July 17, 2014
By Courtney Ratkowiak
Neither Rich Postma (JD 76') nor Mary Petrovich (BSE 85') played varsity golf while at the University of Michigan. In fact, Petrovich played varsity softball (1982-85), and Postma never wore the block M in competition -- except during recreational racquetball games in the Intramural Building as a law student.
But the sport of golf has played a pivotal role in both of their lives. And when they each learned about the opportunity to donate to the new University Golf Course clubhouse project, approved by the University Regents today (Thursday, July 17), the decision to give back was natural.
Postma and Petrovich's gifts are part of the broader $4 billion Victors for Michigan campaign that started in 2013. Both also actively donate to the schools from which they graduated -- Postma gives to the University of Michigan Law School, and Petrovich donates to U-M's College of Engineering.
After leaving the University's Law School, Postma discovered he enjoyed starting companies more than practicing law.
That discovery clearly paid off.
Postma is the founder, chairman and CEO of U.S. Signal Co., LLC, the largest privately held fiber optic carrier in the Midwest. He is also currently the chairman of R.T. London, Inc., a furniture manufacturer; TurnKey Network Systems, LLC, a telecommunications contractor; and Macatawa Bank Corp. He also sits on the board of many public and private companies.
While enjoying his success in the business world, Postma said he was looking for a "hobby." He decided to try his hand at developing golf courses. Along with developing private courses, Postma developed and owns Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course in Arcadia, Mich., a nationally renowned course built on coastal bluffs 225 feet above Lake Michigan, overlooking 3,100 feet of shoreline.
While studying law in Ann Arbor, Postma had enjoyed playing at the University Golf Course with his law school friends. Fifteen years after the opening of Arcadia Bluffs, when Postma learned that the university needed a new golf course clubhouse, he wanted to get involved.
"I called (the university) and said, "I'm very thankful for the education I received while at Michigan, I would be very happy to assist the university in plans to replace the aging clubhouse," Postma said. "Of all the structures there, the golf clubhouse was obviously looking the most tired and needed help. Students, faculty, the community and alums get to play a great Alister MacKenzie course, and I wanted to have a new facility that kept costs down for golfers and could be utilized for hosting different university and community functions."
In recognition of his generous gift the new facility will be named the Richard L. Postma Family Clubhouse. Postma has been actively involved in the design, working with U-M associate athletic director Rob Rademacher on the program and layout. The new golf course clubhouse will be approximately 25,000 square feet and include a banquet space, grill, pro shop, office space and golf cart storage area. A new Letterwinners M Club meeting room will also be included.
A new M Club meeting room in the clubhouse is only fitting, given the generous gift from Mary Petrovich, who just stepped down as the M Club president in mid-June after three successful years at the helm.
Petrovich came to the university in 1981 on a four-year housing and tuition scholarship from the Evans Scholars Foundation, which provides college assistance for golf caddies.
As a 12-year-old caddy at Franklin Hills Country Club in Franklin, Mich., she saw a poster in the caddy shack promoting the Evans Scholars Foundation and a potential scholarship to Michigan or Michigan State.
Even as a child, she knew there was no way that she would be able to attend college without financial aid. Her father had passed away suddenly when she was in the first grade, leaving her mother widowed at age 32 with eight children. Petrovich, the second oldest, shared a bedroom with four sisters as her mother worked to support the family. Nobody in her family had ever attended college.
From that point on, she kept that Evans Scholars poster in the back of her mind and worked hard.
"At first, I think I was probably a little bit intimidated by Michigan, with nobody from my family ever going to a major university," Petrovich said. "But I applied to one school, got into engineering and never turned back. When you don't have any money, a $50 entrance fee is a lot. You know what you want and go for it."
When Petrovich arrived in Ann Arbor, she continued to go for what she wanted. She knew the engineering school would be tough, but as an accomplished softball player at Birmingham Groves High School, she also knew she would regret not trying to play softball in college. As a freshman, she walked on to the Michigan varsity softball team. She became a starting infielder as a junior, the team captain as a senior and graduated with a degree in industrial and operations engineering in 1985.
Petrovich attributes her success to her ability to "expect adversity -- knock the dirt off and get back up again," and that talent became even more evident as she entered the business world after graduating with a Harvard MBA in 1989. Petrovich earned a reputation for successfully turning struggling businesses into profitable ventures, with her most famous turnaround while at the helm of AxleTech International.
After coming in as the CEO of the near-bankrupt company, Petrovich turned it around in three short years to sell it to the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, for 70 times the amount of the original investment. Three years after that, the Carlyle Group sold AxleTech in 2008 for $750 million. Petrovich now works for the Carlyle Group as an operating executive, continuing to look for buyout opportunities.
But as her career flourished, Petrovich realized she felt "out of touch" with the university she loved. She joined the board of the M Club and worked her way up to president. In her time as the club's leader, the club quadrupled its paid membership, significantly improved its financials and started funding multiple scholarships.
Recently, Petrovich again found success in golf, but this time as a player. She participated in her first U.S. Golf Association championship in 2012, the U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur, and competed in the USGA Senior Women's Amateur championship in 2013.
She said her continued love of golf, coupled with her devotion to the university, made giving to the university golf course clubhouse project a natural choice.
And though Postma and Petrovich had drastically different career trajectories and never crossed paths while university students, those reasons for giving -- the love for Michigan and passion for golf -- are nearly identical.
"Clearly, I'm very thankful for the education I received at Michigan," Postma said. "I wanted to quietly do this. I have been involved in golf, and I thought this was a good place, and needed place, to make the contribution."