On Adam Hollier’s 25th birthday, he went to the grocery store behind his parents’ Detroit home to order a case of chicken wings. He struck up a conversation with the butcher’s assistant, who inquired about the occasion.
When Hollier told him it was his 25th birthday, “he said, ‘Congratulations for living to be 25,’ ” Hollier remembered. “I didn’t know how to respond. It wasn’t a milestone to me; it meant my car insurance was going down. But for him, it was surviving. If you look at life as though you’re only going to get to 25, it changes your perspective.”
That exchange has always stuck with Hollier as a constant reminder of why he’s committed his career to service and the city he grew up in.
“It’s kind of in my DNA,” he said. “My dad was a firefighter; my mom was a social worker. And they taught me that when you can do, you should do.”
Hollier is vice president of Hantz Farms, an effort by Hantz Group CEO John Hantz to plant the nation’s largest urban tree farm on 15 acres on the city’s lower east side. It has been controversial because the farm sits on 150 acres that Hantz purchased last year from then-Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.
But Hollier still sees his work as service to the community. Last year, for example, he organized 1,300 volunteers to plant 15,000 saplings in one morning.
“This might not be everyone’s favorite idea, but it is a project that is not using public money and that makes a difference every day,” Hollier said.
“We are cutting the grass every 7-10 days. We’ve planted 2,500 trees. We have changed the way the neighborhood looks because it is clear of brush and debris. It’s a $5 million investment in a neighborhood that hadn’t seen investment in years.”
Still, it’s a change for Hollier, who has spent most of his career in the public sector since graduating from Cornell University with his bachelor’s degree and the University of Michiganfor his master’s in urban planning. He served as chief of staff to state Sen. Bert Johnson, helping to negotiate the Regional Transit Authority, and then as Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s liaison to the Detroit City Council. He ran for his own seat on the council in 2013, but lost to Mary Sheffield, though that doesn’t deter him from wanting to be involved in public service again someday.
Hollier dedicates his spare time to renovating a home that is just three blocks from his parents’ house and near his brother’s home in Boston Edison.
“I love building stuff,” said Hollier, who recently earned his real estate license and is working on his builder’s license. “Legos, cities, I just love to build.”
What is the best piece of advice, business or personal, you have ever received?
“Your mind quits before your body.” My high school football coach always said that. You determine your threshold for pain. I challenge myself to make my body quit, but it’s never given out on me. But there are times my mind wants to.
Where is your favorite place to go for creative inspiration?
My dojo. I built a dojo in my basement.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a builder. I always loved building and designing cities. You should have seen all the Legos in my room.
What keeps you in Southeast Michigan — and what one thing would you like to see improved?
The opportunity. There is no place where you have more opportunity to make a difference and that’s what I really want to do.
Neighborhoods are the thing I want to see improved. I want Detroit to be able to do three things: I want it to be the type of place where your parents want to stay, I want it to be a place where you want to raise a family, and most important it’s a place where you go find your dreams. That’s what will always make Detroit special. It’s all about our neighborhoods.
Tell us one thing about yourself that people would be surprised to know.
I’m really handy. I built my back deck this spring. I built everything by hand. I cut my own stringers. I designed it myself. There is nothing I am more proud of creating.