Karen Grannemann: The Business of Connections
Grannemann in the U Club's fitness center/ Photo by Mark Warner
CEO may just be a title to some, but for Karen Grannemann, CEO and General Manager at the University Club in East Lansing, it means so much more. To Grannemann, CEO means she has to be a teacher, manager, party planner and friend and she does it all flawlessly with a smile on her face.
“Karen’s job includes so much. Running a restaurant, spa, child care facility, fitness center, pool, banquet hall, and all our programs and events,” said Angela Berry, Communications Manager at the University Club. “It’s not a 9-to-5 job … it’s a 24/7 job. Karen has to be there and be visible a good deal of the time and she always is. She really enjoys it. She gets to know the members and really cares about them. That’s the key part of this position, and Karen does it so well.”
Grannemann humbly accepts the compliment and shares that her generous and giving parents taught her that people come first, and that’s a rule she lives by.
“Both my mom and dad were very community oriented. Really, my whole extended family is. I was born in a small town where people help each other,” Grannemann said. “I get a huge a delight out of volunteer work, and commit to a few things really deeply. I really enjoy creating win-win relationships, and using the Club’s resources to support the community.”
For example, the Club’s Big Bang-quet Challenge raises money for two dozen charities each year, and the Club provides a home to several community-based groups, such as Junior League of Lansing and 100 Women Who Care. Grannemann has put the Club’s support behind several programs that recognize rising local talent, such as the “Ten Over the Next Ten” program of the Lansing Chamber of Commerce and Grand River Connection, as well as the Ingham County Bar Association’s “Five Under 35.”
Grannemann’s work ethic and love for people only grew in her 20 years as a Vice President of the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s Educational Institute. But she really found her place after coming to the University Club in 1996. After 18 years of dedication and progression through the company, Grannemann earned the title of CEO in July, when long-time CEO/GM Richard Bruner retired.
Her years of practice help her manage an atypical work schedule and still find time to chair the Dapper Dads Challenge (a tremendously popular fundraiser for the Sparrow Foundation) and volunteer time with additional foundations and
“I love getting to know people, and my job allows me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people. I love our members,” said Grannemann. “We have such a diverse array of professionals, business leaders, government officials, and educators. I enjoy interacting with them and finding new services we can provide for them. We are in the business of making connections. Whether it’s a family, a bride and groom, a business deal, or kids making friends at camp, we are here to help our members connect. We’re an incubator of sorts, where ideas and relationships are born every day.”
The University Club, better known as the U Club, offers its members and the community dozens of opportunities to connect, whether over a meal in the Club’s member dining room Mingle or at one of the Club’s popular special events. These range from free professional networking events like Connections and Coffee to annual events like the recent Oceanside Extravaganza and End-of-Summer Family Carnival.
The U Club also offers a luxurious adult-only fitness center, spa, child care facility, pools and much more — all without charging members an annual assessment.
Grannemann takes great pride in the strides the U Club has taken in her 18 years with the organization. She helped spearhead several of the Club’s transformations, from the 1997 merger with the City Club of Lansing, to partnering with the College of Business on the development of the Henry Center for Executive Development, to opening the fitness center. Her vision for the Club is simple and it contributes to her success.
“We must constantly reinvent ourselves while remaining true to our culture. The leadership team took the time to define who we are, what we do and what we stand for. Everything we do is based on that culture,” Grannemann said. “We hire and train to that culture; we coach and counsel to that culture. It is who we are and we have done a really good job.”
Grannemann is quick to add that she couldn’t possibly do it alone. She gives tremendous credit to her dedicated and loyal staff. The average tenure of each of her seven department heads is nearly 20 years. This accomplished group of experienced professionals leads a team of 225 employees.
“I can’t say enough about our staff. They are dedicated to this job. Our employees are here on Thanksgiving Day, on Mother’s Day, on Easter, on New Year’s Eve, always sacrificing these special times with their own families to be with ours,” said Grannemann. “To take a job that requires that kind of dedication is reflective of an awesome team that delights in successfully meeting our members’ needs and wishes.”
The staff handles the challenges that come along with serving 1,500 member families as a team.
“We work together to meet the volume of interaction that is required here. Between emails, phone calls, meetings, member time, staff time and community involvement, there are a lot of 12 and 14-hour days,” she said. “Weekends, evenings and holidays included. There are only five days each year that we’re completely closed.”
Spending that much time in her professional position required Grannemann to find unique ways to find time with her family. Grannemann and her husband Norman have been married for almost 40 years and are proud parents to daughters Sarah (28) and Laura (22).
“We were members back when our children were young, and they grew up at the Club,” said Grannemann. “When you work here, your home and work life blend together and you have to find a natural fit. My family has always been supportive and I am very thankful for that.”
It seems to the community and her co-workers that this is a position that Grannemann, who they say is dedicated, passionate and energetic, was born to fill.
“She has the energy about her. It is flawless. When she gets involved with an organization it comes to life,” Berry said. “She finds ways to motivate and assemble volunteers and donations. She can get people excited about something and move everyone to support a common cause. It is an amazing strength that she uses for the good of the Club and the community.”
Tags: Cover Story, Karen Grannemann, university club
Ami Iceman-Hauter is the Brand Manager at M3 Group in downtown Lansing. Iceman is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelors degree in creative advertising.