Zingerman's Offers Sandwiches And A Unique Business Strategy
Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Mich., often wins awards for its corned beef sandwiches and house baked bread, but it is equally notable for its open-book business policy.
Every employee has access to data about the $60 million company, and recently, each staff member had a chance to buy the first shares of stock.
Here & Now’s Robin Young sat down at Zingerman’s Deli with Ari Weinzweig, a co-founder of the Zingerman’s business empire.
Interview Highlights: Ari Weinzweig
How can you be a “lapsed anarchist” and run a successful $60 million-a-year business?
“There’s nothing in anarchism that’s opposed to organization. In fact, it’s in favor of organization because it helps people to get to greatness. The key is that it be freely chosen and that it’s not forced on people, and generally that it’s not hierarchical other than what’s appropriate.”
“Everybody, I believe, is a unique, creative and intelligent human being.”
On letting employees and former employees have an ownership stake in the company
“It’s the belief that the more generous you are with that work, the more greatness you create. When you, from the heart, treat people like intelligent human beings and give them the chance to have a say in what’s going on, then great things come from that. I mean, it could be harder in the moment, there’s something easier about just telling people what to do, but I don’t think it’s healthy or sustainable and it’s not natural.”
On Zingerman’s problem-solving formula and process
“There’s problems happening all the time. We make mistakes with customers, a supplier may not show up, butter prices may shoot up, you know at the bake house we use tons of butter, literally. What do you do? Do you raise prices? Do bonuses go down? The whole model is the bosses retreat to the back room and try to figure it out. We don’t really know what we’re doing either, but we’re supposed to know what we’re doing, so we retreat to the back room and then come back and announce some big decision, which inevitably is flawed because there is no perfect decision. Then everyone else goes into reactive contortions over what’s wrong with it. What we would do here, if we did our job well, is to start dialogue, for sure involving the staff that are working with selling to the customers, what pricing do you think? What should we do?”
You really ask the people making the sandwich what the pricing should be?
“Yeah, absolutely. Because it impacts them. So if we don’t raise prices and profitability goes down, people’s bonus go down, and eventually you can’t buy the equipment that you need – that they need to do the work that they do. On the other hand, if you raise prices too much and you lose sales, bonuses go down and you can’t buy the – you know, everybody’s affected by everything.”
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