The Make Meaning Hour is an opportunity to gather with like-minded peers and delve into concepts of meaning and purpose, around work and life. Especially as we endure the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, these sessions stimulate conversation and exploration about the work we do, how we live our lives, and what drives decisions and builds successful outcomes.
This week, Paul Saginaw opens Saginaw’s, a food venture in Las Vegas that has long been a dream of his. In honor of this momentous occasion, we launch the Make Meaning blog by sharing the story of one of the people who inspired the podcast, and one of our very first guests: Paul Saginaw.
Listen to the original interview here.
He said yes without delay, despite the fact that Lynne hadn’t even launched the podcast. For all he knew, he’d be speaking to dead air, and he didn’t care.
He’s that kind of guy.
As co-founder of Zingerman’s, Paul Saginaw and his founding partner Ari Weinzweig embedded mentorship into their entrepreneurial venture early on. Nearly 40 years later, they have taken meaningful mentorship to an entirely new level.
Paul and Ari built Zingerman’s, a family of food-related companies in Ann Arbor, Mich., around the idea of lifting up others along their entrepreneurial journey.
Early on, Paul saw a need to do things differently. He let his desire for others to succeed inform his decision-making and leadership style. He says first he had to solve a problem that is common for many startups with great culture.
No one wanted to leave.
“If you were working for us and you wanted to grow, professionally or financially, there wasn’t a lot of room,” he said. “We were young, and it was a nice place to work. There was almost no turnover at the leadership level.”
So how do you help an employee grow if there’s no higher position to shoot for? How do you create structure built on meaning rather than profit?
“We liked being owners, so we provided the opportunity for ownership to folks that worked for us.”
He wanted to cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit at Zingerman’s and assist the next generation of creative thinkers and bar-raisers. So he created a way to expand the Zingerman’s brand while helping employees attain their dreams.
“We would be suppliers and customers of each other,” he says. “And that’s what we did.”
How that played out was an interesting journey that Lynne Golodner was lucky enough to dip into as she was brainstorming ideas for a new business of her own in 2007 (which ended up being her PR/Marketing business, Your People LLC).
Paul created the e-club, a free entrepreneurs club for aspiring Zingerman’s employees. In 2007, he invited Lynne to attend. During six sessions, Paul taught participants the building blocks of starting a business.
He invited lawyers, accountants and insurance agents. Paul discussed the importance of vision and planning.
This strategy helped Zingerman’s become what it is today – a Community of Businesses with more than 10 companies.
Creating this model was not only a departure from traditional styles of mentorship and business. It had literally never been done before.
“There certainly wasn’t any model for us,” he said on the Make Meaning podcast.
Mentorships can shape careers and change lives.
As Paul says:, “We wanted the people that work for us to be able to afford to live in the community, to raise families, to have a good life. All of that required dynamic growth.”