Jeff Sugg: An ally with interest

By |2018-01-16T17:00:45-05:00June 23rd, 2005|Uncategorized|

FARMINGTON HILLS – Each month Jeff Sugg, president of Paramount Bank, meets with a small group of LGBT leaders. Sugg says he set up the LGBT advisory panel so he could learn about the community and figure out ways that Paramount Bank can better serve its LGBT customers.
“From a business standpoint it made perfect sense,” said Sugg of his decision to set up the six-person advisory panel. “The demographics of the gay market makes it ideal – higher than average disposable income, fewer dependents and strong customer loyalty.”
But what started out as just a smart marketing strategy has become something of a crusade for Sugg. He now refuses to back down when business associates question his commitment to the LGBT community.
“It has almost become a personal mission with me to force it down their throats,” said Sugg. “I am a conservative Republican, and I am embarrassed for this state that it passed Proposal 2,” referring to the anti-marriage constitutional amendment that passed last November.
“Understanding how hard it is to be closeted almost makes me angry. I almost feel like I don’t care if people think I’m part of the community too. People who know me are amazed I’m doing this,” said Sugg, a bear of a man who describes himself as the “ultimate straight guy.”
“It’s sad to listen to the stories you guys tell,” he said after a recent LGBT panel meeting. “I hear about one guy that takes a lesbian to work functions because he’s afraid to come out at work. It shouldn’t be that way.”
When asked what has most surprised him since setting up Paramount’s LGBT advisory panel earlier this year, Sugg said, “The biggest surprise is that LGBT people just want equal rights. If all you listen to is Fox2 News, you’d think all gays are freaks. But it’s really about wanting basic rights, like being able to visit your partner in the hospital. I think a lot of ignorance and prejudice could be eradicated with just a little education.”
He relishes the chance to educate other business people about LGBT issues. “I see it as a chance to enlighten the business and banking community to benefit our business. I am proud to be a leader to get over the fear factor.”
He’s also enjoying the panel and his role as a champion for LGBT rights in the button-downed business world. “The LGBT group is one of the few meetings I really look forward to, because everyone is so frank, truthful and not intimidated by titles – and so funny, too.”
Reading his bio, one would think Sugg a most unlikely ally. He was born and raised in Temperance, a small Michigan town near the Ohio border. After college he took a job with the U.S. Treasury Department as a regulator of savings and loans.
Sugg later became the chief financial officer of Sterling Bank & Trust, a savings and loan owned by Scott Seligman, with branches in Michigan and in the San Francisco Bay area.
“Seligman taught me a lot about taking advantage of unique opportunities,” said Sugg. “Sterling had seven branches in San Francisco and we had an aggressive outreach program to the gay community. The district manager out there was gay, too. I learned a lot about how to market to the gay community, and to appreciate the gay community as a source of good business. Seligman used to say that to be successful, ‘Don’t be in the mainstream, and don’t believe everything you see; and don’t be afraid to be known as the gay bank.'”
Dee Dee Sung, Paramount Bank’s marketing director, also attends the monthly LGBT panel meetings and contributes her marketing expertise and her personal knowledge of the LGBT community. Up to now, she has been very quiet about her private life and about Judith, her partner of 17 years. “This has been extremely powerful for me to be in charge of spearheading and coordinating the LGBT initiative, and it has impacted my personally. It is wonderful seeing the bank make changes and not just talk about it. It’s also great having a ‘back stage’ pass to the LGBT movement.”
Sung had nothing but praise for her bank’s president. “Jeff is definitely a catalyst for change. He has a big heart and extreme courage.”
Paramount Bank has stepped forward as a major sponsor for a number of LGBT events, including the 2004 HRC Michigan Dinner, Affirmations’ Big Bash in April 2005, and The Triangle Foundation Dinner Event coming up in September. They have developed customized marketing materials for the LGBT community and are actively seeking LGBT-owned businesses and individuals as new customers for the bank.
The members of Paramount’s LGBT advisory panel include Leslie Thompson, executive director of Affirmations LGBT Community Center in Ferndale, Chris Swope, executive director of Michigan Equality in Lansing, Jeff Montgomery, executive director of the Triangle Foundation in Detroit, Alan Semonian, former HRC Steering Committee member, and this writer, Jan Stevenson, Co-Publisher of Between The Lines.

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