Cat Johnson makes her mark in Detroit through Business+Impact

Cat Johnson is managing director of the Business+Impact initiative at the Ross School of Business. Photo by
Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography.

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Cat Johnson, in her new role as managing director of the Business+Impact initiative at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, has a global vision that often starts with local action in Detroit.

Business+Impact was launched in August with the goal of making the Ross School of Business the most progressive source of ideas and solutions for how business can address the global challenges.

“It’s an ambitious position for the school to take,” Johnson said. “And Detroit is an important facet of the strategy for seeing this vision come to life.”

She cited three of the Business+Impact programs that are having a tangible effect in the Motor City:

    • Nonprofit Board Fellowship Program places Ross students on the boards of nonprofit organizations in southeast Michigan, where they contribute to the agency’s mission while gaining experience in project management, leadership and nonprofit management. For 2018-19, participating organizations include Detroit-based EcoWorks, the Eastern Market Development Corp., and Detroit Horsepower.
    • Michigan Ross Accounting Outreach works with the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project to provide Detroit-based small business owners with accounting services – delivered by BBA students — they need to get their ventures off the ground and keep them on course. “It’s a great platform we can build on,” she said.
    • Business+Impact supports Ross Open Road, a student-run program that sends teams of MBAs across the country for five weeks to work with social entrepreneurs. The first week for each team is spent supporting organizations in Detroit.

Accelerating and amplifying the work of other programs is a priority for Business+Impact, she said. It supports the Detroit Revitalization & Business Club, which encourages students to contribute to Detroit’s revitalization.

U-M and Detroit are recurring themes in Johnson’s life. She holds three U-M degrees – a BA and dual MBA and MSW degrees completed in 2008 – and as an undergraduate student she worked for America Reads in Detroit. She then worked in marketing for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, in social enterprise consulting in Chile and Argentina, and managing a social enterprise portfolio for an agency tackling youth homelessness in Portland, Ore., before taking her first job at Ross.

In that role, she helped launch the business school’s Center for Social Impact, which now has been rolled into the broader mission of Business+Impact. Johnson then served as chief operating officer for the Detroit-based social enterprise Empowerment Plan before returning to Ross in her new role in January.

David Wilkins is an Ann Arbor-based freelancer with more than 20 years of experience in corporate communications and journalism.

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