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John '79 and Nancy '83 Kennedy

Joseph & Kara Fortman

'Life is not a spectator sport' for philanthropic alumni couple

by Rackeline Hoff, contributing writer

When Nancy Greening Kennedy ’83 graduated from University of Detroit, she incorporated the message “Life is not a spectator sport” in her commencement address. And, she and her husband John C. Kennedy ’79 have lived that ideology ever since, distinguishing themselves as leaders in business and community service.

Upon graduation from U of D, John was hired as an accountant for Deloitte LLP in Detroit, later being transferred to the firm’s Grand Rapids office. Soon thereafter, he joined Autodie, a tool and die manufacturer, where he served as chief financial officer.  

In 1988, John bought Autocam from Autodie. At that time, it was a 50-person manufacturer of precision machined components for the automotive industry, with one customer and $8 million in sales. Under John’s leadership as president and CEO, he has successfully utilized his entrepreneurial skills and strong business acumen to develop Autocam and other ventures into an international family of businesses, including manufacturing, graphics, retail and real estate, with 13 facilities on four continents, 2,000 employees and more than $300 million in sales.

Nancy worked with John in Autocam’s early years, but she soon changed her focus to raise their four children, who are now all in their 20s. Last April, she returned to work at the company, using her compliance skills in the manufacturing process.

John and Nancy met each other through various events at U of D, where both earned bachelor’s degrees in accounting. He grew up in St. Clair Shores and Grosse Pointe Woods, while Nancy lived in Warren until 1976, when her family moved to Chicago. They each chose the University for the same reasons—being awarded scholarships to help finance their education and maintaining the Kennedy and Greening family traditions, which included three generations of U of D graduates.

“U of D was the right fit for us. It provided a quality Catholic education and offered numerous leadership opportunities. Nancy was an Insignis Scholar, and I had a Presidential Scholarship. We were both involved in University life,” said John. He was active in student government and ran cross country, while Nancy participated in the Student Activities Board and was a student instructor in French.  

“Through its urban environment, co-op programs and leadership opportunities, the University does a great job of preparing students to live in a global world,” added Nancy. “I met students from around the world and had two valuable co-op assignments—one working on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and the other in public accounting in Chicago.”

In addition to building a successful, international company and raising a family, the Kennedys have been active in many civic and community organizations. Among previous commitments, John served six years on the Michigan State Transportation Commission. Currently, he is on the boards of Lacks Enterprises and Business Leaders for Michigan, as well as serving as a trustee of Grand Valley State University and the Van Andel Institute, a cancer and neuroscience medical research center. He also is co-founder and treasurer of Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy, a 6th through 12th grade college-prep school, which is part of the Grand Rapids public school system.

“We founded the school in 2007, so we’ll see our first graduating class in June of 2014. Many of our students are economically disadvantaged, but we’re proud to offer them an education that will prepare them to go on to college, and we anticipate a 95% high school graduation rate,” said John.

Nancy currently serves on the Diocesan finance committee and the United Way Board of Directors. She previously was a board member of St. Mary’s Health Care System and Catholic Social Services.

Family is high among the Kennedys’ priorities, and they enjoy spending time with their adult children, three sons and a daughter, and other relatives. John also enjoys cycling and discussing world affairs, while Nancy prefers “just about any excuse to be outdoors.”  

The Kennedys have demonstrated their long-standing commitment to the University since graduation, when both joined the President’s Cabinet. John has served on the UDM Board of Trustees. They also generously support the College of Business Administration, from which they both graduated. John served many years on the College's Board of Advisors, and Nancy currently serves in this role. In 2006, the Kennedys were awarded the University’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.

John and Nancy Kennedy continue to give liberally of their time and efforts to their work and their many community involvements. As Nancy explained, “We have been very blessed in our lives, and we enjoy helping others whenever we can.”