber’s president and CEO, stands in a reception area at the Chamber’s offices in Detroit on May 2, 2024. PHOTO CREDIT: ROBIN BUCKSON, THE DETROIT NEWS

And Baruah — who’d served as U.S. Small Business Administration administrator under President George W. Bush before arriving to lead one of the nation’s largest business chambers in 2010 — deserves a fair share of credit for his willingness to articulate problems and offer solutions.

Look no further than April’s NFL draft — the enthusiasm, the positive media coverage and the “huge economic boost” that resulted — for proof the city is back on solid ground, the executive said.

“Essentially the national media has declared Detroit’s comeback done, that we have achieved comeback status,” Baruah said. “It’s no longer a wish. It’s no longer something we are striving for. But we have achieved a comeback.”

Baruah, 59, spent years bouncing between Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., before coming to Detroit. He was a corporate consultant, and later took a post as an assistant secretary of commerce under Bush prior to rising to SBA administrator. He served under President George H. W. Bush and Republican Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon early in his career.

Baruah’s downtown office wall, not surprisingly, includes photos of George W. Bush and other national political leaders. It’s not hard to deduce who his true political hero is, though, considering the massive photograph of President Gerald R. Ford looming over his desk.

“He’s been an inspiration to me because he’s not flashy,” Baruah said. “You know, he just kind of quietly did what he thought was the right thing. And politically, he’s my hero as well, because I am still a fan of the flaming moderate. I am still a fan of neither perspective, right or left, gets it right all the time.”

Baruah leads an organization that represents southeast Michigan businesses ranging from small startups to global automakers. Its MICHauto specializes in growing the state’s auto industry. And it organizes the nationally known Mackinac Policy Conference, attracting heavy-hitting political and business leaders each year.

Matt Elliott, president of Bank of America Michigan and chair of the chamber’s board, credits Baruah for pushing the organization beyond traditional business advocacy. He’s set his sights high, Elliott said, advocating for big-picture statewide issues including tech development and making the case for racial justice and equity programs.

An outsider’s perspective helps, Elliott added: “It’s important to contextualize what’s going on in Michigan but also have a broader point of view, to in some cases understand the art of the possible.”

The problem-solving Baruah mentioned to the LA Times back in that 2013 interview isn’t finished. He’s got three big Michigan challenges on his mind right now — the return-to-office environment, the auto industry’s pivot to electrification and improving Michigan’s lagging educational attainment.

Still, Baruah said he doesn’t want to lose sight of how far the city and region have come since that bankruptcy and those tough years before: “We are now a city of import. We are no longer a city of pity. And it only took us a decade and a half and a lot of sweat, and a lot of hard work, and a lot of money.”