Paul Saginaw is the co-founder and Chief Spiritual Officer at Zingerman, a community of eight food-related businesses all located in the Ann Arbor, MI area. He helped grow the business from a small deli that opened in 1982 to a collection of businesses in partnership with other food entrepreneurs.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in northwest Detroit. It was a great neighborhood – backyard BBQs, playing baseball in the streets, running in and out of neighbors’ houses. 69 years later I am still close with a group of boys that I grew up with and our children are all close with each other. When I was 13 years old I asked my father to buy a build-it-yourself mini-bike kit that cost $109.99. He said, “Are you crazy, “I work hard for my money, if you want something like that, go out and get a job.” I did go out and got a job on a landscaping crew. The first Friday when I got paid (cash in an envelope), it was just an incredible feeling. Freedom, empowerment, possibility. Since that day, I have never been without employment. I discovered that I loved working hard and having my own money to spend, not having to ask someone for it.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
It is more important to be kind than right.
How to tell the difference between an idea that sounds good and a sound idea.
Good things, things of significance take a long time to develop. The only things that happen quickly are disasters – earthquakes, lightning strikes, explosions.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Don’t get too friendly with your employees. Most of us spend more time at work and with our coworkers than we do with our families. My life would be greatly diminished if I had listened to this advice and not have developed real friendships with the folks that I have employed, including those whose employment I had to terminate.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I would have to say that really the only serious dark period I have experienced has been this pandemic. Pre-COVID, organization-wide we had around 750 staff members a and now we have a little over 500. We had to lay off folks for the first time in our 38 year history. I started to have trouble sleeping for the first time in my life. It was gut-wrenching. I learned that we should have 6 to 12 months of operating cash on hand.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
A very high level of physical energy and positive vibrational energy.
Surrounding myself with folks much smarter, skilled, and talented than I am and getting out of their ways.
What is your morning routine?
I wake up between 5:15 and 5:45, perform the typical bathroom regime, make a coffee, look at email, go over my calendar, make some notes, think about what a privileged, and fortunate life I have.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
This is not one of my strengths. I have an attention deficit and I am dyslexic. I guess I would have to say that my strategy for being productive is to be likable and ask for help.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I read both of these books at a seminal period in my professional development as a manager. I was making the transition from managing front-line staff to managing managers. This move was very difficult for me and I found that these books gave me a very different lens through which to view my role.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“When furious, be curious”
I learned this one in a parenting class that I took.
“If you become successful help make your friends successful”
My grandfather told this to me and as far as I can tell he pretty much lived by it.
“Don’t shit on the rungs as you climb the ladder of success, they’re the same ones you’re going to climb down on”
Again, from my grandfather.