Stephen R. Polk


The Detroit News - - Front Page -

It’s been a ban­ner sum­mer for Stephen R. Polk — busi­ness­man, sailor, col­lege trustee, wildlife en­thu­si­ast and Detroit Zoo board mem­ber.

Polk, 61, of Bloom­field Hills has en­joyed time Up North with his fam­ily, in­clud­ing sail­ing his SC70 Evo­lu­tion to a fourth-place fin­ish in the Chicago to Mack­inac race and third place in the Port Huron to Mack­inac race. On land, he was named chair­man of the Detroit Re­gional Cham­ber of Com­merce.

And then there is the con­tin­u­ing suc­cess of the Polk Pen­guin Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter at the Detroit Zoo, built in part with a $10-mil­lion gift from him and his wife, the big­gest do­na­tion in the zoo’s 89year his­tory.

In its first six months, the 33,000-square foot, $30-mil­lion ex­hibit has al­ready drawn 1 mil­lion vis­i­tors and is ex­pected to draw mil­lions more in the com­ing years.

“It’s the best ex­hibit of its kind in the world,” said Polk, CEO of High­gate LLC, an in­vest­ment group in Birm­ing­ham. “It is truly some­thing re­mark­able and some­thing we all can en­joy and use as an ed­u­ca­tional tool.”

Polk’s ac­com­plish­ments and roots in Michi­gan run as deep as the Great Lakes. He has taken a phil­an­thropic and ac­tive role in groups as di­verse as the Au­to­mo­tive Hall of Fame, Detroit Sym­pho- ny Orches­tra, Detroit Eco­nomic Club and the Cran­brook Ed­u­ca­tional Com­mu­nity.

He has been on the Detroit Zoo’s board of di­rec­tors since 1989, fol­low­ing a fa­ther and brother. He has a bach­e­lor of science de­gree in bi­ol­ogy from Deni­son Univer­sity, a pri­vate col­lege in Ohio, where he sits on the board of trustees.

He was grad­u­ate teach­ing as­sis­tant in a re­search pro­gram at North­ern Michi­gan Univer­sity in 1979, study­ing woodpeckers, when called back to the fam­ily busi­ness — R.L. Polk, formed in 1870 as a busi­ness di­rec­tory pub­lish­ing busi­ness that in the 1920s tran­si­tioned into au­to­mo­tive in­for­ma­tion and mar­ket­ing so­lu­tions.

He be­came R.L. Polk’s chair­man, pres­i­dent and CEO un­til the com­pany was sold in 2013 to HIS Au­to­mo­tive Inc. for an es­ti­mated $1.4 bil­lion. About the same time, his pas­sion and in­volve­ment in wildlife study was broad­en­ing well be­yond the zoo at Wood­ward and 10 Mile.

“Tim­ing was co­in­ci­den­tal. I was on the zoo’s board and things just seemed to con­spire to­geth- er for the pen­guin ex­hibit,” Polk said. “The zoo was talk­ing about the fu­ture needs to house the pen­guins, Polk was be­ing sold. (The ex­hibit) was needed and is im­por­tant.”

Fel­low board mem­ber Julie Ni­chol­son, a judge in Rochester Hills 52-3 District Court, said Polk de­serves to be hon­ored.

“There’s no ques­tion (the pen­guin cen­ter) would not ex­ist to­day with­out his help,” she said.

As for Michi­gan, Polk said he feels things have never been brighter, es­pe­cially for Detroit, as it has climbed out of the re­ces­sion with the rest of the state.

“I see (eco­nomic) growth go­ing on that is sus­tain­able and not de­pen­dent on the auto in­dus­try,” Polk said. “I’ve never seen such pos­i­tive changes tak­ing place — build­ing, peo­ple mov­ing back down­town — and I be­lieve it will be go­ing on for some time to come. “Peo­ple across the state see the need for Detroit to pros­per for the good of the en­tire state. We have a com­mon ob­jec­tive and seem to be all pad­dling to­gether on this.” LLC Ed­u­ca­tion: Bach­e­lor’s de­gree, Deni­son Univer­sity, where serves on the board of trustees Fam­ily: Wife, Bobbi Polk; four adult chil­dren Why hon­ored: Com­mit­ment to wildlife ed­u­ca­tion and pri­mary donor for the Polk Pen­guin Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter at the Detroit Zoo

Mike Martin­dale

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