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Meet the 2024 Class of Outstanding Business Leaders

March 28, 2024

Northwood University is honored to celebrate the 2024 Class of Outstanding Business Leaders on April 6 at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

“This is our third year at The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. I cannot think of a better place to hold this outstanding event than amidst the historical, industrial, and innovative backdrop that the great state of Michigan epitomizes. We look forward to celebrating our honorees and supporters at this year’s exclusive Gala,” stated Northwood President Kent MacDonald.

“Now in its 44th year, the Outstanding Business Leaders Awards recognize modern business leaders who have followed in the steps of trailblazing pioneers by significantly contributing to the free enterprise system,” MacDonald stated.

“Aligned with the ethos of both Northwood University and Henry Ford, we will celebrate America’s rich business culture, its spirit of modernization and entrepreneurship, and the remarkable individuals driving these endeavors forward,” added Murray Kyte, vice president of advancement for Northwood University.

The 2024 Class of Outstanding Business Leaders honorees include:

• Mamadou Diallo, automobile sales, senior vice president, American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

• Thomas Latham, CEO, Tri-State Forest Products, Inc.

• Sarah Rowley Opperman, chair, Isabella Bank Corporation

• Chris Pruitt, president and CEO, East Penn Manufacturing Co.

• Ret. Ambassador John Rakolta Jr., chairman of Walbridge Group.

Eric D. July, CEO and founder of the comic book company Rippaverse, is being awarded the Richard DeVos Young Entrepreneur Award.

About this year’s winners

The following includes biographical information about the 2024 Class of Outstanding Business Leaders.

Mamadou Diallo

As senior vice president of auto sales of American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (AHM), Mamadou Diallo is responsible for Honda and Acura automobile sales, sales planning, logistics, sales strategy and product communications.

Tom Latham

In 1999, Latham founded Tri-State Forest Products, Inc. in Springfield, Ohio. Tri-State Forest Products is a wholesale distributor of various building materials, including commodity lumber, sheet goods, and engineered wood products.

Tri-State Products, Inc. has since expanded and added facilities in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee; a second location in Ohio; three Michigan locations; and a sales agreement for a treating plant in Grand Rapids.

Sarah Opperman

Sarah Opperman is a business executive with over 40 years of professional experience, including a diverse range of business and philanthropic leadership roles.

She has served as the elected chair of the Isabella Bank Corporation and Isabella Bank boards of directors since 2021 and has been an independent director on those boards since 2012.

Chris Pruitt

Chris Pruitt serves as president and CEO of East Penn Manufacturing Co. Inc., maker of Deka Batteries. East Penn Manufacturing is the world’s largest privately held battery manufacturer, with over 10,000 employees.

Pruitt serves on the East Penn Manufacturing Co. Board of Directors and the company’s Family Council and Foundation.

Ambassador John Rakolta, Jr. (ret.)

Ambassador John Rakolta, Jr. (ret.) is chairman of Walbridge, a privately held construction company founded in Detroit in 1916. The company is one of the largest contractors in the United States.

Rakolta is the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Commissioner General of Expo Dubai 2020, serving from 2019-2021.

Eric D. July

In 2022, after getting married to his longtime friend, Tori (known as Lady Rippa), he announced he would make his comic book universe, and Rippaverse was created that same year.

July’s Isom issue #1 amassed over $2.6 million, making Isom the most successful crowdfunded comic book project in history. This was achieved without a crowdfunding site, as July ran the campaign on his dedicated website. At the end of the campaign, July had raised over $3.7 million.

About the Outstanding Business Leaders Awards

The Outstanding Business Leader Awards, dating back to 1981, are presented annually by the Northwood University Board of Trustees. Recipients exemplify the Northwood Idea philosophy, which values individual freedom and responsibility, moral law, limited government earned success, and the importance of free enterprise. Other selection criteria include a nominee’s contribution to the philosophy of private enterprise, support of the integration of business and the arts, education, economic innovation, community involvement, spiritual leadership, philanthropic contributions, and business success. 

“The honorees serve as outstanding examples of success, providing encouragement and guidance for our students as they pursue their paths toward excellence,” Kyte added. “Overall, recognizing these leaders reinforces the University’s commitment to fostering leadership and an entrepreneurial spirit among its students.”

Net proceeds from the April 6 gala will support the Outstanding Business Leader Endowed Scholarship at Northwood University.

For more information, please visit the Outstanding Business Leaders event webpage at https://bit.ly/3OdrVeT.

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