Yesterday I had the good fortune to meet up with a long-time friend and mentor, Paul Saginaw, co-founder and co-owner of Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor. This time we met at the Zingerman’s Coffee Co., which is right in the hub of a series of Zingerman’s businesses on the outskirts of the city.
I’d never been there before, but was immediately swept up in the energy of these creative businesses.
In an industrial hub, there was the Zingerman’s Creamery, the Bakehouse, the ZingTrain and the cake company. The Coffee Co. featured big glass windows overlooking the coffee roasting operations and big windows between the shop and the training room, where people could work collaboratively at a huge wood table.
Paul nodded and said hello to staff and customers alike. Zingerman’s is a business where everybody knows your name and if they don’t, they sure do want to learn it.
I was lucky to fall into a friendship with Paul after I interviewed him years ago for an article on the Kerrytown enclave of Ann Arbor. Seeking to start a business and move away from freelancing, I asked if he’d meet me for coffee so I could seek his advice.
And he’s generously given me his time ever since.
Perhaps I’m lucky or strategic or maybe it’s that the universe sends me the people I need to learn from. People come into our lives for a reason. It’s up to us to recognize their value and see them as a gift.
I learned long ago the importance of building mentor-relationships with people willing to teach me and guide me. I pay it forward by mentoring and guiding anyone who asks that of me.
In the mid-1990s, at the Iowa Summer Writers Workshop, I approached Barbara Jones on a stage after her 11 a.m. lecture and asked if I could pay her to edit my personal essays. She charged me $10 a page to write all over my work and kindly encourage me in a stronger direction.
To this day, we’re still friends and I cherish every communication, conversation and coffee date when I can make it to New York. Although I try, I’ll probably never be able to repay her kindness and guidance – what an immense gift!
Same goes for Paul. And there have been others along the way who were crucial to my personal and professional growth – that’s the greatest thing about my mentors: they are just that much older than I, so I can learn parenting wisdom, relationship truths and of course, how to succeed in business.
I’ll never make it to the scale of a Zingerman’s with my PR business, Your People. But at least I can shoot for the same tenor and tone of this wonderfully creative, innovative and inclusive brainstorm right in my own backyard.
At Zingerman’s, they think outside the box but care deeply about the people they serve. They keep the books open and invite everyone to innovate. They are open to growth and change and new ideas.
And they truly are a community of businesses.
While my business may be small, my goal is to morph us into a heart-driven team of talent, people who love coming to work and love what they do every day. People who, collectively and collaboratively, seek to serve and make the world a better place.
Whether we do it through a really good cup of coffee like Zingerman’s or an inspirational book, like the ones Barbara publishes through her publishing house (Henry Holt), or through a well-crafted, attention-to-details public relations campaign, that’s the ultimate goal: make a difference, leave a legacy, be the change you want to see in the modern world.