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Fatherhood and Leadership: Michael Vigeant

A father of two and a business leader, Michael shares his story of success after trauma

As a boy, Michael Vigeant faced a trauma that would strike paralyzing fear into most adults. 

Diagnosed at 12 with Stage 4 Hodgkin's Disease (cancer of the lymph nodes), he spent a year battling the illness. 

It was 1986, a time when a cancer diagnosis was often a death sentence and treatments, Michael says, “were on the border of barbaric.” 

He lost all his hair and lost a lot of weight. He endured chemotherapy and radiation and ultimately had his spleen removed. 

But what he gained, he says, was a lifetime of perspective, resilience and empathy for others, along with a zeal to succeed.  

“There was this element of growing up faster than other kids, and cancer did take some of my childhood away. But it was also a tremendous blessing. It really cemented for me a lot of who I am as a person and who I am as a leader, a husband and as a father. Cancer gave me perspective, it helped me understand that not all people are kind, but many, many people are kind and while you don’t have much say over what happens to you, sometimes you can take a traumatic event like cancer and find the positive context in it.”

He became one of the first kids in Connecticut to take part in the then-new Make-A-Wish Foundation’s efforts to provide positive experiences for kids with life-threatening diseases. The group sent Michael and his mom on an all-expenses paid trip to Disney World in Florida. 

“We had a blast,” he says. 

Today, Michael is President/CEO of GreatBlue Research, Inc. a national market research firm he founded in 2010. The company, headquartered at 20 Western Boulevard in Glastonbury, employs more than 50 full- and part-time workers.  

A Manchester native, Michael and his wife Heather, a teacher at Buttonball Elementary School, moved here in 2007. They have a 15-year-old daughter, Grace, a sophomore at Glastonbury High School, and a son, 10-year-old Austin, who attends Hebron Avenue School. 

To a degree, he says, he owes many of his business and personal life successes to cancer. 

During his treatment he attended Camp Rising Sun in Hebron, a camp for kids with cancer, where he met Jerry Lindsley, his counselor. Lindsley owned a New Haven-based market research firm and was volunteering at Camp Rising Sun. Jerry and Michael quickly formed a bond and Michael credits Jerry with being an instrumental mentor throughout much of his life. “He had a belief in giving back and so he became a camp counselor and he became a mentor of mine.” 

When Michael graduated college in 1998 Lindsley called him and offered him a job at his market research company. The position put Michael on the path to create his own company, which he moved to Glastonbury in 2019. GreatBlue provides custom market research for a diverse variety of industries, including utilities, health care, agriculture, municipalities and consumer product goods companies. GreatBlue’s services range from one-off market research projects to ongoing, multi-year national research projects, Michael says. 

The roots of his company’s success, he adds, traces directly to the trauma of his childhood cancer.  

“There were a lot of years that I thought ‘you can’t put a young body through that kind of trauma and think you’re going to live a long healthy life.’ I lived a lot of years thinking I had to jam as much as I could into my life. For the longest time I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t sit still because for me, motion meant life; as long as I was moving I was progressing. I would travel like crazy, I’d be on the road for upwards of 150 days a year. I felt I had to go and grow the business, go grow the brand.  My wife Heather is a saint as she worked through those times with me!”

Then, Covid hit, and brought with it the emotional and psychic echoes of his childhood, a curse and a blessing. In the shutdown, like many, his company also struggled and temporary laid off 26 employees. But as with so many other people, the pandemic forced him to slow down, spend more time at home, and focus inward. 

“During the pandemic, I realized I could coach my kids more often, spend more time with my wife and I could really focus on the business and focus on how to help our customers through this crazy time."

It was an intersection, he says, of how being a leader and a father gave him the strength to face another traumatic event and rise to the occasion.

“We had to lead through very difficult times. The big shift in our work in the past few years has been finding ways in which business leaders can use data points to improve their leadership and give back to their community. After Covid, It’s been about focusing on companies’ cultures and about giving back to their community.”

Personally, Michael says, the pandemic has brought positive changes in his life as a business leader, a community member, a husband and a father. 

He volunteers as a coach for two different youth hockey teams and serves as a mentor for the Entrepreneurial Club at Glastonbury High School. He’s previously coached Little League and local soccer teams and served on the board of directors for Make-A-WIsh Connecticut. 

He’s been cancer-free for 36 years and in the last year his business has rebounded. He’s rehired most of his staff at Great Blue Research. 

Now in his late 40s, Michael says he’s come to realize that he can live a full life. 

“As I get farther away from that childhood trauma I think maybe I am going to live a long life and now my life has become less about me having to achieve and more about passing along to others the emotional process that led to my achievements along the way.  Paying forward the mentorship that I receive” 

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