Ari Weinzweig: Zingerman’s CEO
What exactly is a “revolution of dignity,” and how can such a thing transform today’s business AND home environments? In this Art of Sway episode, Zingerman’s CEO Ari Weinzweig shares his best advice on committing to brand greatness through better leadership — and staying humble, even in the face of wild success.
Ari Weinzweig is the founding partner of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCOB), an $80M business group that features the original flagship operation, Zingerman’s Delicatessen. ZCOB businesses include Zingerman’s Mail Order, Zingerman’s Coffee Company, Zingerman’s Training, Inc., Zingerman’s Candy, and Zingerman’s Catering.
Listen along as podcast host Danielle Wiley and Ari dig into how he brought his vision to life at Zingerman’s over the years, as well as:
- Why leaders need more humility and dignity in their lives and business
- The power of staying humble in business, and what it leads to
- Why everyone needs to make their own ‘revolutions of dignity’ in the workplace and home
- The winning formula of committing to greatness by honoring humanity
- How typical business training doesn’t prepare leaders for fostering the right work environment
Episode 14: Ari Weinzweig Transcript
Danielle Wiley: Welcome to The Art of Sway. This is a podcast that brings you inside the world of marketing through the lens of influence. I’m your host, Danielle Wiley. Each week through candid conversations with industry insiders, we will uncover how influencer marketing is making an impact across all consumer buying habits and is changing the way we talk to each other. Let’s dive in. Ari Weinzweig is CEO and co-founding partner of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, which includes Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Bakehouse, Creamery, Catering, Mail Order, ZingTrain, Coffee Company, Roadhouse, Candy Manufactory, Events at Cornman Farms, Miss Kim and Zingerman’s Food Tours. Zingerman’s produces, sells and serves all sorts of full-flavored traditional foods. In its home of Ann Arbor, Michigan to the tune of $68 million a year in annual sales.
Danielle Wiley: Ari was recognized as one of the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America by the 2006 James Beard Foundation and has been awarded a Bon Appétit Lifetime Achievement Award among many recognitions. Ari is the author of a number of articles and books. In 2017, Ari was named one of the World’s Top 10 CEOs by Ink Magazine. Ari’s most recent work, The Story of Visioning at Zingerman’s: Four Visions, Forty Years and a Positive Look Towards the Future came out in the spring of 2022. I was super excited when Ari Weinzweig agreed to come be a guest on the podcast. I have known Ari for well over 20 years and was thrilled to get back in touch with him when my family moved back to Ann Arbor last summer. This is a fascinating and enlightening conversation about his journey from Russian history major to CEO of a $75 million company. I hope you’ll be as enchanted as I was to hear his take on why leaders need more humility and dignity in their lives and business. Enjoy. Hi, I’m so glad you agreed to do this.
Ari Weinzweig: I’m happy to do it.
Danielle Wiley: I was trying to think this morning the first time I met you, ’cause I worked at the Bakehouse. You meet with every single person. I guess there’s a couple of people now who do that, but you meet with everyone who works at Zingerman’s?
Ari Weinzweig: No, it was me and Paul and right now it’s just me doing welcome to ZCoB, the class. Yeah, I’m doing it tonight at 5:00 on Zoom if you want to go.
Danielle Wiley: Well, this was not Zoom, it was pre-Zoom and we were-
Ari Weinzweig: No, we never heard of Zoom.
Danielle Wiley: No, no. thankfully, I’m making more than $6 an hour.
Ari Weinzweig: Yeah, me too. Yeah.
Danielle Wiley: Yeah, but it’s been a long time and I just moved back to Ann Arbor last year, so now I get to see you around.
Ari Weinzweig: I know. I remember seeing you at the Roadhouse at table 106, I believe.
Danielle Wiley: But this is great and I was really excited to talk to you for a number of reasons. But I guess starting at the beginning, I myself am someone who majored in something with no relation to business. I was a sociology major and now find myself as a CEO. I would just love to talk a little bit about your journey from, you were a Russian history major and then in the early ’80s founded this 1300 square foot deli. Now you’re CEO of a $75 million community of businesses. That’s a complex journey, so I would just love to hear a … Obviously, you can’t share all of it. What’s that been like? And did you expect that at all when you started it?
