(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 4, 2017)
Auburn Hills, MI – Dr. Cleamon Moorer Jr’s dad gave him some advice about college: “Struggle now so the rest of your life can be easier.”
The advice, at first, did not sink in. Moorer, who is now the Dean of College of Business at Baker College, flunked out of college in his first attempt.
“I was sad, depressed, embarrassed,” Moorer said. He’d gone from having an internship at General Motors Truck and Body to selling shoes at Fairlane Mall. “My friends would come in and mess with me. I was miserable. I realized if I put in the work, I could make them into liars.”
So he went back to college, became an engineer, and took a career path that led him to teaching at several schools including Kettering University and Saint Xavier University. He became a dean at Madonna University and now serves at Baker College, responsible for undergraduate business programs offered at all of its on-ground campuses in Michigan and online. He’s also written From Failure to Promise: 360 Degrees, a memoir that inspires readers to overcome challenges and succeed.
He and other business leaders spent Tuesday at Baker College of Auburn Hills talking to dozens of freshman from Mumford High School in Detroit who visited the Baker College campus as part of the Beyond Basic’s Expanding Horizons program to promote literacy.
The goal was to introduce the youth to people who had created their own pathways to success.
Among the speakers were Garden Fresh Salsa founder Jack Aronson and Creative Director Mike Griffin. Aronson took a recipe he’d made in a small Ferndale restaurant in five gallon batches and grew it into a business that now produces 185,000 lbs a day and ships to all corners of the United States and several other countries as well. Aronson recently sold the successful business to Campbell’s Great Fresh for $251 million. He worked with Campbell’s to ensure that his 450 employees would be cared for and that the large company would remain in Ferndale, as well as adding new investment in the community.
Griffin went though key elements of success:
Take Risks. “Risks are an important part of your development as human beings,” Griffin said. “Don’t be afraid to fail. You’re going to fail. But that is how you learn and get stronger.”
Challenge Authority. “When Jack was told you can’t make salsa in Detroit, and you can’t ship to four corners of the continent using fresh ingredients, he didn’t believe it,” he said. “When you have a passion for what you want to do, don’t let anyone else tell you it can’t be done.”
Invest in Yourself. Part of Aronson’s speech was about how he acquired a high pressure pasteurizer that kills bacteria and pathogens using pressure and not heat, which maintains the taste and quality of the ingredients. It also means that they can continue using all natural, fresh ingredients instead of canned veggies and chemical preservatives. The machine weighs as much as 45 automobiles and exerts pressure seven times greater than the deepest point of the ocean. The purchase enabled Garden Fresh to begin selling nationwide to Costco.
“Jack wanted to achieve that technology long before he did. He had the foresight. Eventually the powers that be realized this was the way go, and it helped us acquire the biggest account for Garden Fresh.”
Be Purpose Driven. Because Garden Fresh started in a neighborhood diner, the company grew with a family atmosphere and strong commitment to the community. Among the causes supported by Garden Fresh are the Boys and Girls Club of Oakland and Macomb Counties, Children’s Hospital Healing Garden and Beyond Basics. Another initiative is SEED – a nonprofit that helps new food entrepreneurs go from making their product in small batches and getting out to broader markets. The community service and the ability to work with family have been part of what kept Aronson inspired as an entrepreneur.
“It’s not about making the most money, it’s about doing something meaningful,” Griffin said.
Dream Big. “There’s a lot of potential in this room,” Griffin said. “Strive to do something extrodinare that pushes you beyond your comfort zone…. Any work you do, if you make a product other people want or you want to sell something, the quickest way to success is to make a product people want and make it better.”
For Moorer the journey to success was inspired by Jackie Robinson, the first black professional baseball player.
The question prompted lots of responses from the students, mainly that he had something to prove, wanted to end racisim, and to show he was not afraid.
“Negative feelings and negative energy only matter if you respond negatively,” Moorer said. He said that Robinson knew that he’d be inspiring others and influencing history. “Legacy’s going to drive you guys in a way nothing else will.”
One of the students asked what to do about the resurgence of racism in the country. Moorer encouraged the teens to do the best they could. “I see myself as a shining example of what is, what was, and what could be. When I think of this era, I think there are people who survived much worse eras than this even. I think of the past. Booker T. Washington said that in trying time there’s skills and traits and believes that become more prominent. There is an opportunity to shine that much more. No matter what color or age you are, there are people that are going to have certain ideas about you. How you see yourself is your reality.”
English teacher Artra Bell was proud to see her students taking part in the program. “This helps them to see how people can come from nothing and be successful,” she said.
“I think it helps inspire other kids to follow their dreams and to be more perseverant,” said freshman Jaylin Gibson. “That guy was successful because he made a good brand of salsa, but it was his family that made him feel successful, being able to have his family around is what’s really important.”