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2021 Recipients

Charles Zhang, M.A.’91, Economics

Charles Zhang, M.A.’91, Economics

Charles Zhang is founder and CEO of Zhang Financial in Portage, Mich. With more than $4.5 billion in assets under his management, Zhang Financial works with more than 1,500 high net worth clients focusing on the preservation of wealth, investment growth, and maintenance of income during retirement years.

Of his many accolades, Charles was named the #1 Financial Advisor in Michigan by Barron's nine years in a row, has been ranked #1 on Barron’s list of the nation’s Top 100 Independent Financial Advisors, has been ranked #6 in the nation on Forbes' list of America’s Top Wealth Advisors, and is the highest ranked NAPFA-Registered fee-only financial advisor and the highest ranked independent advisor on the list. He authored “Make Yourself a Millionaire,” and is regularly interviewed and quoted in numerous national media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, the New York Times, Forbes, and the Washington Post, to name only a few. Charles also holds an MBA from Northwestern University and an M.S. in Financial Services from the Institute of Business and Finance, and has completed Executive Education from Harvard Business School.

Charles shares his nationally recognized expertise generously with many academic institutions aside from WMU. He serves on the Committee on University Resources for Harvard University; as a Steering Committee member for Columbia College at Columbia University; and is on the Economics Advisory Council at Columbia University, where he is also a benefactor.

At WMU, Charles helps to guide budding financial professionals as an adjunct professor in finance and, along with his wife Lynn Chen-Zhang, has generously championed a number of causes that stretch across the University. Notably, they have supported the Haworth College of Business, Miller Auditorium’s Zhang Financial Broadway in West Michigan series, the Department of Economics, the Medallion Scholarship Program, Heritage Hall, and the Academically Talented Youth Program in the Lee Honors College. Additionally, the Charles Z. and Lynn L. Zhang Legacy Collections Center was made possible through their generosity.

In the community, the Zhangs are well known for their philanthropic commitment to local initiatives, such as the Kalamazoo Humane Society, Family & Children Services, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, the Grand Rapids Symphony, Ministry with Community, the Portage Senior Center, and many others.


Charles’ story

“Kalamazoo is ranked as the ‘#1 coolest city to live with the lowest cost of living.’ I think this is a very accurate ranking. It is an amazing place to live and raise a family. In my opinion this ranking is not possible without WMU, which plays a vital role in our local economy and culture. WMU has helped to shape so many young people’s lives, including mine.”

“I first heard about WMU from a gentleman who is my uncle’s close friend.  My uncle has lived in Chicago since the 1940s. This gentleman was a great guy and ran a very successful business. He was a WMU alum and spoke very highly of the university. I did some research on my own and was very impressed. It is also worth mentioning that I was awarded a Graduate Assistant Scholarship which paid for part of my tuition and some living expenses. This scholarship was an amazing gift which allowed me to pursue my dreams.”

As a student, Charles was busy working as a graduate assistant in the economics department and also as a work study student on campus. Among those who inspired him on campus, Charles notes three professors, Dr. Werner Sichel, Dr. Wei-Chiao Huang and Dr. Huizhong Zhou.

“They are not only distinguished scholars, but also amazing people. I learned to use a disciplined approach to academic studies, and I have used that approach on wealth management. People have asked me what my alternative career would be if I was not a wealth manager, the answer is I would be a scholar and a professor in economics. Some of my professors became my clients at the very early stage of my career. I am forever grateful for their trust.”

Among his formative experiences at WMU, he notes two classes taught by Dr. Wei-Chiao Huang, mathematical economics and econometrics.

“I realized how much I loved economics and was determined to pursue a career relating to economics. Asset Management is very closely related to economics.  By the way, I actually ended up being the #1 in both of his classes. Dr. Huang is an outstanding professor and a tough grader.”  

Among his memories as a student, Charles notes a more personal-- and touching instance. “I proposed to my wife when she was crunching for her accounting final exam. Not very romantic, I know.”

Throughout his more than 30-year career, Charles has accomplished much to be proud of, but notes a recent encounter as a highlight.

“Recently during a review meeting, a client showed me a letter. It was the invitation letter from 25 years ago, from me to invite him to become a client. He said choosing me as his financial advisor was the best decision he has ever made.  I am mostly proud that I have been able to help so many clients to be financially secure and successful, enjoy their retirement life worry-free, and pass on their wealth and legacy to generations to come.”

Outside of his career, Charles is most proud of his children.

