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Norman Lear and Starbucks

With the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike meaning no Daily Show with Jon Stewart or Colbert Report (although the writers are putting funny stuff on YouTube), I’ve been forced to find other TV shows to watch.

Howard Schultz and Rabbi Jason MillerOne of my favorites has been the Iconoclasts series on the Sundance Channel. I first saw one of these programs several months ago when they featured Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and surfing icon Laird Hamilton. The other day I watched the Iconoclasts episode matching Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz (with me at right) and Norman Lear. The two men are very fond of each other, have much more in common than anyone would imagine, and have teamed up in some very lucrative ways. The combination made this a very Jewish episode.

I actually knew a great deal about Howard Schultz before I saw this program. I heard him speak about his upbringing, influences, and vision at a Jewish Federation event in Ann Arbor a few years ago. Earlier in the day of the event, I happened to be at a local Ann Arbor Starbucks having a meeting with a Hillel donor and Howard Schultz walked in. I observed him doing exactly what he says he does and what is portrayed in the Iconoclasts episode about him. He walked up to each worker (“partner”) in the Starbucks store, shook their hand, patted them on the back, and told them that he genuinely was proud of their hard work. He then made his way over to our table, sat down, and shmoozed for a few minutes as if he wasn’t the busy executive running a billion-dollar corporation that opens eight new stores per day. At the Jewish Federation event later that evening he remembered our conversation without any prompting.

Howard Schultz and Norman LearSchultz speaks openly that his Judaism influences his code of business principles and I have used him as an example many times when teaching about Jewish business ethics. Our nanny, who has become a part of our family, moonlights as a part-time Starbucks manager and has confirmed to me that it really is a great place to work (full health care benefits for all part-time staff).

How much I knew about Howard Schultz is how little I knew about Norman Lear, the Jewish creator of all those 70’s TV shows (All in the Family, Good Times, the Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, etc.). As Norman Lear describes in an online interview with, Judaism has infused his life’s work. In the interview, as in the Iconoclasts presentation, Lear explains the Talmudic story that he loves and and lives by:

There’s a Talmudic story that I love, that seems to cover everything to me. A man should have a jacket with two pockets. In the first pocket there should be a piece of paper on which is written, “I am but dust and ashes.” In the second, a piece of paper on which it is written “For me the world was created.” That’s mama loshon to me, real common sense. The person who can live between that ying and yang has it made.

The two men appear like a loving father and son that had been separated for years. They share similar ethics and have each revolutionized their own trade (Schultz by selling coffee in new ways and treating his workers in better ways, and Lear with racy TV characters like Archie Bunker to get Americans to think about racial and religious tolerance in new ways). Together, they have teamed up on entrepreneurial initiatives like selling music at Starbucks (the award-winning Ray Charles CD — the last of his life — being their first attempt) and on social and political issues (getting young people to vote).

The highlights of the presentation are in Lear’s home, where he shows his original copy of the Declaration of Independence to Howard Schultz, and in their tour of the Seattle warehouse where Starbucks coffee is produced. Each man shows remarkable pride in the other and the Jewish people should take great pride in these men. It is their Judaism that has made them who they are.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Bizdom Business Cleveland Dan Gilbert Detroit ePrize Michigan NBA Tzedakah

Urban Entrepreneurial Academy

Detroit entrepreneur Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena, recently created an urban entrepreneurial academy called Bizdom U. Set to launch next month, Bizdom U will be a full-time, two-year program designed to produce entrepreneurs who will start up and lead successful Detroit-based businesses.

The goal is to provide graduates of urban high schools who do not plan to pursue a four-year degree with an alternative education in entrepreneurship. Those who graduate from Bizdom U can expect between $25,000 and $500,000 to be invested over time, based on milestones and performance, into their companies. This is a wonderful contribution to Michigan’s economy and will greatly benefit many young people in Detroit who could create tomorrow’s companies. More information on the project is available at the TechTownWSU site.

Dan Gilbert is a pretty remarkable business man. He founded the Michigan-headquartered Rock Financial in 1985 as a 22-year-old, first-year law student, growing it into one of the largest independent mortgage banks in the country taking it public in 1998. In 1999, Intuit purchased Rock Financial and the national web operation was renamed Quicken Loans Inc. With Dan staying on as CEO, Quicken Loans quickly became the leading provider of home loans on the Internet and about two years later Gilbert bought Quicken Loans Inc. back from Intuit.

Dan is also a partner in the private investment group Camelot Ventures, which recently invested in my cousin’s company, ePrize. Camelot also owns and operates FlashSeat, a company which has created technology and processes that replaces physical tickets for large sports and entertainment events with an electronic approach. Dan was Rawlings Sporting Goods’ largest shareholder and was instrumental in effecting the sale of Rawlings to K2 in March 2003.

I first met Dan because of his involvement in JARC, a non-profit organization that provides housing and services to the developmentally disabled, where he served as President when my mother was the Secretary of the board. JARC is one of my favorite charities and continuously receives awards for being one of the nation’s best non-profits. The photo above was taken at a Cleveland benefit for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in which Dan Gilbert and his business partner David Katzman were honored.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |