The name is all too familiar to Rochesterians. You know it every time you need to run and grab a gallon of milk, a carton of eggs or any other grocery item that you just can’t find anyplace else: Wegmans.
And at graduation, the UR graduating class will listen to Wegmans Food Markets CEO Danny Wegman give the address at the 160th University commencement.
Wegman, a member of UR’s Board of Trustees, will also be receiving the George Eastman Medal, which recognizes achievement above and beyond the call of duty service.
Prior to his speech, the Campus Times got to sit down with Wegman to discuss his relationship to UR, his community outreach efforts and why life is all about doing what you love.
What is your relationship to the University?
I’ve been on the Board [of Trustees] for a number of years. I think what I’m most interested in is really health care in general, and obviously part of the University is the Medical Center. The reason I’m interested in it is first of all we have 38,000 people that work at Wegmans and health care is very important to them, so the more I know about it the better. Second of all, I think it’s important to our community and third of all it’s important to our company. Obviously I don’t know all the details, but I’m generally happy that there’s an effort to have health care for all Americans.
In our business in particular, which is selling food, it’s very important and I don’t know of a bigger factor in determining anyone’s health than what you eat. That’s why it’s very important to us to understand health. One of the things we’re trying to do now is tighten up our relationship even more with the Medical Center at the University so we can help our customers, our employees and the community do more of the right things.
As the company expands nationally how do you maintain a community focus?
By living here. It sounds silly, but you’re really drawn to where you live. It’s interesting, at commencement I’m receiving the George Eastman Medal, and I grew up in Rochester, and when I was a young boy, I never knew George Eastman, but Kodak was such a caring, caring place. His legacy is all over: the Eastman School of Music and the Eastman School of Dentistry.
My point is that you kind of grow up with a role model there to take care of your community and get involved in the community, and I think that’s the kind of legacy George Eastman left for Rochester. There’s some interesting things about Rochester, the per capita giving to the United Way is the highest in Rochester of any community in America. I think that’s amazing, we’re not the wealthiest community by far, yet that happens.
I think communities are very important. If you learn to do something in one community it transfers to another community.
Is there a single achievement within the community that you’re most proud of?
There’s an effort that my dad started it’s now run by a Hillside family of Agencies called Work Scholarship Connection. It’s a program that helps young people from I call it clusters of poverty and helps them be successful.
So many times when we look at what’s going on in education we blame the school system when really we have the same school system in the suburbs as we have in the city. The difference is many of the folks in our cities have not been successful with the American system, so you have to bolster that support system for kids. That’s what Work Scholarship is. It’s basically a full time person for 30 youngsters. They’re responsible for the kids at school, at home and work is a part of it. Many of our best employees now come from these kids. So, I think that’s the one thing I’m the most excited about that it’s growing.
If you were to give advice to this year’s graduating class what would it be?
I think I would go back to, I’m trying to think of the name of the book … There were three things in there. I think you have to do what you love, what you are passionate about. You have to do what you are good at. And you have to have a way of making some money at it or it is just a hobby.
And I think those are the three things you need to make life go. And I don’t think you need much more than that. If you like something you are going to do a great job at it. It is pretty hard to work hard at something you don’t like, that’s what I always find. You can do it for a short period of time, it’s hard to do it for a long time, and it’s hard to be the best at it. There are a lot of things I’ve liked, but that I wasn’t very good at, so I got tired of losing at this or that [I chose not to] do that anymore.
And then I think you’ve obviously got to have a certain amount of money you want to make to live, that’s how it works, so you need something that fits where you want to be.
I guess those are the things that I think are important. I really believe a lot in doing things from your heart, so that’s why you look for something you are passionate about. Hard to find sometimes, so you keep narrowing things down, whether you like to work with people or you like to work by yourself, whatever, but I think you’ll eventually find a place where you can really contribute.
And the wonderful thing I find about life is this self-correcting. If you go off in the wrong direction life bounces you back in the other direction, that’s the way it works. You think you are supposed to figure all these things out and the way you are, but life will push you back in a direction that ends up being pretty good for you. So that’s what I would say to any young person, I keep saying it to myself that’s the same way I live, I want to do what I love. I probably won’t work forever, except I love my work so I’ve got to find something else to love.
Clark is a member of the class of 2012.
Leber is a member of the class of 2011.