Making meaningful connections with people is one of Leandra Nisbet’s ‘08, ‘12 special talents. This driving theme is what has found its way into her life as she collaborates with her team members and clients, serves on councils and instructs courses for Davenport University’s Institute for Professional Excellence.
Tell us about yourself. Family, life, background, interests…
I was born and raised in Portage, Michigan. I started college at Western Michigan University before transferring to Davenport University’s Kalamazoo campus. After earning my bachelors at DU, I decided to pursue my MBA in Strategic Business Management. My family still lives in Portage, but I moved to Grand Rapids about eight years ago. I moved here for a job but have since launched my own business endeavors. Family is incredibly important to me so I love that I’m so close to home. My husband and I have started our family here and just celebrated our two year anniversary.
Describe your career path and the series of events that led you to become a business owner?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. When I was in high school, I completed a manicurist course and completed my state licensing to become a nail technician. I’ve sold Avon. I’ve always found ways to keep myself busy and generate income doing things I enjoy. Part of that comes back to how I was raised. Watching my parents inspired me – they owned their own businesses when I was growing up. I worked in the banking and finance industry for over eight years but I realized the corporate culture was not for me. After finishing my MBA and a certificate program, I was talking to my mentor about what to do next and he asked me if owning my own business was an interest of mine. It always had been and that was when I started putting together a business plan.
Describe the services your company, Stingray Advisory Group, offers?
Stingray Advisory Group focuses on both business growth and sustainability. Our core purpose is to help organizations grow and maintain that growth long-term. We assist with strategic planning, financial organization, and marketing. We help businesses in their early stages, as well as small and medium-sized companies. Traveling is sometimes part of the job as some of our clients are outside of Michigan, but most businesses we help are local. My team is growing, which is exciting. Most of the team works on the marketing side right now, but as we grow we’re focused on expanding the financial management segment of our team.
Are you in your dream job? What other accomplishments or next steps do you see yourself doing in the future on your career path?
Yes, I’m definitely living my dream, but there is always more that can be done. I feel like I’m a dreamer and my story is never over. I am very proud of what I have accomplished and often wonder, “Where else can I take this?” Being recognized for my accomplishments as a business owner in the GRBJ’s 40 under 40 is something that I am proud of and humbled by. It is rewarding and also empowering knowing I’m motivating others, and I’m always looking at the bigger picture.
Stingray Advisory Group has been operating for over five years. Two years ago we were named one of the top women-owned businesses. We were honored with that award again this year. I’m very proud of what I have been able to accomplish thus far. Two of our core values are creativity and teamwork which will allow us to continue to grow and find new ways to serve our clients.
What are you passionate about professionally? Personally?
Professionally, I am interested in education and giving back. I find great reward in empowering people, creating change, and connecting people with one another. I also enjoy being involved in the Grand Rapids community. I am a writer and editor for a digital magazine, Rapid Growth Media. I write about entrepreneurship and love sharing other people’s stories.
Personally, I am an animal lover. The arts are also a passion of mine. I enjoy symphonies, museums, concerts, and more. There is always a new restaurant opening in Grand Rapids and my husband and I love trying new food. Some of our favorite restaurants are One Bourbon, El Granjero, and Butcher’s Union. I also enjoy reading, cooking, and traveling. We took a road trip out east for our honeymoon. We went to Boston and made it all the way to the easternmost part of the US in Maine. It was an amazing trip.
What called you to teach and become an adjunct at Davenport?
Being able to give back and staying plugged in. I enjoyed my time here and the experience it gave me. What I really liked about Davenport was how the instructors related the class material to real-life experiences. I wanted to go back and share my experiences with students. I’ve recently transitioned from adjunct to instructor for the IPEX program at DU, which has been great.
You have multiple degrees from DU. What was the draw of Davenport?
Initially, it was because Davenport was “transfer friendly”. Davenport was a local university that, at the time, had an integrated professional studies program. I was able to double major for my undergrad. My degree was easy to customize and I had input on my courses so I could graduate with the degree I wanted. That was very important to me.
When I decided to study for my MBA I picked Davenport again because of familiarity, and because it allowed me to take my courses online. I was comfortable with independent learning. I was also able to connect with my advisor and we worked through my schedule together.
Explain the importance of your involvement in organizations like GRIN (Grand Rapids Inventors Network) and serving on councils like Michigan Women Forward?
Staying involved and being part of the community is important to me. Seeing what’s new and what’s changing, where I can have an impact and help. The organizations I am involved in have some tie to professional or personal development and connecting people. Those are both things I am passionate about.
I am the only female in GRIN. With this group, there are private sessions with the board where people can seek advice on problem-solving and receive tips on how they can get to the next step. There are also monthly meetings where professionals speak about different topics and resources.
In the summertime, Michigan Women Forward offers training and skill development classes, such as STEM education programs, for young women. They also offer programming and financing opportunities for microloans which women entrepreneurs typically apply for year-round. This is something close to my heart, to help women wanting to either explore a potential business venture, grow their business or look for professional opportunities through programming. This connection allows me to stay plugged in, share insights, and be involved.
Who inspires you in your work, life, and/or volunteerism?
A lot of people have influenced me along the way, but my dad is probably my biggest inspiration. Seeing how involved he has been, how committed he is to what he does, and how he’s always pushing himself inspires me. Some of my current mentors are women in business. They open up about the challenges they’ve faced in their companies and have candid conversations about their experiences and what’s worked or not worked for them. They share their knowledge with me so that I don’t have to learn the hard way.
Talk about your family’s values.
My family’s values are respect, honesty, accountability, and willingness to try new things. We each have our own strengths, and it has made for some great experiences and memories.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
Something my dad has told me in various forms over the years, “You have to be willing to stand up for yourself because sometimes nobody else will.” If I’m not going to advocate for myself then I can’t be upset with the results.
How would you like to be remembered?
I hope I will be remembered as someone who was family-oriented, approachable, a good listener and a problem solver. Someone who was loyal and had a positive impact on those around me.
How do you balance it all? Being a business owner, involved in the community, married, having friends and a life…
First, by being an organized person. Second, I’ve learned to say no… but with an alternative. An example would be, saying that I am unable to right now, but maybe another time, or making the connection with someone else who can help out. Also, I don’t believe in the term “work-life balance” I believe in “work-life integration”. There has to be some give and take which can change at any time. There are some aspects of my life that need more of my energy and attention than others. That being said, those things can also shift and I need to be fluid enough to roll with those changes and open to communicating my needs.