Monthly Archives: July 2019

Better With Age?

By Lloyd Graff

I watched one of the greatest tennis matches ever played on Sunday.  I suppose you are thinking, who cares about tennis on the TMW site, but give me a chance on this.

Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time with 20 Grand Slam titles, dueled Novak Djokovic, perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time with 15 Grand Slam titles (at the time).  It was Wimbledon, in London, England, the biggest tournament of the year, perfect weather, playing on a grass court.  Both players had their parents attending.  Federer’s wife and their four kids were in the family box seats, and Djokovic’s parents were with his son.

It had all the ingredients of a classic.  These guys have played each other almost fifty times.  They respect each other, but they don’t really like each other.  They are lions in the tennis jungle.  The biggest of rivals, these matches are what they live for.  They are wars.  The winners have the most endurance, focus, and luck.

Sunday they played 5 sets and were tied 12 games each in the 5th when a newly installed tiebreaker rule went into effect.  Federer and Djokovic are old men as singles tennis players go.  They are 70 years old between the two men.  Federer has been playing major tournaments for 20 years, Djokovic 15 years.

The point is that age is overrated today.  In business, the arts, politics, sports, talent is what counts.  If you can do it, you do it.  If you can’t, get out, but don’t let “them” tell you when you are finished.

The crowd Sunday was almost entirely for “Rah Jah, Rah Jah,” as they indicated by chanting between many of the points.  Novak said after the match that he attempted to hear the crowd chants as “No Vak, No Vak.”  He said it worked most of the time.  Djokovic is used to being the hated favorite and has learned how to use it for himself rather than an excuse to lose.  There is a lesson for us all in his toughmindedness in the biggest matches with everybody against him.  He would glance at his family box to see his parents, sometimes holding his young son, cheering avidly for him.

These men are “all in” regarding training, fitness, nutrition, and the mental game.  They know their bodies.   Between matches they use intravenous hyperalimentation to get the extra nutrients to recover from the previous match and be in top shape for the next one.  Sunday, after five hours of the most grueling exertion, they were both hitting 120 mph serves on the lines, playing long rallies, and going to the net and racing back for lobs.  Their concentration was immaculate—and astounding.

A match like Federer-Djokovic is an inspiration.  It says to me that just because other folks are retiring or cutting back it does not mean I have to.  Just because I had a heart attack 11 years ago it doesn’t mean I can’t be active now, at 74.  It also tells me that if I am serious about business or fitness I have to be committed to it.

Will Roger and Novak eventually be supplanted by great new players?  Yes, but nobody appears to be ready to beat them now.

They aren’t going to make it easy, either.

Question: Have you gotten better with age?

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Swarfcast Ep. 46 – Zak Pashak on Building Bikes in Detroit

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s podcast is Zak Pashak, founder of Detroit Bikes, the largest bike frame manufacturer in the United States. All bikes that the company sells are assembled in Detroit, and its high-end models have frames constructed of high quality American Chromoly steel. Zak lamented to us that he couldn’t find many companies in the U.S. to supply parts for wheels and other bike components. We told him we would take on the mission personally to find him some.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Zak hales from Calgary, Canada, where he had success in the bar business and organizing one of Canada’s largest music festivals. He eventually developed an interest in politics and urban planning, which would inspire his next venture. In 2011, he sold all of his assets in Canada and moved to Detroit where he started Detroit Bikes in the building of an old sign company.

Zak said he chose Detroit because he saw the city as a place with rich history. He remarked that it was where cars were first mass produced, where great genres of music were invented, and a place with talent in the manufacturing field. He also said he wanted to go to a challenging place where he could be part of positive change.

Zak Pashak of Detroit Bikes

We could feel a real sense of purpose when Zak talked about his company. He takes pride in assembling bicycles in the U.S., a country where most of them are imported. He appreciates boosting the economy of a revitalizing city. But Zak said his primary mission is changing urban landscapes. He really wants to contribute to changing the paradigm of how people get around in cities, making them less congested and more environmentally friendly. He said this ultimately will be decided by governments who invest in new types of transportation infrastructure—including bike lanes.

Question: Does it make you want to buy a product more if it is made in the U.S.?

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A Killer Family Business Saga

By Lloyd Graff

I just listened twice to a podcast with Dave Dahl, creator of Dave’s Killer Bread.  It was the most recent “How I Built This” podcast, conducted by the finest interviewer I’ve heard, Guy Raz of NPR.

Dahl slowly recounted his story of almost forty years, much of it about misery, depression, and failure, culminating in enormous financial success and more disappointment.

From a journalistic viewpoint the podcast was a masterpiece of storytelling – a slow, meticulous, layered presentation of a man’s life of pain and, particularly, family resilience.  From a business standpoint it was fascinating and revealing.

Dave's killer family business

David Dahl’s parents had a small family bakery in Portland, Oregon.  They were Seventh-day Adventists.  His father slowly moved the business toward whole-grain products.  David started working in the bakery when he was tall enough to reach the dough table. He was nine years old, earning 25 cents an hour, some of which he was forced to use to pay for school and clothes.  He describes himself as almost always angry and rebellious, suffering from being bipolar and having ADD.  He dropped out of high school, experimented with drugs and alcohol, and joined the Marine Corps, ultimately dropping out.  He said he was always running away from something.  After the Marines he got hooked on cocaine and meth, which pushed him into car theft and armed robbery.

