Thursday, October 20, 2011

Simply Character

Sam Mogannum, the owner of Bi-Rite Market, was recently profiled in San Francisco online in a feature entitled “Cornering the Market”. As I read the article, I had an introspective moment where I asked myself “why do I find this appealing, and why would others?” So I decided to read it again (and again and again) to try and figure that out.
Human and Humble
Sam Mogannum is the owner of a company. He is part of the ethos of the American Dream. As an owner and entrepreneur, he has earned the right to the privileges – status, deference, a corner office, etc. – so frequently associated with this status.

Yet, “he cooks harvest dinners for his staff and serves them”. This is not a man who is pulling rank or putting on airs.

His office is only “a few feet away” from the “market’s cramped prep kitchen…[where] one cook mixes a batch of chipotle-lime mayo and another stuffs sausages”. Apparently, Sam Mogannum did not get the memo about his corner office entitlement.

He also does real work around the store, referring to himself as “the maintenance guy” and performing “hands-on grooming of the deli case”. This is a man who would make Tom Peters proud - he is Managing By Wandering Around.
Community Member
Mogannum’s also a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is type of guy when it comes to his community. “He likes to support neighborhood businesses, so he heads to Faye’s Video & Espresso Bar for his daily soy café au lait.”

Many of the store’s products are sourced in the community, such as its fish, fruit and vegetables.
In addition, he practices the art of paying-it-forward: “Mogannum takes a personal interest in his vendors, supporting their causes and, if necessary, bailing them out when times get tough”

The sense of community also extends to his profession: “Rivals can go to great lengths to guard their ideas and keep the completion out of their stores, yet Mogannum regularly welcomes other grocers to Bi-Rite”
Contributing to the Greater Good
People are often advised by gurus to “do what you love” and “follow your dreams”. Mogannum illustrates the greater good transcendence, stating “I like to do things that make a difference. Money is secondary. It’s always been secondary…”

The man finds meaning in his work: “Stores like ours are like an heirloom vegetable…we’re a thing of the past, but there’s been a resurgence to bring small markets back, because they have meaning. They have a story, they have history.”

Definitely not the typical growth-at-all-costs CEO.
A Treasury Café Conclusion
The first thing that strikes me about Mr. Mogannum’s attributes (as reported by San Francisco online and as summarized by me) is the similarity to the advice one hears about social media activities - promote yourself no more than 5% of the time, consistently ask how we can help others and lift them up, become a member of the community before all else.

The second thing is that while this on-line community can be great, it is still merely digital. Unlike this nascent wikiworld, the Bi-Rite story is one of these idealistic traits occurring in real life, able to be seen, touched, heard and sensed. We can experience it in 360 degrees, up-close and personal.
And finally, the best part is that it might all be as close as our neighborhood market!

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  1. This is a good analysis. If we only show self interest whether it's online or offline, then we really aren't part of a community.

  2. Maddie,

    Very well stated - I might quote you on that sometime!

    Thanks for visiting and the comments!

  3. Wonderful post, David!

    I loved your point about how Mogannum acts in real life like we should on social media. Not only does that make for a courteous business, but it makes for a well-rounded individual. When you show interest in others, they will, in return, show interest back in you. Relationships and networking and goodwill still make sales.

  4. Mandy,

    Thank you for the absolutely great comments! I like the term "goodwill" that you used, it reminds me of a friend of mine who used to say "you need to demonstrate to the universe", which she used in a karma type context.

    And for those who have noticed the Chicago Most Valuable Blogger badge near the top of this blog and clicked it, and then further noticed that nothing happened, it's because that contest is over and Mandy's blog was the grand prize winner for the category! Give her a big congratulations and visit her site -

    I am keeping the badge up for the time being because it is still true I was a Finalist Nominee, and for a blog going on its 4th month that ain't all that bad!