For nine years, Platinum Equity has served as the presenting sponsor for the annual Jalen Rose Leadership Academy Celebrity Golf Classic, a major fundraising event for the public charter school located in the Detroit neighborhood of Rose’s youth.

This year, in an effort to have more of an impact in the students’ lives, Platinum Equity introduced a new mentorship program for JRLA students the following day with the hope it will become an annual occurrence.

The August event took place at the Detroit Pistons Performance Center, a building Platinum Founder and CEO Tom Gores, who owns the Pistons, called a place for the community to “come together” at the 2019 grand opening.

After a tour of the facility, a motivational video featuring the words of Gores was shown for the students while they ate breakfast with a mentor from Platinum Equity or the Pistons organization.

Afterward, Platinum Equity Principal Dan Whelan moderated a panel discussion featuring Platinum Partner John Diggins and executives Katie McNaughton and Vince Ellis, who both have ties to the Detroit area with Ellis based there. Whelan also grew up in nearby Ann Arbor. Pistons executives Arn Tellem and Alicia Jeffreys joined them.

The panelists shared their career paths and gave insights into careers in private equity or professional sports. The idea is to establish solid mentorship relationships with students while exposing them to career paths they might not have considered.

For at least one student, it was time well spent.

“There’s a lot of things I got out of it,” JRLA junior basketball player Ethan Dorsett said recently at the Pistons’ open scrimmage at Little Caesars Arena. “I learned about a lot of more things that I didn’t know about, stuff that I could be good at, rather than just basketball. It’s about more than basketball and that helped me open my eyes to more choices.”

Strong relationship

Gores and his wife, Holly, have supported the school since its founding in 2011. At the golf outing, Rose recalled Platinum executives joining him on diligence trips to the JRLA campus shortly after the school opened.

In 2013, Gores and his wife donated $250,000 to the JRLA. Starting the following year, Gores and Platinum Equity have served as presenting sponsors for the event. Rose easily recalls visits to the couple’s home in Los Angeles where they bonded over their shared Michigan upbringings. Gores is from the Flint area, while Holly is from Grosse Ile. They met at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

“They’ve always been loving, caring, thoughtful, and trying to figure out ways that they can help and support,” Rose told in 2020. “The way he loves Flint and the way he knows Michigan State, for them to fly the JRLA flag in the same manner, it really means a lot to me.”

Last year, Tom and his wife donated $1 million through the Tom Gores Family Foundation to the school’s plan for facility expansion and infrastructure improvements. The school doesn’t qualify for state funding for facilities.

With consistent financial support in place, thoughts turned to establishing a more personal relationship with students.

Platinum Equity brainstormed ideas and settled on a mentorship program, recognizing the important role access and early exposure to opportunity played in their own careers.

“Platinum has proudly supported JRLA for many years, but we wanted to get closer to the students and directly support them by sharing our experiences and lessons learned,” McNaughton said. “I know for myself and many of us at Platinum, relationships and mentors helped get us where we are today. Tom is a huge advocate of mentoring so we thought that it was time to connect with the students on a personal level, share what we’ve learned and get to know them and hopefully add value as they map out their paths.”

Needed support

The day started when students and mentors gathered in a room overlooking the practice court for Pistons players. The group included 13 Platinum professionals from various departments, including the firm’s business development, M&A and marketing teams from Los Angeles and New York.

Mentors were asked to bring an influential book to gift mentees. After a brief get-to-know-you period, Rose and Diggins started the morning and attendees were placed in individual groups to tour the PPC, which was constructed for $90 million and opened in 2019 as part of Gores’ decision to move the Pistons downtown to play in nearby Little Caesars Arena in 2017.

Students visited every Pistons department with employees giving short explanations on responsibilities. When groups ventured into basketball operations, students were given access to state-of-the-art medical equipment along with office spaces with the latest amenities for front office personnel and coaching staff. Before entering the practice court, students walked through the training area and were surprised when they were greeted by Pistons star Cade Cunningham, the first overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft who excelled as a rookie last season.

Once on the court, students took shots and posed for pictures with mentors.

After the tour, it was time for the panel discussion. Whelan asked Diggins to recall the early days before Platinum grew into the global firm it is now today. In his telling, Diggins emphasized the importance of one of Gores’ mantras, codified in Platinum Equity’s guiding principles: don’t be limited by other people’s perceptions of you.

“Tom Gores had a saying when we first started up because there were times we weren’t making money, we were getting kicked out of opportunities and everybody would (question our path),” Diggins said. “Tom would say it’s riskier to not take the risk.

“Don’t be afraid to take risks, don’t settle, not one person (on the panel) settled and they will never settle.”

‘It shows how real Platinum Equity is’

JRLA is tuition-free with open enrollment. In its 12 years, the school says 100 percent of graduates have been accepted into colleges or technical schools. Rose proudly boasts the relationship with students doesn’t end at graduation and the school has adopted a ‘9-16’model that provides post-secondary support services.

It’s Ethan Dorsett’s first year attending JRLA after transferring from Detroit Cass Tech so the school is still new to his family. But Platinum Equity’s support of JRLA left a good impression with Dorsett’s father, Koron. Attending the scrimmage along with his son, he mentioned the book Ethan received, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

“The event was so beneficial to my son,” Koron Allen said. “The thing that impressed me the most was the book. No one’s giving you a book to read these days. Me and my wife even agreed to get the book to read along with him.

“It shows how real Platinum Equity is. It shows that they are part of us, and they are trying to help us get to wherever they may be at. They are showing us that we all the same; we just live at different addresses, that’s all.”

It’s clear Ethan hopes to make basketball a career, but his father, who works for Oakland (Mich.) County government, knows the odds are low. Platinum Equity providing exposure to the Pistons organization helps in showing there are multiple career paths in professional sports.

“There’s more than basketball for his future and education,” Koron Dorsett said. He is still talking about (the event), about how they told him he can be better, not just with basketball, but with his mind.”


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