Dahl spent a total of 15 years in jail, despondent, angry, and frequently suicidal.  He shunned treatment but eventually consented to taking Paxil, an antidepressant which he says had an almost immediate positive effect on him.  He was offered an opportunity in 2002 to take a class in computerized drafting, and he loved it.  He finally left jail in 2003, and his brother Glenn, eight years older than him, who had taken over the family bakery, offered him a $12-an-hour job as a baker, which he accepted.

The Dahl family was not a happy, jolly one.  The relationship between Dave and Glenn was strained from the beginning and did not get easier when Glenn’s son Shobi, an Economics graduate of Brown, came into the business around the same time.

But Dave Dahl had finally changed from the drug-dependent, despondent criminal.  He had accepted himself and had a passion to do something with his life, and bread was his vehicle.

Glenn and Shobi gave him the time and oven space to develop breads of his own creation.  He used seeds and nuts and whole grains to develop unique breads.  He sold them at local farmers’ markets around Portland and quickly developed a following.  He created a bread made with bluish cornmeal, called Blues Bread, and then his trademark, “Dave’s Killer Bread,” which concisely told his personal story of jail, dependency, and resilience on the label, with a cartoon picture of Dave with enhanced biceps.

The business grew spectacularly, getting clients like Safeway and Costco.  Dave and his nephew developed the Dave’s brand independently, buying equity into the entire family baking business run by his brother Glenn.  It was an enormously successful, yet extremely unhappy and contentious, family business.

The family sold it to a private-equity firm in 2012 and became quite wealthy, but still unhappy, rarely speaking to one another other than nodding at family gatherings.

I was enthralled by Dave Dahl’s saga and his candor. Putting his story on the bread packaging was the brilliant, counterintuitive move that struck me.  His marketing consultant thought he was crazy.  But he did it anyway.

I get it. I want to know something about the life stories of people I do business with.  I like to check out their websites for at least a glimpse into who they are.  I very rarely get anything juicy or substantive to grasp.  If there is anything at all it’s usually a predictable, frothy story of happy success.

We all know enterprises are built from failure and conflict.  It may not be jail and drug addiction and family drama, but life is a struggle.  Nobody gets a pass.

Dave Dahl, the miserable, 15-year prison veteran reveals himself on his signature bread.  We eat it up.

Question: What is the story of your business? Has there been drama?

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Fruitsposé

By Lloyd Graff

I just bought the first fabulous cherries and peaches of the 2019 farmers’ market season.

The following blog is a past favorite of mine. I give you Fruitsposé!

Every day another prominent guy is forced to admit how his desire got the best of him. Today I must reveal my secret passion. I have had a lifelong affair with fruit.

I was reminded of this a couple days ago when I was in the produce department of Bizio’s, my local fruit seller of choice. He had THE BLUEBERRIES. I am very fussy about all my berries, and I usually shun blueberries in December in Chicago because they shlep them in from Argentina or Mexico and by the time I buy them they are flat and tasteless. But occasionally in December and January Driscoll Blueberries arrive and they are plump and taste like the best of Southwest Michigan berries in July. Really, they are even better, because they come so unexpectedly, and from Mexico no less.

When I find them I’m like a bear with a honeycomb. I want them all. So I buy almost every little carton on the shelf, price be damned, because these are my treasures of winter.

I love almost every berry at its peak. Frankly, I love almost every fruit in season.

This past summer I went absolutely bonkers over watermelon — Black Diamond seedless, to be specific. For almost eight weeks I was virtually delirious for those 15 pound bundles of dark pink joy. I sliced the melons into big sensuous chunks and pigged out for breakfast, lunch, and after dinner. Probably gained five pounds over two months on my Black Diamonds, but worth it.

Then there is my apple period. August, September, October, I infest the local farmers markets checking out the reddish treasure. Honeycrisps are my faves, but I’ll accept anything except the most vile apple on the planet, “Delicious.” Has there ever been a more inappropriate adjective for a fruit? If a farmers market seller even grows Red Delicious I will avoid them like Measles. Why even have a tree if it gives fruit as utterly cardboardy as that sickly variety that should only be exported to China for Pandas.

If there is an antidote for awful apples it is perfect pears. Bartlett’s are rather prosaic for me, but they are succulent and tasty, sliced any way you want. Wonderful with a soft cheese. Anjou are a little Franco, but just as marvelous, and a Bosc if peeled will duel the best of them. But for me the princess of pears is the Comice. The skin is a little rough like the Bosc, but if you hit the ripeness on the button, that pear has no peer. They sell for a premium, but the flavor of a Comice puts me in blissful state. Can you ask for more from any fruit?

I am a nut for fruit from trees. Oranges are back in season now and I am going bananas for Mandarins with the stems left on them and the spectacular Cara Cara orange, which is a cross between a grapefruit and a blood orange. Sweet and a little sour at the same time with a marvelous pink color.

I cannot leave out the often overlooked grapefruit. Texas Ruby Reds are back in season and I am an avid buyer. They take a little time to section, but nothing good comes without effort.

I’ll finish my fruity ode with my love of strawberries. I am suffering at the moment because I haven’t had any decent strawberries in months. Unlike the blessed blueberries that come out of nowhere for a week or two in December, winter strawberries are invariably crappy.

Our family is taking our annual pilgrimage to San Diego over President’s weekend this year. February is right at the beginning of strawberry season in southern California. I pray that the berries won’t be late because we devour a flat each day. We buy them at a local farm stand, and they are “to die for.”

My regrets to peaches which I adore over their oh so short season, but I had to leave out something.

And Pomegranates. Sorry, you are just too seedy.

Tell me about your fruit fetish. I am still exploring.

Questions:

What are your favorite fruits? Why?

What fruits do you hate?

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