Micheline Maynard strikes me as someone I’d quite enjoy meeting. As best I can tell, she is Pure Michigan: Born in Ann Arbor where she lives, graduated from Michigan State, and one of the region’s most accomplished business journalists. Maynard also is a trained chef. I’m excited to read her forthcoming book, Satisfaction Guaranteed: How Zingerman’s Built A Corner Deli Into A Global Food Community, slated for publication next year.
I love Zingerman’s and used to frequent the restaurant when it was still a corner deli. I lived in New York for nearly 30 years and there isn’t, never was, and likely never will be a deli of Zingerman’s caliber in that city or any place else. I embrace what Zingerman’s stands for: The restaurant’s profit margins are modest because it pays its employees well and provides a myriad of opportunities for advancement. “We’re comfortable with the notion that there’s such a thing as enough,” co-founder Paul Saginaw told the New York Times in a 2014 interview. “Others may be wealthier than we’ll ever be, but I wonder if they’ve lost a certain amount of joy in their work.”
Zingerman’s success was predicated on its adherence to excellence and a culture where everyone strives to do better. A friend of mine worked there in its early years and marveled at the exacting standards the co-founders demanded of themselves and others. Almost was never good enough.
Given that Maynard is an authority on Zingerman’s, I was taken aback by her recent Washington Post commentary arguing that Americans have become too spoiled and need to lower their standards and expectations. Tolerating mediocrity isn’t how Zingerman’s became Zingerman’s. Unfortunately, it’s a defining trait of many Michiganders.
Maynard’s response to the supply-chain problem is an example.
From her WaPo commentary:
“The other day I found myself carrying home a loaf of bread in my bare hands because the bakery had run out of bags. Back when we didn’t know how good we had it – circa 2019 – I might have been annoyed by the inconvenience. Now I was just glad the bakery was still in business.”
Maynard introduces us to Lisa McDonald, owner of TeaHaus, an Ann Arbor shop selling tea and gifts, who also says that Americans need to learn to settle for less.
“I understand people are getting frustrated, but it’s time for people to take a chill pill,” McDonald says. “I’m just not going to have the things that I usually have. Maybe they aren’t going to get the purple mug, but the blue one is pretty, too.”
I admire Maynard’s and McDonald’s abilities to roll with the punches, although January would be a better test of Maynard’s tolerance when the supply shortage could include gloves to keep her bare hands covered and warm. Ann Arbor gets mighty cold in the winter. It also snows, which could make her unwrapped bread quite soggy.
As for McDonald’s blue mug, it would be most unfortunate if it can’t be properly secured because of a shortage of packing materials. The likelihood of hitting a wheel-bending Michigan pothole on the ride home is quite high, and the blue mug will get smashed to smithereens. Michigan has the worst roads in the country.
I’d be accepting of inconveniences relating to the supply-chain crisis if it related to the pandemic and keeping people safe. But the crisis is because of government mismanagement: The City of Long Beach imposed aesthetic restrictions limiting the number of containers that can be piled on top of each other at its major port, there is a shortage of workers because government benefits incentivize people not to work, and the person responsible for making the trains and trucks run on time is on paternity leave. I’m not prepared to lower my standards to accommodate government ineptitude.
Michigananders suffer from an ailment I’ve dubbed, “The Michigan Mediocrity Tolerance Syndrome.” It’s a disorder where people come to believe that bad infrastructure, bad schools, faltering hospitals, and high levels of lead in aging water pipes is just the way of the world. Tolerating mediocrity is why Michigan has been on a downward spiral for decades, losing companies and talented people seeking greener pastures elsewhere. Underscoring Michigan’s declining influence, the state has lost a Congressional seat every census since 1980.
Michigan’s economic prognosis has taken a turn for the worse. Ford Motor Company, founded in Michigan more than a century ago, recently announced it plans to invest more than $11 billion to build manufacturing plants in Tennessee and Kentucky to support it electric vehicles business. Ford has staked its future on EVs, and the company is looking to reduce its Michigan footprint. In September, Ford disclosed it plans to hire software developers, data scientists, research and development engineers and finance professionals in India to service its global business. Ford’s electric Mustang is assembled in Mexico, and the trade press reported the company plans to assemble two other electric vehicle models in that country.
Rivian, an upstart electric vehicle manufacturer, was previously headquartered in Michigan but relocated last year to California, reportedly because the company’s CEO “believes California is a cool place to be and Detroit has an old technology image. Ford was one of Rivian’s early financial backers and still has a significant stake in the company. Barron’s in a recent issue compared Rivian’s electric truck to Ford’s electric F-150 and was more enthusiastic about Rivian’s model. Rivian, despite limited sales and manufacturing capacity, is hoping to go public with a market valuation of $80 billion. By comparison, Ford’s market valuation is about $67 billion, but some of that value relates to Ford’s significant holdings in Rivian.
