David Birzon
President, Paradise Bakery & Café

Describe your very first job and the lessons you learned from it.
My first job was at a neighborhood grocery when I was 15. My job was to come in after school and clean the meat room where the butchers worked all day cutting and grinding meat. Talk about a dirty job! After my first week, the manager took me aside and told me that my work was sloppy and slow. From that day on, I was always the fastest and meticulous about everything I did. I soon became head stock boy, and on my 18th birthday, the youngest assistant manager in the history of the chain.

Describe your first job in your industry and what you learned from it.
Believe it or not, my first job in this industry was at Paradise Bakery. I started after college and have been here 21 years. I learned that this business is about people — the people who work for you and the people they serve. Do everything in your power to do right by the first group and they’ll take care of the second group. I’ve never made a wrong decision when I’ve put our associates and our guests first. I usually make the wrong decision if I put finances first.

What were your salaries at both of these jobs?
At the grocery store I made $3.35 an hour, and as an assistant manager for Paradise Bakery I made $24,000 a year.

Who is your biggest mentor and what role did they play?
My biggest mentor has been Dan Patterson, the founder of Paradise Bakery and Café. Dan played volleyball in the ’68 Olympics and was captain of the U.S. Men’s National team. He was also a tremendous leader and people person. He was telling me to “just do it” years before Nike ever used that slogan. He taught me that without commitment and discipline, success would always be just another word, not something real. Most importantly, he taught me to always do the right thing, even when it’s often the hardest thing to do.

What advice would you give a person just entering this industry?

Set your sights high and then take the time to learn your craft. This industry is like any other — you have to go deep and understand every detail. There is no substitute for a strong foundation of knowledge. True leaders aren’t born or made overnight. They’ve put in the time to understand the nuances that make their business successful, and more importantly, they’ve put in the time to make mistakes (lots of them!) and to learn from them. Although I might not have thought it when I was 22, the three years I spent managing a Paradise Bakery were my most formative, and I draw from those experiences every single day.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing instead?
I’d be teaching. My dad was a law school professor for more than 40 years and I’ve always had a passion to teach. I believe that in any community, it’s not the political or business leaders who matter the most, it’s our school teachers. Our future is in their hands.

Arizona Business Magazine Jul/Aug 2010