Ari Weinzweig: Yes, as you know, but others may not, I’m from Chicago. I came to Ann Arbor as so many do to go to the University of Michigan where at my junior year I needed to declare a major. I didn’t really know what to do and I was supposed to go get more degrees so it didn’t … Other than I had already, I won’t say flunked out of pre-med, but emotionally failed my way out of any inkling of pre-med like my family, mother and my grandmother wanted me to do. For law school, you can major in anything you want so it didn’t really matter. But I just ended up picking Russian history ’cause I really liked it and also, I studied anarchism quite a bit because although it’s not what they put on the recruiting brochures, U of M has the largest anarchist collection in the country in the graduate library named after Joe Labadie-
Danielle Wiley: Amazing.
Ari Weinzweig: … the peaceful anarchist is what his moniker was from Detroit and who donated his whole collection in 1911. But anyways, so I studied that. Then after I graduated, although as you know, visioning is an enormous part of our work here at Zingerman’s. I had no vision at all, only what David Whyte, W-H-Y-T-E, the writer and poet whose work I really like calls the via negativa. Some of you listening might have experienced this even without knowing that name. It’s where you’re clueless about where you want to go but you’re really clear where you don’t want to go. I don’t really recommend that as a great life path, but it’s better than nothing ’cause at least you could eliminate a few options and I knew I didn’t want to go home. In hindsight, this was an intuitive sense of the impact of ecosystem on whatever’s in it, but I wouldn’t have be able to explain that to you that coherently at that time.
Ari Weinzweig: It was just like, “I’m not going back there,” and so I decided I would stay here. I grew up in a family where no one was in business so I really had no clue you could even go into business. It wasn’t like I was like, “Oh business? No I don’t think I want to do business.” I didn’t even know it was on the life menu, so to speak. Everybody were teachers, doctors, lawyers, dentist, psychologists, so I was like the failure of the family for not getting an advanced degree. Anyway, but one of my roommates, college roommates was waiting tables at a restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. Those who haven’t been to Ann Arbor, downtown Ann Arbor is 11 minutes from the edge of Ann Arbor, so it’s not a long drive.
Ari Weinzweig: I went in there and applied for a job as a server thinking, “Kind of liked his job, I don’t know. It seems good, I’ll try that.” They interviewed me and said they’d call me but they didn’t call me. Two weeks later I went back and reapplied as a busboy because I thought, “All right, I got to get in going and they said they’d call me, call me and they didn’t call me.” I went back a third time, which you and I now know is called emotional resilience. I applied and I said I would do anything ’cause I was running out of money and rent was coming due and I was going to need to pay it. They offered me a job washing dishes and I took it not really knowing that it was the “low end,” in quotes, job that you weren’t supposed to want to take. That’s how I got started, so I totally lucked out.
Ari Weinzweig: I stumbled into work that I love. You asked what I expected. If you had asked me at 18 what I’d be doing in 2022, I didn’t even think I was going to be alive past the age of 30, let alone that I would be working with food or in business. So I lucked out because I love food and cooking. I’m still very motivated by the food. As you know, I write about business but also, about food and I like both equally. Then also I stumbled into great people, so Paul Saginaw, who you know have been my … I just actually talked to on the way over here to record this, had started that same day as the general manager. He had been the bar manager at one of their other places and they promoted them to GM. So he started up the same day I started and that’s how we met, so again, I feel really fortunate. Frank Carollo, who retired two years ago from the Bakehouse, even though he’s still working there, was-
Danielle Wiley: Yeah, I remember Frank.
Ari Weinzweig: … a line cook, and Maggie Bayless, who you also know from ZingTrain, our partner there started cocktail waitressing, I don’t know, a year later. So the four of us have known each other for, it’s crazy, but 45 years. We still like each other and we still like working together and I feel super fortunate for that, so that’s how I got going in food. Frank started teaching me how to prep and how to cook the line and I started managing kitchens. So anybody who’s worked in food and my background is what we call in our world back of the house. Paul left about halfway through the four-year stint that I was with that restaurant group and opened Monahan’s Seafood Market here in town, which I know if you’re on the coast is hard to believe, but one of the best fish markets in the country to this day, and Paul and I stayed friends.
