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Cleary alumni couple leave deep footprints in corporate America

“Education is preparation for life; your graduation today is not the end of your educational journey; it is just the beginning. We all need to continuously learn to keep up with the pace of change!” Steve Hoeft, Cleary Class of 1986 graduate and the university’s keynote speaker at the 2024 commencement ceremony, spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000 family members and friends gathered at Lake Trust Stadium to celebrate the graduation of 532 students – the largest graduating class in Cleary’s history!

Steve and his wife, Cindy, both graduated from Cleary in the 1980s. At that time, the Howell campus – where the Hoefts studied – was called the Cleary “Annex,” and the main campus was in Ypsilanti. They grew up in Howell, graduated from Howell High School, and were high school sweethearts.

Cindy had her life plan in place: she was going to be a registered nurse. On the first day of nursing classes, she visited the anatomy lab, and “I sold my books that same day,” she laughs about it now. “Nursing definitely was not for me.” That’s when she decided to follow Steve, who was pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Cleary.

“I was the first in my family to go to college,” Steve reports. “After high school, I didn’t have any assistance on how to figure out my career direction. I knew I wanted to make money … I didn’t have much growing up. I thought a degree would get me on the right track to a financially secure future. Cleary was a good business school, and I felt I couldn’t go wrong with a business degree.”

Steve immediately was impressed with Cleary’s teaching staff. “My professors were working full-time in the field in which they were teaching. They had a passion for knowledge and a passion for business, and they understood the world we were going to enter. In the 80s, we didn’t have the internet or CNBC to learn about world business; it was a mystery to us; that is why learning from the experts who were teaching at Cleary was so beneficial to my future,” he finds. “The professors instilled in me that passion for learning that is still in me today.”

The Hoeft FamilyCindy agrees. When she met with the admissions team at Cleary, “they worked with me to help me find my place at Cleary. I had only one career plan – nursing – and when that fell apart, I wasn’t sure what my next step was. “Cleary helped me with a new career plan and a timeline, and the instructors were amazing and welcoming, and they made me feel comfortable quickly. Cleary was the right fit for me.”

After college, Steve and Cindy both started climbing the corporate ladder rapidly, thanks to the tools and resources Cleary provided. Cindy worked in sales for Fortune 500 companies, while Steve was focusing on executive leadership positions with major national corporations.

“Thanks to my business degree from Cleary, this small town girl from Howell was able to speak the language of business in corporate America,” Cindy reports.

Several years and two children later, Steve and Cindy decided together that Cindy would step back from her career, and Steve would “double down,” he describes.

Over the past 30 years, he has served in many corporate leadership capacities: he was Principal Consultant at Execution Specialists Group, Senior Vice President and General Manager for The Brink’s Company, Vice President for Advance Auto Parts, and Vice President for Corporate Express (now Staples). While pursuing his undergraduate degree at Cleary, Hoeft started a local company – Discount Office Supply – that eventually was sold to Corporate Express. Along the way, he earned an MBA from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

In 2022, he was named President of the Bridgestone Americas Commercial Truck Group, responsible for setting Bridgestone’s go-to-market strategy for its commercial business. (Bridgestone Americas, Inc, is the US-based subsidiary of Bridgestone Corporation, a global leader in tires and rubber. The corporation employs more than 45,000 people across the world.) Steve has been with Bridgestone since 2017.

He and Cindy now live near Nashville, Tennessee, where Bridgestone Americas is headquartered.

“We miss the small town feel of Howell and visit as often as we can,” says Cindy. The Hoefts have a summer home in northern Michigan. Even though they have traveled around the country for their careers, “Michigan is still home for us,” Cindy finds.

“When Tom Egan (Director of Development at Cleary) reached out to me a few months ago and invited me to speak at Cleary’s commencement this year, it was quite humbling. It truly was an honor of a lifetime,” Steve reflects. The Hoefts toured the Howell campus, and “we were amazed at the extraordinary growth of Cleary over the past two decades,” he notes.

“Thanks to Cleary, I learned the value of an education. As President of the Bridgestone Americas Commercial Truck Group, I understand the complexity of building a successful  organization, and I treasure my education from Cleary,” he says. “I received a rock-solid foundation for my career.”

During his keynote speech at Cleary’s commencement, Steve announced, “If I could talk with my Cleary self as a new graduate, I first would say, ‘life at best is an outline, not a script. You’ve been equipped at Cleary with amazing tools to keep discovering yourself. Remember to maintain humility; be patient, pragmatic and relentless; be willing to compromise; find work/life balance and work hard to keep it; and cherish relationships, both personal and professional, because they will enrich your life. Keep moving forward all the time and work hard – this is an absolute necessity for success.

“Do not forget to enjoy the journey … it should be a fun and exciting adventure! I wish you all the best of what life can bring you!”