Carlson, Klohs awarded WMU's top alumni honor

Contact: Jeanne Baron

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A former health insurance company executive and the head of a West Michigan economic development organization will receive the highest honor Western Michigan University can confer on its alumni—the WMU Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award.

The 2017 award recipients are Jeanne Carlson, of Novi, a retired Blue Care Network of Michigan president and CEO, and Birgit Klohs, of Grand Rapids, CEO of The Right Place Inc., the regional economic development organization for Grand Rapids and the West Michigan region.

Established in 1963, the Distinguished Alumni Award program honors and celebrates alumni who bring distinction to their alma mater through professional accomplishments and who have achieved a high level of success in their careers. Alumni are nominated by their peers and selected by the WMU Alumni Association Board of Directors.

WMU's 54th Distinguished Alumni Award recipients will be recognized during a 2017 homecoming-related reception Friday, Oct. 13, on campus in the Bernhard Center. For more details about the award winners and the reception, including the cost and how to register, visit Direct questions to WMU's Hardy Figueroa at or (269) 387-8774.


Photo of Jeanne Carlson.

Jeanne Carlson

Carlson retired from Blue Care Network of Michigan as president and CEO in 2010. She served in several executive positions for both the nonprofit mutual insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan as well as BCN, its subsidiary health maintenance organization.

During her 33-year tenure with those two organizations, BCN achieved numerous milestones. Carlson expanded product offerings to include new commercial and government business products that increased members, and she was responsible for building the HMO's Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant operations and procedures.

She also guided BCN through its successful entry into the senior market, introduction of a Health Reimbursement Account that recognized the importance of having consumer-driven products, and launch of one of the first Detroit-area plans to incorporate wellness and preventative care.

Before joining BCBSM and BCN, Carlson was a staff auditor at what is now Deloitte & Touche and a private financial advisor. She has been an active member of numerous Metropolitan Detroit organizations and served by gubernatorial appointment on the WMU Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2014, chairing the board in 2013. Her many other WMU ties include serving on the WMU Alumni Association Board of Directors from 1995-96 to 2000-01 and presiding over the board the latter year. The WMU Haworth College of Business presented her its Outstanding Alumni Achievement award in 2016.

Carlson earned an associate degree from Jackson Community College in 1966, a bachelor's degree in accountancy from WMU in 1968, and a master's degree from Wayne State University in 1989.


Photo of Birgit Klohs.

Birgit Klohs

Klohs has spent her career in economic development and working to make West Michigan an economic leader in the Midwest. She has served as Right Place CEO since 1987. Under her leadership, West Michigan saw more than $4 billion in capital investments as well as the creation of more than 40,000 jobs. In addition, The Right Place has developed international partnerships and collaborations with local and regional government and business to create innovative opportunities.

As an immigrant from Germany in the 1970s, Klohs settled in the St. Joseph, Benton Harbor area early in her career and landed a job at the Berrien County Economic Development Corp. She also has worked at Grand Valley State University, the Princeton Corp., and the Michigan Department of Commerce's West Michigan Region office.

Considered one of West Michigan's most influential women, Klohs has received numerous honors for her professional activities and skills. They include gubernatorial appointments to the International Crossing Authority that is overseeing construction of the North American International Trade Crossing and to the WMU Board of Trustees, which she served on from 1997 to 2004 and chaired in her final year. The Haworth College of Business presented her with an Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award in 2012.

Klohs graduated from the Economic Development Institute of Oklahoma in 1982 and earned a bachelor's degree in finance from WMU in 1983. She also attended Harvard University's program on negotiation and completed the professional economic development finance program through the National Development Council.

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