Ari Weinzweig: We would talk, as is the norm in the food business, still to this day about opening our own place. Most people talk and never do it. Anyway, we would talk here and there and the fall of ’81, whatever that is, 41 years ago now, I had reached a point in the current writing that I do, I would say I had a good job but it wasn’t really good work. But it wasn’t particularly fulfilling in the way that what I would now define as good work where it’s really your vocation and your passion in the way that you have or I have and what we do. So I just decided, “You know what? It’s time to do something else. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” but I gave too months’ notice, unsure of the future. Paul, in one of those seemingly magical later, but at the time, whatever, just coincidences called me two or three days later.
Ari Weinzweig: He said that, “Hey man, there’s this building coming open near the fish market.” Where he had grown up in Detroit, you could get good deli food and in Chicago you could, but you couldn’t get it here in Ann Arbor. So I don’t know how it went this fast, but somehow within a week, we decided we would open. Then we renovated that little 1300 square foot space, redid the floor, redid the walls, made up the menu, costed the menu, printed the menu, the whole thing. We opened in four-and-a-half months. Today, no joke, as you, I’m sure experienced, it could take four months to get a meeting set up. So I don’t know why but it’s ironic, it used to go faster with less technology. But anyway, so we opened on March 15, 1982 with two employees working in that little space. It was, as you said, 1300 square feet. The building is built on that, an oddly-angled corner, so the building is trapezoid, maybe?
Danielle Wiley: I’ll ask my son, he’s the math guy.
Ari Weinzweig: Okay, he’ll know. There you go. See how he’s doing in school. But anyway, and we had 29 seats squished in there and of course, all the sandwiches that people know, corn beef, pastrami. We didn’t bake our own bread then we used to drive to Detroit every day and we had a little bit of what’s now called specialty food, but at the time was mostly just considered weird, some cheese that was pretty good for that era. Today, it’s nowhere near as good as what we have, but it was what we could get. Then a little bit of stream stuff like extra virgin olive oil, which used to mostly evoke laughter, somebody would go, “Extra virgin, how can that be?” The food world has come a long way, but anyway, that’s how we got going. That’s the start.
Danielle Wiley: I was listening to a podcast with you this morning and it’s 17 businesses.
Ari Weinzweig: It depends how you count ’cause there’s the legal structure of them, but then there’s some that are really from a public standpoint. It’s really two different things. There’s more than five and less than 20, let’s put it that way.
Danielle Wiley: Got it. Okay.
Ari Weinzweig: But how did we get there? So when we opened the deli, we did not write out a vision the way that we now would do as a matter of course. In part one of the business book series that I’ve done is one of the essays is called Natural Laws of Business, my belief that all healthy organizations, it says business, but it’s true for nonprofits, and actually, it turned out in part three on self-management it’s true for us as individuals too. But the first one on the list is that all healthy, thriving organizations, and I would suggest all healthy, thriving individuals have a vision. Now they may not, like I said, write it down the way that we would now do it, but in their head they have one. It’s a natural human process. I’m convinced that every four-year-old knows how to do until we start to get socialized and pressured to conform and guess the right answer, and then we start feeling a lot of anxiety that we then go to therapy to uncover where we were in the first place.
Ari Weinzweig: We knew from the get-go we wanted something special. This is what I’ve always been drawn to in the food world is the multiple unit thing, but the place that was really unique to its setting, unique in what it did, et cetera. We knew we wanted, of course, great food, of course, great service, always been believers that we need the customer way more than the customer needs us and that our job every day from day one and today still is to go out and prove to the guest, whether it’s you, Danielle, or whoever else is coming in why they would want to come to us because even before the web, we knew there was dozens of places they could go eat. They didn’t need us to be there. We wanted a great place for people to work. That’s been true from the beginning that we only had two, so it was different. That was always true.
Ari Weinzweig: From the get-go, in the spirit of what I said first about being special, we only wanted one. I’m not judging those who open multiple units, I just have never been to a restaurant’s fifth one that’s as energetic and interesting as the original. I have always been drawn to, if it’s music and art, the people who are doing something special. If it’s in food, I like those places that I can call up three or four in my head right off the top of my mind where there’s one and it’s like, it’s awesome. Is it the best restaurant in the world? I don’t know. I’m not that competitive, but there’s just, it’s in a special place. The food is special, the experience is special and you need to go there, often wait in line to get in.
Ari Weinzweig: For me, that was more important to create art in that sense or an artistic venture as a way to make my living than it was to make up more of a financial living but not feel good about what we were doing, so that’s still true now. The general wisdom, when we open as we were doomed to fail, Ann Arbor had had about 10 or 12 delis close in the previous decades, so the perception was we wouldn’t last very long. Plus of course, as you know, the food business is notorious. I don’t know what the number is, I remember the number 80, 85% close in the first 18 months. The neighborhood was considered a bad neighborhood, as you are painfully aware, there’s still no parking to this day. It was used to be before everybody had a cell phone in their pocket, it was very confusing to find ’cause of all the one-way streets.
Danielle Wiley: One-way streets still, even with the GPS and having lived here for a long time, it’s confusing.
Ari Weinzweig: Even with the phone, it’s still confusing. So five, six, seven years later, of course, it turned out we were geniuses. I’m winking, which people won’t be able to see but they can hear it. Everybody was behind us from the beginning and they all loved us from the day we opened, and did I envision all of what we have? Not at all. The original vision was just to have that one place. We expanded it twice. We’re in the historic district so it’s a little bit challenging, but we managed to pull it off thanks to Paul’s persistence, working with the planning commissions, et cetera. What we have now really came out of a conversation that Paul initiated in the summer of 1993 when he sat me down on the little bench out front of the deli about mid-morning when by all rights and reasoning I should have been inside getting the sandwich line ready for the lunch rush.
Ari Weinzweig: He looked at me and he goes, “Okay, in 10 years what are we doing?” “What?” It’s not a question you get every day. It’s like, “In 10 years what are we doing?” I’m like, “I don’t know what we’re doing in 10 years, like so far away.” He is like, “Well, we’ve turned down offers from Chicago and New York or whatever. Is that nuts? Now people are opening on campus and they’re copying us and they’re eating into our market and it’s not as good but it’s costing us sales, and what do we do?” I’m like, “I don’t know, man. I got work to do.” He’s like, “No, this is our work.” In hindsight, in our current linguistic context, I would say, he was asking me, “What’s your vision?” He didn’t say those words and I don’t think he had one and I certainly didn’t have one. It’s not like we were satisfied because we’ve always been about continuous improvement.
Ari Weinzweig: That’s also on the list of natural laws from long before there was Toyota and Lean. There’s a big difference I’ve learned between improving what you have and going after an inspirational long-term vision of the future. They’re not mutually exclusive. In fact, each supports the other. But anyway, we didn’t have a vision. What he had was a good intuitive, an accurate, intuitive sense that we had fulfilled the original vision. Everybody can equate it to whatever’s relevant in their own life. But it could be midlife, it could be finishing college, it could be kids grow up and move out of the house. It could be you retired. It’s hitting these thresholds or milestones that once seemed so far away. You didn’t know if you could actually pull off getting there and then you got there, but you realized that although it’s what you shot for, it’s what your goal was for a long time and it was challenging and difficult, you’re not really done.
Ari Weinzweig: It’s just a milestone and it’s time for the next vision in essence. Around that time is when we met a guy named Stas’ Kazmierski. The story of this is told in more detail in the newest pamphlet I put out conveniently called The Story of Visioning at Zingerman’s. The pamphlet is really just relating how we met Stas’, and he taught us this process. He was a consulting partner at a firm called Dannemiller Tyson, which their offices were just up the block and they were known, as is not uncommon in Ann Arbor, they were just a local group, but they were known all over the country for their very progressive organizational change methodologies, et cetera. I don’t have an office, but they did. If I had an office, I would’ve done what they did too, which is get out of the office and if you could have your meeting at the deli drinking coffee, why not do it there?
Ari Weinzweig: So they would come down and we’d say hi to them all the time. Well, one day it came up in conversation and then we ended up hiring him to guide us through our first rudimentary and rough attempt at a vision and that vision was called Zingerman’s 2009. So if you do the math, you’ll see we went 15 years in the future from when we finished it, not 10. But that vision is where the basis for what we currently have was first described. So we wrote about in 2009 we would create this community of businesses that each would have its own specialty, so this allowed for the growth that Paul was more inspired to have than I was. But it allowed for the deli to stay unique, which was super important to me. It described having managing partners in each business because we really didn’t want to just do what happens everywhere most places, which is more and more managers who then you’re losing the passion.