“Both Mitchell and Alex are independent, successful, and happy in their lives.  Lynn and I have a wonderful relationship with both of our children and could not be prouder of the amazing individuals they have become… Of course, there are always rooms for them to improve.”

His advice for current students is rather simple, “Work/life balance is overrated when you just start your career. Work hard when you are young and don’t have kids, so you can afford to slow down when you have a family.”

Daniel Witt, B.B.A.’83, Public Administration; MBA ’84

Daniel Witt, B.B.A.’83, Public Administration; MBA ’84

Daniel Witt is president and director of the International Tax and Investment Center, based in Washington, DC, which he helped found in 1993. The nonprofit research and education organization promotes tax reform and public-private initiatives to improve the climate in transition and developing nations. Having worked with 85 countries, Daniel has co-developed a unique neutral table to bring together the public sector, private sector, and academics to advance pro-investment economic policy reforms.

Prior to co-founding the International Tax and Investment Center, Daniel was Executive Director of the Tax Foundation, the oldest tax and budget research organization in the United States; and Vice President and Director of Membership with Citizens for a Sound Economy, a 250,000-member Washington-based public interest group.

He has traveled extensively as a Rotary International Foundation Fellow, speaking about international tax and trade policy and has served as a visiting economist with the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research and Victoria University of Wellington. Daniel was elected an Honorary Professor of Economics of the Kazakh State Academy of Management in 1999, and in 2011, the President of Kazakhstan presented him with the Order of Dostyk (Friendship)-- the highest honor bestowed to a foreigner. Additionally, he served as a consultant to President Reagan’s Commission on Privatization.

Daniel actively contributes to international and local nonprofit organizations. He serves as vice chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Eurasia Foundation, on the Council Executive Board, is the former district chairman for the Boy Scouts of America in Washington, DC., and is a director of the Hermitage Museum Foundation.

Additionally, Daniel is the co-founder of the Asia-Pacific Tax Forum, Eurasia Fiscal Experts’ Seminar, Middle East/North Africa (MENA) Tax Forum, and the Africa Tax Forum that annually bring together hundreds of government officials and legislators with industry representatives, academics, and other experts to propose tax and investment climate reforms.

Daniel has been an exceptionally engaged alumnus of WMU, regularly returning to campus to meet with participants in the Capital Intern Program, where he shares the lessons he has learned about networking and career development, and is a champion of the David G. Houghton Internship Endowment, which supports WMU students working

internships in Washington, DC. Additionally, he is an inaugural member of the College of Arts and Sciences Comprehensive Campaign Committee, and was honored by the Department of Political Science with an Alumni Achievement Award in 2010. 


Daniel’s Story

“It’s been over 40 years since I arrived in Harrison Hall at WMU.  No question about it:  WMU is forever.”

“I still remember coming by Amtrak with a high school friend to visit WMU in 1978. I could major in public administration and get a B.B.A.  This was the best of both:  College of Arts and Sciences and Business.  It prepared me for work in both the public and private sectors which is exactly the intersection of my career for the past 30 plus years.”

Daniel was highly involved on campus during his student years. He was a member of Sigma Pi Fraternity, President of the Inter-Fraternity Council, state coordinator for the Michigan Inter-Fraternity Council, and business manager for the Western Herald. Among the professors and staff who most inspired him are Dr. David Houghton, political science; Dr. Brian Long, marketing; Dr. Gene Booker, management; Dr. William Morrison, finance and commercial law; and Mr. Thomas Coyne, Vice President for Student Services.

As a student, Daniel favored the holistic nature of the WMU academic experience. 

“I fondly recall lively, interactive classroom discussions, (where you never dared to not be prepared and you were challenged by your professor!), internships and business school case studies and group projects.  It was much more than passive book learning and exam-taking!”

Certain formative experiences set him on a path that led to his current career success, such as the challenges and leadership opportunities from Inter Fraternity Council and the Western Herald.

“Fortunately, there were ‘do-overs’ thanks to respectful peers and mentors. This allowed me on-going learning and doing better each time.  Such hands-on, people-centered experiences put me in a position to add more value to potential employers.  Further, this gave me the confidence to start my own enterprise in 1993.”

Additionally, he credits being part of the management team on the Western Herald as an invaluable experience, from applying what he learned in the classroom from budgeting, collecting accounts receivables and personnel management, to doing the financial projections to determine economic feasibility to purchase equipment to move graphic design and layout in house. 

“Up until 1982, this was all outsourced.  We were on the front edge of desktop publishing.”

In his career, Daniel is most proud of starting the International Tax and Investment Center.

“We have worked in over 85 emerging and developing countries and in our own small way have helped them improve their investment climates, attract investment, and improve the standards of living for their people.  I’ve personally experienced the power of economic growth, freedom, and the spirit of entrepreneurs around the world.  It’s been remarkable to witness their growth, development, and increasing prosperity.”

Personally, he is most proud of his family, including his 34- year marriage to Barbara, a Florida State and Catholic University alumna, and his 21-year old twins Allie and Teddy, who are motivated and eager to embark on their own careers upon graduation from college.

His advice for current students is straightforward, “Finish your degree.  Perseverance is essential to a successful life. Set goals and develop a realistic, manageable plan to meet them:  For both short-term, daily goals and long-term, multi-year goals. Establish mentor relationships.  These will serve you well long after you graduate.”

“I earned two excellent degrees that provided me with a solid foundation for my life and career. However, only half of my education at WMU was in the classroom. The other half came from leadership roles in student organizations, the mentor relationships, and friends I made. In their own magical ways, they contributed to my growth, learning, happiness, and development, and continue to do so today.”

Diana Sieger B.A.’73, Sociology; M.S.W. ’78

Diana Sieger B.A.’73, Sociology; M.S.W. ’78

Diana Sieger is President of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation where she is responsible for its leadership, management, strategic planning, and development. Under her skillful direction, the foundation has experienced tremendous growth and support from a variety of individuals and organizations in the community, executing six strategic campaigns and growing assets from $35 million to $400 million since 1987. She previously held positions with the State of Michigan in the Michigan Department of Labor and the Office of the Governor, United Way of Kent County, and the American Red Cross in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

Among her many accolades, Diana has been inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame -- Michigan Women Forward (October 2021), received the 2014 Athena Award from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, was named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan six times by the Grand Rapids Business Journal, and was named one of Crain’s Detroit 100 Most Influential Women in Michigan. Diana has been recognized with honorary doctoral degrees of Humane Letters from Aquinas College and Grand Valley State University.

In addition to her work with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Diana serves on a number of committees locally, statewide, nationally and internally, including the Transatlantic Community Foundation Fellowship, the Council of Michigan Foundations, and the City of Grand Rapids Transformation Advisory Committee, to name only a few.

Diana has given back to her alma mater in a number of ways, including serving on the WMU Foundation Board of Directors from 2005-10, as a member of the College of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee, and the School of Social Work Advisory Committee. She enjoys returning to campus as a guest lecturer, and was inducted into the College of Health and Human Services School of Social Work Outstanding Alumni Academy in 2002.          


Diana’s Story

“I love Western Michigan University. It is an outstanding educational institution.”

“While I was accepted at MSU and the University of Michigan, Western Michigan University seemed more aligned with my goals, particularly when pursuing racial and social justice studies. The late 1960s was a time of tremendous social change and upheaval, not unlike today! I wanted to pursue a program that would include policy development and understanding social change, so I majored in sociology.  My choice was a good one! When I decided to apply to graduate school, I knew I wanted to pursue my M.S.W. at WMU. I have to say it was the BEST decision of my career! My concentration was in policy, planning, and administration, and look at what that education did for me! Fantastic!”

Diana noted that her most influential professors were the ones she crossed paths with in graduate school, including John Flynn, Danny Thompson, and Bob Barstow -- Professor Barstow was the "father" of the School of Social Work.

“My experience in graduate school was a pivotal time in my life. Earning a Master's degree in social work changed the trajectory of my career. Focusing on policy, planning and administration was absolutely THE best decision. I realized then that this was not the path that a woman would take in the 1970s, BUT it was the path I wanted to take. It paved the way for my career in so many ways! I was a bit of a rebel!”

In her career, Diana says she is most proud of her accomplishments with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. Among them are convening area foundation CEOs monthly in the region, for more than 30 years, to form and nurture partnerships with the city of Grand Rapids and Kent County, leveraging federal, state, and local public resources with those of the philanthropic community; leading the shift advocating for racial justice within GRCF and influencing other foundations and donors; and creating the conditions for change with the foundation by creating "Our North Star." The North Star statement is: "For West Michigan to grow and prosper, we must make sure that everyone can apply their talents and creativity to fuel our future. It is only by connecting across perspectives and overcoming inequities that we can build and sustain an inclusive economy and thriving community."

Diana’s advice to current students is straightforward, “Stay focused on your goals. Your degree may not dictate where you land in your employment, be open to all opportunities. Remember to follow your dreams and your goals! Do not be deterred!”