The pair who produce Reuben sandwiches so famous that even President Barack Obama has gobbled one down will now face a new challenge: crafting the perfect commencement address.
University alums Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, the co-founders of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, will jointly deliver the University’s Spring Commencement address at Michigan Stadium.
The two will each be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws, pending approval from the University’s Board of Regents at Thursday’s monthly meeting.
Saginaw and Weinzweig, both University graduates, founded Zingerman’s Delicatessen in 1982. The deli, which was started with a $20,000 bank loan and two employees, now employs more than six hundred people and rakes in annual sales close to $50 million.
What has since become the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses includes eight separate businesses: the deli, Zingerman’s Mail Order, Zingerman’s Bakehouse, Zingerman’s Training Inc., Zingerman’s Coffee Company, Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Zingerman’s Creamery and Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory.
In a March interview with The Michigan Daily, University President Mark Schlissel said the co-founders have built a national model for how to run a responsible business.
“The attractive thing about it is the way they’ve built their business,” Schlissel said. “They’ve kept it local, they have paid their employees a living wage, they have involved their employees in the management decisions about how to run the business, they have expanded locally to a series of related businesses … they’ve resisted the urge to take advantage of their name and franchise it and have Zingerman’s all around the country.”
Zingerman’s has been featured in The New York Times for its unique business model. Food & Wine Magazine included the Roadhouse on its “Best Sandwich Shops” list, and similarly included the deli on its “Best Sandwiches in the U.S.” list. And there’s no forgetting when Obama ordered a Zingerman’s Reuben during his visit to campus last April.
During his speech, which promoted raising federal minimum wage, Obama lauded Zingerman’s for valuing its employees.
“Zingerman’s is a business that treats its workers well, and rewards honest work with honest wages,” Obama said. “And that’s worth celebrating.”
Saginaw said it was “surreal” to have Schlissel ask him and Weinzweig to deliver the 2015 Spring Commencement address, and noted that the Zingerman’s co-founders are different from past speakers.
“When you look at the list of people who have given that commencement address, I don’t think any of them slice corned beef for a living,” he said.
Saginaw said he is beginning to think about what he will say, and is focusing on what he would have liked to hear if he was a newly minted college graduate.
“They’re a great example of how individuals can make a difference in the world,” Schlissel said of Saginaw and Weinzweig. “These are just two guys who graduated from Michigan and they started a small deli and what they’ve done is they’ve created a new model for how to do local business.”
Five other individuals will receive honorary degrees, pending approval from the Board of Regents.
John Dingell, the former U.S. Congressman for Michigan’s 12th Congressional District, will receive an honorary Doctor of Law degree. Dingell served in the House of Representatives for more than 59 years, making him the longest-serving congressman in U.S. history. Dingell announced his retirement last year.
A World War II veteran, Dingell graduated from Georgetown University with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1949 and a J.D. in 1952. During his time in Washington, Dingell is known for his involvement in the passage of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Dingell’s wife, Debbie Dingell, won the race last November to fill his seat.
Sanford Robertson, a founding partner of Francisco Partners, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree. Francisco Partners is a private equity firm that focuses on investments in technology and technology-related businesses. Robertson holds both a B.A. and an M.B.A. from the University.
Robert Shiller, an American Nobel laureate, economist and professor will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree. Shiller currently serves as a Sterling professor of economics at Yale University and as a professor of finance and fellow at the International Center for Finance at Yale School of Management.
He will also be delivering the Spring Commencement address for the Rackham Graduate School.
Shiller wrote a New York Times bestseller, “Irrational Exuberance,” which warned of a future economic decline. He served as the vice president of the American Economic Association in 2005 and is the co-founder and chief economist of the investment management firm MacroMarkets LLC. He graduated from the University with a B.A. in 1967 and earned a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1972.
A distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the U.S. Institute of Peace, as well as a contributing writer for The New Yorker magazine, Robin Wright will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Wright was selected as the journalist of the year in 2004 by the American Academy of Diplomacy, and has reported from more than 140 countries.
Wright, who was born in Ann Arbor, is a graduate of the University and the daughter of a University law professor.
Tadataka Yamada will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree for his work as a gastroenterologist and pharmaceutical researcher. He is the executive vice president and chief medical and scientific officer of Takeda Pharmaceuticals. As a gastroenterology scholar, Yamada has written over 150 manuscripts on the topic.
Before joining Takeda, he was the president of the Global Health Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where he led efforts to create health tools for the developing world. After receiving a B.A. from Stanford University, he completed his medical degree at New York University. He trained in gastroenterology at the UCLA School of Medicine.
Schlissel will also deliver his first graduation address in the Big House since his appointment as University president last January. Commencement is Saturday, May 2 at 10 a.m.