Ari Weinzweig: We wanted a partner like Frank at the Bakehouse who was going to study bread for 20 years and keep pushing the envelope to get better and that we would do it all here locally. I have a very strong belief, probably more strongly held today than then even, but about doing business in the community where we live. I’m not judging what others should do, just to me, it’s a very different business when you start opening further a field and that we would operate as one organization with these semi-autonomous parts. So not Paul and I invest in a lot of different startups, each component of it, each element would be interacting regularly with one with each other and that we would present ourselves as we do. Everybody pretty much knows at Zingerman’s if you work at the Bakehouse or the mail order or the Roadhouse or whatever, everybody knows they’re part of what we call the ZCoB or the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses. So that’s really where what we have now came from.
Danielle Wiley: One of the things that’s really interesting to me, ’cause I think so often people try to silo others, and I remember this back from when I was food writing and I started a blog. Everyone was like, “You have to just talk about food, you can’t talk about anything else.” I was like, “That’s hard. I’m a mom and I work a day job and I don’t only eat, there’s other things that I do and it doesn’t feel true to me.” But I think people are likely surprised when they, especially seeing ZingTrain and Zingerman’s Press and the books that you write are mostly not about food. It’s appealing to me personally. Was that a leap for you or just because of the interest that you have and the success that you were seeing? Did that step into influence outside of the food world come naturally for you?
Ari Weinzweig: Well, I don’t know that anything comes naturally to me except hiding in the corner reading a book, but it’s all learned behavior. But I started writing about food originally like you did. Lord knows how many years ago that was, but that’s how I got going. I never aspired to be a writer. I had been frustrated with the work that some of the people we had hired to do was going. In hindsight, they were probably doing fine. I just wasn’t very clear about my expectations and I couldn’t have elucidated them to them if I had tried at that point. So one of them left and then I was just moved to wherever and I was just like, “Okay, I’m just going to do it myself.” So I started to write our newsletter and at that time I was very stuck still in a lot of perfectionist bullshit. I would struggle over every sentence and get really frustrated and crumble up paper ’cause it was still mostly by hand at that point. But I kept going and I started to get nice comments from people, which was encouraging.
Ari Weinzweig: I just wrote about appreciation for the E News, so I guess that was part of what powered me. After I don’t know how many years people would start saying, “You need to do a book.” So I was like, “I don’t even know anything about writing. I guess if I’m going to explore this, two things, let’s try it with a small project, not a big book.” I decided to write a little pamphlet on olive oil. Then also, I decided to start studying writing ’cause I really didn’t know anything. I got in a writing group, the woman named Deborah Bayer and also, I started reading books and Deborah recommended one book, which really changed my life, which is Brenda Ueland, U-E-L-A-N-D’s book If You Want to Write, blew my mind and helped me enormously. There were others too, but that one was by far the most influential, and so I just kept writing about food and writing about food.
Ari Weinzweig: Then over time, that started to shift when we opened ZincTrain in 1994. So now we had a training business and then in ’96 we started doing training seminars. I was writing a column for a trade magazine and it was about food, but I was running out of topics. I’d been doing it for three or four years and I thought, “Well, why don’t I just write about the business stuff that we’re doing ’cause it’s the same readership? Everybody reading the Specialty Food Magazine is also in business, so they’re going to want to know about our steps, the great service or whatever.” So I started doing that and then that evolved further. I wrote a book on food we did with a big publishing house, which was not my favorite experience ever.
Ari Weinzweig: Then I decided to do the business books, but I thought, I was like, “We’re going to go back and do them our way, self-publish, and we do all the design and everything here,” but that’s really where it came from. All of the stuff we teach at ZingTrain, all of the stuff I write about, they’re really universal human principles. They’re not tied to the food business. They’re not tied to food. A lot of what I have realized gives them power is that mentioned you’re a mom and you do this, other things like they’re really about how to be in the world. That’s a huge shift from a lot of business training, which is really the opposite of how you want to be in the world. So you get trained to be competitive and aggressive, but then you’re supposed to go home and be kind and gentle with your kid. In hindsight, really everything we do, whether it’s visioning or servant leadership, the idea that you’re just reading about that everybody needs to learn to act like a leader, those are just life skills. So I write about and we teach what we do and then people can adapt it to their own ecosystem.
Danielle Wiley: Some of these have just come up in the course of our conversation, but one of the things that is appealing to me, and I think sometimes surprising to others about the leadership and the business pamphlets and books that you do write, and even in your newsletters, there are often concepts presented in the context of business that are not often associated with business. So just in newsletters I’ve read from you over the past few months, there’s been humility, dignity in the podcast I listened to this morning, you were talking about leading with love. It’s very refreshing, but I think surprising to people.
Ari Weinzweig: The industrial model was a lot about separation. So this whole idea that you could separate your life in quotes, “from your work,” which is what you were talking about, pushing back against yourself with your food rating, humility is a human trait, having written a pamphlet about it, and I just actually talked to my friend Chris Dennis, who I met at a conference that we both presented on about humility for the first time. It’s an essential part of human life. I’ve come to believe that humbleness or humility is our natural state. It’s not about feeling bad about yourself, it’s just feeling grounded within yourself and having confidence but not overconfidence. It’s playing out everywhere. So I will suggest that if one looks around the world right now or looks at business in general, certainly politics, certainly more humility would address most of the problems that we have whether it’s climate change, because the lack of our humility as a species is leading us to treat a planet in a undignified way.
Ari Weinzweig: It gets rid of racism, anti-Semitism, et cetera, because nobody’s better than anybody else. By definition, if you’re coming from a humble place, it gets rid of the belief that our country can be better than your country or that we have the right to impose ourselves on somebody else in an unproductive way. Humility doesn’t mean passivity, but it just means that we’re standing up for what we believe in in a way that allows others to be true to who they are too. If there were more humility, in fact, a good friend of mine who moves in more politically influential circles than I do asked me last year, “I’m going to go talk to leaders of both parties. What message should I send them from business about what you want?”
Ari Weinzweig: I thought about it and I wrote a whole thing about humility. That’s what I want. I want humility. I care, but I don’t really care what the tax code is. I could advocate for any number of policies or whatever, but in the end of the day, if we were all to come from a place of humbleness, we would figure it out together in a way that honor, diversity of background, diversity of perspective, honored that we’re all interrelated, honored that we all need each other to do well, that honors that part of our work is to help those who have less than we do, just because why would you not? Just makes sense. So yes, and if you want, I can talk about dignity too, but that was the humility answer.
Danielle Wiley: Yeah, do it. Talk about dignity too.
Ari Weinzweig: Well dignity is something that I started thinking about during the course of the pandemic. Political tensions were running super high and there was a lot of talk in the news about we need to have more civility, to reteach civility. I just thought, “Civility’s better than malice, but it’s really not that great. It’s like a ceasefire versus active peace.” So a ceasefire is better than war, but it’s not love and connection. Dignity, I started to think about which I hadn’t really given much thought either to humility or dignity, to be honest. I certainly knew the terms like everybody listening. But I wrote a piece about dignity that came out in the Working Through Hard Times pamphlet, which was about trying to get through the pandemic, how important dignity was and that’s where I got going. Then where I really got going was last winter when Russia invaded Ukraine, I’m a Russian history major, it was generally aligned with the people who are the underdogs.
Ari Weinzweig: I studied Russian history, not because I liked the power structure, but because I was drawn to the people that were pushed down and out by the power structure. Anyway, it hit aside from the obvious, which was also true for the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, which is also true for the lynchings in American history, which is also true for the Armenian genocide. There’s countless examples of it. But for whatever reason it hit me very emotionally hard. In hindsight, I would say I went into a short period of despair. I have written since about despair too, because it’s another thing I hadn’t really thought about. When I’m in that difficult state, I try to start learning because learning helps me pull myself out, and so I started doing more homework on Ukrainian history. I knew a fair bit. It didn’t take me long to realize what was common knowledge, if for anybody who was paying attention, I just wasn’t, which is that in 2014, I knew that the Ukrainian people had pushed out the Russian-led government, and I knew about that a little bit.
Ari Weinzweig: But when I started to study more, of course, it was called the Revolution of Dignity, that’s what they called it. When I was trying to think, “What do we do from southeastern Michigan, what am I going to do?” I realized we could continue to make positive, healthy, caring, loving ecosystems because the reality is you don’t get a ruler like Vladimir Putin in a country that’s made up of companies like Zingerman’s. Not like we’re perfect, it’s just not the case. Conversely, there’s no companies like Zingerman’s in Russia because you can’t work in that way without bumping up against power structure. So I realized what we can do here is we can make our own revolutions of dignity within our own workplaces, within our families or communities because the more we spread dignity effectively day-to-day, the better things are going to go.
