Ari Weinzweig, Zingerman’s co-owner and founding partner, could be found on campus Tuesday before his commencement speech next month for students who knew where to look.
During a “Man Behind the Sandwich” event Tuesday in the Michigan Union, Weinzweig spent an hour answering student questions from students about the operation of Zingerman’s and his business philosophy. The event was hosted by Alpha Kappa Psi, a business fraternity on campus, and sponsored by the Central Student Government and the Ross School of Business.
Weinzweig and his partner Paul Saginaw opened Zingerman’s Deli on March 15, 1982. After 33 years Zingerman’s operations are still expanding, though it continues to operates solely out of Ann Arbor. Weinzweig said even though the deli originally faced difficulties, hard work eventually validated their business model.
“Five to six years after opening, we were geniuses,” Weinzweig said.
He drew many of his remarks from the Twelve Natural Laws of Business, a < http://www.zingtrain.com/content/zingermans-12-natural-laws-business> series of ideas about business created by both Zingerman’s founders. The laws include philosophies such as valuing staff, making the workplace engaging, and always looking for ways to improve.
Weinzweig told students he considers the set of laws to be universal principles that all successful businesses adhere to, consciously or unconsciously.
At Zingerman’s, he said these principles were integrated in several ways, leading to a structure that’s different from traditional businesses.
“Our business is like an old school family farm,” Weinzweig said. “It looks messy from a corporate standpoint, but within itself it is organized, like the family farm (it) has a harmony and a rhythm to it.”
He also referred to these principles to dispel what he called common misconceptions about business. Weinzweig said people often consider success to be the end of logistical and financial challenges, such as not having enough money to operate. However, he said he believes success can be defined as simply having more influence over the types of challenges a business has.
“Success means you get better problems,” he said. “It’s getting the problems you want.”
According to Weinzweig, a “better problem” is Zingerman’s policy of using higher quality products that are more expensive, meaning they have to spend more money to uphold quality. Another is finding the time to launch the many new ideas he has to improve the company, given how much he’s investing in Zingerman’s due to its relative success.
Weinzweig also highlighted the importance of employees, describing Zingerman’s process for engaging employees in the company and fostering a sense of individual purpose.
“I realized we were teaching our employees about business in a systemic way,” he said.
Above all, Weinzweig emphasized the importance of finding work that’s enjoyable. He said when one finds his or her work important and interesting, it results in exceptional performance.
“Life is a vacation,” Weinzweig said. “Because what’s vacation? It’s doing what you want to do.”
LSA sophomore Jacob Wellner, a member of Alpha Kappa Psi, said the event was a great opportunity to gain fresh insight into entrepreneurship.
“We wanted someone with a unique perspective on business,” Wellner said. “It’s nice to hear from someone who took a non-traditional route to become a great businessman.”
Business junior Reetika Purohit, also a member of the fraternity, said she appreciated Weinzweig’s passion for his business.
“He was very genuine,” Puronit said. “He didn’t try to fit into the mold of what one would expect.”