Ex-GOP chief Schostak builds on connections

Chad Livengood | Detroit News Lansing Bureau | 10:24 pm EDT September 6, 2015

Bobby Schostak spent 33 years helping build his family’s real estate empire before making a jump into politics to assist Michigan Republicans five years ago in capturing complete control of state government.

Now the 59-year-old Bloomfield Hills corporate executive is parlaying his experience as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party into a second career in politics. He is focused on advising companies on navigating government, developing new business partnerships and raising money for GOP causes.

Clients of Schostak’s new Lansing-based consulting firm include Compuware co-founder Peter Karmanos Jr. and his new tech firm, as well as Arbor Drugs founder Eugene Applebaum and his family’s Bloomfield Hills-based investment company.

Schostak’s Templar Baker Group, named for two streets where he grew up in Southfield, also has helped launch a national group founded by former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers and focused on making foreign affairs a top issue in the 2016 race for president.

“From the experiences I had learning political waters, I’m able to talk to CEOs as a former CEO of a business and help drive their decision-making and their strategies and direct them, should the need arise, to the very best lobbyists in Lansing,” Schostak said in an interview with The Detroit News.

Part of Schostak’s business concentrates on advising wealthy individuals on their approach toward donating to political causes and candidates.

Karmanos said he had a “helter skelter” game plan to political donations before hiring Schostak.

“It never really was thought out, and Bobby’s helping on that,” Karmanos told The News. “I’d rather be far more strategic and actually have a budget so you can properly support all of the different things that you would like to support.”

‘Strong strategic adviser’

Applebaum, who sold Arbor Drugs in 1998 to CVS Corp. for $1.5 billion, and family also hired Schostak for his strategic advice on contributions to political candidates and causes.

“Bobby has been a strong strategic adviser for us in prioritizing and leveraging the political contributions we make to help move the local, state and national agenda forward,” said Applebaum, CEO of Arbor Investment Group, the holding company for his family’s business ventures and charitable giving.

Schostak, state party chairman from 2011 until earlier this year, is quick to note he’s not wading into Lansing’s expansive corps of lobbyists and public relations messaging mavens.

“Those are things we cannot do, do not want to do, and they are better at it,” Schostak said.

But he is attempting to carve out a new middle-man niche between corporate board rooms and the multiclient lobbyist who works the halls of state and federal government.

“I try to be an adjunct to those existing consultants,” Schostak said.

So far, Schostak is keeping his firm small. The staff of three is housed in a nondescript office in Lansing’s Boji Tower across the street from the state Capitol.

Schostak started the firm this year after deciding to not seek another two-year term as state GOP chairman. He was fresh off an election in which he helped to re-elect Gov. Rick Snyder and other statewide officials and boost Republicans majorities in the Legislature.

It leaves Schostak in a “unique spot” in Lansing, according to one of his former political adversaries.

“He’s got access to the people he’s helped elect and he’s got access to the wealthy donors,” said Mark Brewer, the former Michigan Democratic Party chairman. “He’s taking advantage of a unique intersection that he’s got.”

Special connections

Ron Weiser, who preceded Schostak as state GOP chairman, said Schostak has the connections in the political and corporate world that others don’t.

“It matters to have networks,” said Weiser, a retired Ann Arbor real estate developer. “And companies that don’t have much or have new people that don’t have the networks obviously could use the help of an outsider who can make the introductions and give them access.”

Brewer, an attorney at Goodman Acker in Southfield, said Schostak’s ability to make a business out of introducing CEOs to political power players “seems a little odd to me.”

“It never even occurred to me to charge people who are friends to make introductions,” he said.

Karmanos said Schostak is helping his MadDog Technology develop a new venture focused on cloud-based energy efficiency management systems. The Legislature is in the process of rewriting the state’s energy laws.

“With that network he has, he’s really helping us find the kind of people that we want to try to do business with,” Karmanos said. “It’s more than introductions.”

Schostak remains a partner with two of his brothers at Schostak Brothers & Co., the Livonia-based real estate development firm founded 95 years ago by his grandfather, Louis H. Schostak.

Schostak began stepping aside from day-to-day operation of the company seven years ago when Weiser recruited him to be the Michigan Republican Party’s lead fundraiser.

His job was to help Republicans retake the state House of Representatives and the Governor’s Office in 2010 after a period of Democratic control, while maintaining majorities in the state Senate, Supreme Court. The GOP did just that in 2010, while maintaining control of the Attorney General and Secretary of State’s offices.

Schostak said one-third of his business centers on Michigan companies needing strategic advice on government regulation, another third is dedicated to federal politics, and the rest is centered on what he calls corporate “board work.”

“It’s not, by all means, all politics,” Schostak said. “The majority is really just business strategy for CEOs and boards.”

“He feels he can create a business and also be helpful to causes and candidates,” Weiser said. “You have to be passionate about it — it’s hard work.”

Unlike registered lobbyists, Schostak does not have to publicly disclose his business clients.

Snyder as client

One of Schostak’s first political clients was Snyder, who was quietly studying whether to jump into the 2016 Republican presidential primary fray.

Schostak raised money for a national travel fund dubbed “Making Government Accountable: The Michigan Story” so Snyder could tour other states and introduce himself to potential presidential primary voters. In May, Snyder opted against running.

Templar Baker Group also is raising money for Rochester Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop’s 2016 re-election effort in the 8th Congressional District, Schostak said.

He is a national adviser to Howell Republican Rogers’ Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security, which is hosting one-on-one forums with presidential candidates across the country on national security issues.

Schostak is helping organize the forums, raise money for APPS and establish state chapters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan. The first Michigan forum was held last Monday in Southfield with Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“He has an unparalleled network of supporters and friends both in the state and around the country, which has been very helpful for us as we’re dealing with the 17 presidential campaigns and the major donors around the country,” said Andy Keiser, president of APPS.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

Bobby Schostak

Home: Bloomfield Hills

Age: 59

Business experience: Partner and former CEO and former chief operating officer of Schostak Brothers & Co., a Livonia-based real estate development firm

Political experience: Michigan Republican Party finance chairman, 2009-11; Michigan Republican Party chairman, 2011-February 2015; CEO of Templar Baker Group, a Lansing firm that adviser businesses and individuals on state and federal government issues as well as political and charitable donations

Originally Published 10:24 pm EDT September 6, 2015
Updated 10:24 pm EDT September 6, 2015
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