What’s notable about Ford’s Tennessee and Kentucky investments is the company didn’t bother to consult with Governor Gretchen Whitmer to see if Michigan might come up with a compelling competitive offer. That’s understandable. While Whitmer made a national name for herself going on TV to trash Donald Trump’s leadership, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and other state officials were executing a years-long plan in the making to attract auto companies to the state for electric vehicle manufacturing. Tennessee already has significant automotive manufacturing and parts plants, but unlike Whitmer, Gov. Lee appreciated the industry was going electric and wanted to ensure his state landed a significant piece of the action.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, whose district straddles Ford’s Dearborn headquarters, threatens, rather than facilitates, Ford’s EV and mobility ambitions. Tlaib supports the movement to boycott Israel and voted against funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Ford, which had a presence in Israel for more than a decade, two years ago opened a research center in Tel Aviv to serve as a research hub augmenting Ford’s global research and advanced engineering team. Ford also owns Israel-based SAIPS, a computer vision and machine learning company. Ford’s electric F-150 truck is outfitted with the Mappo travel app, also developed in Israel. Among those Iron Dome protects are Ford employees doing critical work that will impact Tlaib’s constituents. The Iron Dome also protects GM workers because that company also has a significant research and development presence in Israel.
Michigan leaders have stood idly by as Beaumont Health, the biggest hospital network in Metro Detroit, imploded. In its day, Beaumont’s flagship hospital in suburban Royal Oak was easily among the top 50 in the country, and for some specialties like cardiac surgery and orthopedics, among the very best. Beaumont’s CEO in recent years implemented aggressive cost cutting measures that drove away dozens of prominent surgeons, physicians, and other experienced healthcare personnel. A prominent attorney, donor, and former board member wrote a passionate letter to attorney general Dana Nessel more than a year ago alerting her about Beaumont patient safety and other critical issues, but she didn’t heed the warning. A few months later, a healthy patient died undergoing a routine colonoscopy. There have been other serious issues.
Metro Detroit residents who rely on the Detroit Free Press or The Detroit News for their information aren’t aware of the colonoscopy patient death and Beaumont’s myriad other patient safety issues because the dailies haven’t reported on them. The publications don’t want to alert their readers that all is not well in Michigan. Not only did they gloss over the significance of Ford’s Tennessee and Kentucky investments, the Free Press published this fawning profile of CEO Jim Farley and the News just named him among Michiganians of the Year.
Even in sports, the Free Press tries to put a gloss on a bad situation. After the ailing Detroit Lions football team lost its seventh straight game, the Free Press ran this story headlined, Detroit Lions are not an 0-7 team. Here’s why. No, the Lions are a 0-7 team as of this writing, and it’s safe to say they won’t be playing in this season’s Super Bowl.
The Free Press and the News, once among the most respected local dailies with statewide audiences, are owned by out-of-state companies who couldn’t care where Ford locates as long as the company buys advertising. In fact, The Free Press is designed and edited in Kentucky, so the staff there understandably perceives Farley as a hero. Charlie LeDuff, a writer with upstart Deadline Detroit, on Friday wrote this column explaining how compromised local journalism enables Detroit’s rampant corruption. What’s frightening is that Detroit mayor Mike Duggan is one of Michigan’s most capable political leaders.
The failure of the Michigan press to hold state leaders accountable is why the state ranks 50 for transparency. The liberal national media loves Whitmer, Nessel, and Tlaib because of their willingness to bash Trump at the drop of a hat. While Trump haters might applaud their efforts, the former president enjoys considerable popularity in Michigan, so the bashing only served to polarize and alienate a huge swath of the population. President Biden seriously considered Whitmer as his running mate because he was impressed with her TV skills, not anything she accomplished as governor.
Michigan is in trouble and will continue to suffer a loss of companies and talent unless some grownup leadership emerges that can stem the exodus. Notably, among the Michiganders who have decamped elsewhere is the daughter of GM CEO Mary Barra, who teaches math at a middle school in Nashville. Another is Paul Saginaw, the co-founder of Zingerman’s, who now lives in Las Vegas where his newly opened deli is receiving rave reviews.
Saginaw doesn’t have to settle for a blue mug. He can find an available purple mug on sale at the Las Vegas gift shop.
More on Michigan’s decline: