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Leader Spotlight: All Eyes on Forrest Buffenbarger

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Our region’s future is bright thanks to the strong leaders who are navigating change and cultivating successful teams today. Not only are these leaders a catalyst for change today, but they are also molding and shaping the leaders of future generations. FIRST & 42 is celebrating the region’s stars from the 2020 class of Leadership Kalamazoo with our Leader Spotlight. Lean in to learn about these leaders’ “firsts” in life as well as their answers to a few deeper questions about their leadership and vision for our community. Featured today is Forrest Buffenbarger, assistant manager at Gazelle Sports.

Forrest has several responsibilities in his role as assistant manager, but one that shines is his leadership of the sales floor team at Gazelle. Shaping his leadership the most has been Forrest’s father. “He taught me that I can lead from a place of compassion, empathy, and integrity rather than leading with a booming voice and aggressive command,” said Forrest. Forrest’s vision for our community is that we will be “a community that arises to the occasion we are in at the present time and shines the light of who we are: we are Kalamazoo strong!” Read on below to learn more about Forrest.

First Things First

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR?

My first car was a 2004 Pontiac Vibe.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB OUT OF COLLEGE?

I worked at Gazelle Sports as a sales floor leader through college, and a year after graduating, I transitioned into the role of assistant manager.

WHO IS THE FIRST PERSON YOU GO TO WITH GOOD NEWS?

As cliché as it is, I go to my wife Naomi with good news.

The Deep Dive

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN YOUR CURRENT POSITION? WHAT ARE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY RESPONSIBILITIES?

I have been in my current position right around a year now. My day-to-day has changed quite a bit over the past year. I am frequently working the floor with our sales team, which has been great to get back into the grind and get some more in-depth responses from our team and customers on opportunities for growth. In addition to being on the floor, I lead a Gazelle Sports initiative on Strava (a social media platform for movement tracking). I lead the Kalamazoo Gazelle Sports medical outreach program. My day-to-day is really a balance of those tasks with some added irregular tasks.

I lead a few teams within the day-to-day operations—the most devotion of time goes to the sales floor team. The sales floor team is awesome; they are filled with positivity and care. The sales floor team is a critical step or bridge for our customers. The care that each team member has to provide for each guest is one of expertise, investigatory, and care. Personally, I think we have a team that shares their knowledge, asks questions to find out the needs of the guest, and truly cares about the outcome of that guest. That is the makings of a wonderful team that I am proud to lead and work alongside.

WHO HAS SHAPED YOUR LEADERSHIP THE MOST?

The most influential person that has helped to shape, mold, and create the leader that I am today would be my father. Growing up with a police officer as a father is not the easiest thing that I have experienced, but through some of the hardships, disagreements, fights, times of bonding, coaching, and love, I became the man and leader I am today. Some of the attributes I have and attribute to his teachings are—discipline, time-management, respect, inclusivity, patience, integrity, and care. Although the attributes he taught me are important and have been a big part of the style I use to lead, the biggest thing he taught me is that having a “natural skill set” to be a leader does not automatically equal the best leader. He taught me that I can lead from a place of compassion, empathy, and integrity rather than leading with a booming voice and aggressive command.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT KALAMAZOO?

The people. I love the people of Kalamazoo. We are a strong, caring, creative, ingenious, diverse, fun, open, loving, just, and artistic group of people. We create an amazing community on both a micro- and macroscale. In good times, we have fun, celebrate, and share comradery. In rough times, we rally, gather around one another, and help each other. It is a beautiful thing to be a part of this community.

WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR OUR COMMUNITY IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?

My vision for the Kalamazoo community is a community that is flourishing with culture, commerce, and love. Our leaders have made great steps in creating a community we can be proud of, but it will take continued work and integrity to keep that community on an upward path. A few things I believe we can bring to fruition in the next five years are: continued development and uplifting of the Kalamazoo Promise, aiding our youth in early development, creating a better future, and giving hope. I hope we can be a community coming together to fight against racism and injustice regularly, until the issue is eradicated from our homes. I hope that we can keep pressing on towards affordable living for all—integrating and building small homes and affordable apartments. I also hope that we can lean on our strong relationships with big business allies in the community to create more jobs. Ultimately, we will be a community that arises to the occasion we are in at the present time and shines the light of who we are: we are Kalamazoo strong!

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