Ari Weinzweig: You can go wrong with dignity, but you will recover together with grace. Then like everything we’ve done here, I just try to put concrete details to what dignity really meant ’cause it’s a nice concept, but what does it mean? So I came up with six things that dignity meant. The first is to honor the humanity of every person. You can see what was happening in Russia and Ukraine. There’s no acknowledgement of the humanity of anybody in Ukraine right now. They’re irrelevant to the Putin’s mindset and everybody’s different. This fits with my anarchism, which is another subject. The second thing is to make sure people have a meaningful say in what’s going on. So it doesn’t mean everybody has to be in charge, but there’s places for people to participate in the running of the organization even if they’re not in charge.
Ari Weinzweig: The third one, to start with positive beliefs. So just to believe that no matter how frustrated I get with anybody that things are going to go well. The fourth one is to commit to the greatness of everybody that we’re working with. Even if somebody starts as a dishwasher and they’re having a hard time that we can find a way to help them get to greatness. Actually, it’s the sixth one, I’m out of order, but the sixth one is to work for some level of meaningful equity. There’s no easy way to attain that. It is a difficult thing to get to. There’s no perfect level of equity I’ve come to believe, but at least if we’re consciously collaboratively working on it, it goes a long way. The one I skipped over is to be authentic in all your interactions. That means authentic, but not acting out. Yelling at somebody because you feel angry is authentic, but it’s not helpful.
Ari Weinzweig: So those six things resonates with me and with other people, I’ve come to believe that a lot of the diversity work and I’m certainly not the expert and we have a long way to go to get better at it here, but that’s so important. It’s really if we do these six things and we practice dignity, it is making diversity a reality because as we recorrect systemic problems to get more equity, if we treat everybody and honor their humanity and commit to helping them get to greatness regardless of who they are or where they’re at, it’s a way to actualize a concept that we all believe, or everybody listening probably believes in, but that’s hard to do. So that’s my frame. It’s imperfect, but I’ve been working with it.
Danielle Wiley: That’s pretty good for being imperfect, so thank you. I’m trying to think of a smooth transition to this and I’m falling short. But we end every episode by asking the guest what TV commercial from their childhood has stuck with them to this day ’cause I think for me, at least TV was where I was most influenced as a kid and it was such a part of my life.
Ari Weinzweig: Well, TV shows from my childhood. I grew up in Chicago where WGN was the local station, Bozo’s Circus was there and Garfield Goose, which I don’t know if it actually went … Like now on TV and YouTube you can see those-
Danielle Wiley: I remember Bozo. I don’t remember Garfield Goose.
Ari Weinzweig: Yeah, well you can look it up and you’ll see it with your kid. There was a cartoon called Tom Terrific. We didn’t get to watch a lot of TV in our house. We were tightly regulated, let’s say, but Saturday morning we could watch cartoons, my sister and I, and all of those entertaining cartoons, so all of those.
Danielle Wiley: Spent a lot of time watching cartoons with my little brother in our Raggedy Ann and Andy sleeping bags and all the cereal commercials and yep.
Ari Weinzweig: I like it.
Danielle Wiley: Well, this was awesome. Thank you so much. Maybe you’ll come back. I’d love to have you back-
Ari Weinzweig: Yeah, of course.
Danielle Wiley: … on some time to talk about anarchy. I feel like that’s its own dedicated episode, perhaps.
Ari Weinzweig: Yeah, let’s do it.
Danielle Wiley: Okay, awesome. Well, I will-
Ari Weinzweig: I’m on board.
Danielle Wiley: Very good. I am sure I will see you around at the Deli or the Roadhouse at table 106. Is that where I was?
Ari Weinzweig: Yeah.
Danielle Wiley: Okay.
Ari Weinzweig: Yeah, back in the corner. You can ask for it in your reservation.
Danielle Wiley: Got it. Will do. Well, thank you so much.
Ari Weinzweig: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Danielle Wiley: Thank you for listening. Don’t forget to like, share and subscribe. Please check back next Monday for a new episode featuring marketing conversations through the lens of influence. I am your host, Danielle Wiley, and this is The Art of Sway.