If you’ve lived in or around Flint for more than a few months, the odds that you’ve met Terry Wisner (BBA ’81) are pretty good. Wisner is a familiar face to many people on the UM-Flint campus and in the greater Flint community. With his silver hair, welcoming handshake, and quick chuckle, Wisner is a self-described “connection connoisseur” who enjoys meeting new people almost as much as he enjoys introducing folks to one another.
Wisner enjoyed a 30-year career with General Motors before “retiring” to launch Partnering to Success LLC, a company for which he serves as CEO and President. It’s in this role that Wisner can best use his UM-Flint education, mastery of organizational development, and innate people skills to help his community, including his alma mater.
Wisner has always had the gift of gab. Born and raised in the Flint area, he learned early the benefits – and the limits – of this skill. During the Vietnam era, Terry was faced with the prospect of being drafted into the U.S. Army. Instead, he decided to enlist in the U.S. Air Force, as it would buy him a little more time to stay home in Swartz Creek, plan a wedding to his future wife, Lynne, and start a family.
Unfortunately, the Air Force called upon Terry to report for duty earlier than expected and, a week later, Wisner found himself on a bus to Fort Wayne for basic training and preparation for a USAF role as a dental technician.
"Being loaded on that bus and sent to Detroit was an eye-opening experience for me. I recall being on the bus telling myself that I would talk my way out of this and be on my way back up to Flint by the end of the day,” said Wisner. “Boy, was I wrong! It would be more than three and a half years before I permanently returned home to my wife and first of four children.”
Wisner was able to make his return to the area when he was discharged as part of an early-out program that allowed him to pursue a dental degree at the University of Michigan. It was quickly apparent, however, that balancing three part-time jobs and a full course load did not allow for much time with his family.
“I was not spending the quality time with my kids that I needed to,” said Wisner. “I recall holding my three-week-old daughter at Christmas and realizing it felt like I had barely held her at all since she had been born.”
“All I was doing was working and studying,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘The world does not need a dentist this badly. I need to find one stable job and focus on my wife and kids.’ So that’s what I did.”
He applied for a position at a local General Motors facility on the west side of Flint and received the job. It was just the sort of “9-5” job he needed to focus on raising his family. He knew, though, that in order to advance in the company and meet his career goals, he would have to return to school and complete his degree. This time, however, he chose to attend the University of Michigan-Flint.
“When I started at UM-Flint, I was just doing it to get a promotion,” said Wisner. “Several times at work I was told that I would be a great candidate for a job, but I lacked the necessary education. I hated that I needed to check a box to get the promotion, and I was not really looking forward to going back to school.”
“However, after attending a few classes at UM-Flint, I learned it would be much different than my previous experiences with education,” Wisner continued. “I discovered UM-Flint was a community of learners that encouraged me to think critically and challenge my notions of the world. It was, by far, the most difficult educational experience I have had, but it was also the most rewarding. It not only checked that box I needed to get a promotion, it prepared me to be a problem solver and leader for the rest of my life.”
One of the things that stands out to Wisner about his time at UM-Flint is the quality of his professors.
“While attending UM-Flint I discovered there are good instructors and great instructors. Several of the great ones I had were able to not only educate people, but they entertained and enlightened them. They made me think and ponder,” he said. “I learned how to speak before a group, and I have tried to use those principles in my work as a facilitator and professional speaker.”
After graduating in 1981, Terry received that promotion and spent the next 25 years using his education by adding value to initiatives across General Motors. His work took him from Kansas to Kenya and to more than 40 states in the U.S. He developed a reputation as a “clean-up-guy” during a time when General Motors was undergoing tremendous changes and challenges, and was sent into parts of the company that needed his team-building and problem-solving skills.
This was the foundation that would lead Wisner to his current role. He retired from GM in 2005, but if you spend time with him today, you will realize he has not slowed down. Instead, Terry has shifted his focus from bettering GM to bettering the greater Flint community.
Applying the skills he gained throughout his career, Terry now spends his time as a consultant and volunteer assisting organizations in the Flint region and across the country. From animal welfare organizations to the higher education institutions in Flint, Terry is giving back and leaving a legacy in the process.
It was this work in the community that made him a perfect candidate to serve on the UM-Flint Strategic Planning Steering Committee starting in the fall of 2016.
“When we were contacted by the Chancellor’s Office to nominate an alum for the committee, I immediately thought of Terry,” said Brent Nickola, UM-Flint Alumni Relations Manager. “He lived the UM-Flint experience, has knowledge of the community, and is an expert in the planning process. He was a perfect fit.”
Wisner has embraced the project as a way to help UM-Flint define its path for the future. His work and dedication has not gone unnoticed by the committee leadership.
“The University of Michigan-Flint is fortunate to have Terry as a member of the Strategic Planning Committee. He embodies the true spirit of service and has played a leading role in facilitating and moderating discussions at the Strategic Planning Open Forums with students, staff, and faculty,” said Hiba Wehbe-Alamah, Associate Professor of Nursing and Strategic Planning Committee Chairperson. “He has extensive experience in facilitating group discussions all around the world. He is a genuine person who cares about the University of Michigan-Flint and surrounding community and has generously donated his time, energy, and expertise.”
A former colleague once tagged Wisner with the nickname, “The Ameliorator,” based on his unique ability to make people and organizations better. It’s a moniker he carries with much pride and humility. For more than three decades, he has spent his life helping others to live more prosperous professional and personal lives. As UM-Flint completes the first phases of its strategic planning process, the campus is grateful to have “The Ameliorator” on our team as we work to make campus a stronger place for our students, our faculty and staff, our alumni, and the greater community.
If you are interested in more details about the UM-Flint Strategic Plan visit https://www.umflint.edu/strategicplanning2017.