Bill Brinkerhoff and Kathy Sample were students in the late 80’s at the Business School (its name before it became the Ross School of Business). After marriage and traditional jobs on the east coast, they returned to Ann Arbor and pursued an impact career that suited their passion. In August, we heard from them about discovering their calling and leveraging their education at the B-School.
Was the path from Ross to Argus Farm Stop a logical one, or more circuitous?
When we graduated from the U-M Business School in 1989, we took more traditional corporate jobs on the east coast, with Kathy leading marketing teams at international firms and Bill working in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. In 2001, we decided to transition our careers such that we could move back to Ann Arbor where we wanted to be closer to family and raise our 3 children. In 2013, we had another joint career decision point (Bill’s biotech company was sold) and searched for a way to prioritize local community impact and working together in a family business. We had always been interested in food, with family vacations featuring early morning trips to farmers markets and exploration of local food scenes. During our search for the next career chapter, we came upon a store in Wooster Ohio called Local Roots. It is an everyday farmers market and served as the basis for the Argus concept.
- Bill Brinkerhoff and Kathy Sample have been playing around with produce since their days as students at the B-School.
How have you leveraged your Ross experience/learning in your work?
Our MBA experience at Michigan has been fundamental to our work. Every day in a small business we need to use what we learned at Michigan – whether it is in marketing, accounting, organization behavior, strategy, communications, or other areas. We took an entrepreneurial studies class from LaRue Hosmer that provided foundational thinking for starting a brand new type of store. The innovation at Argus is in the business model. We have changed the traditional paradigm for selling local food, and our small store has been putting back $1 million per year into the hands of local producers.
Why did you decide to make the switch from traditional careers to this kind of work?
We wanted to spend more time in our community and find a way to have local impact. We felt strongly that the current food systems were leading to bad outcomes – with the disappearance of local farms, and the over-industrialization of our food supply. We wanted to see if we could impact our community by convening farms and consumers in a new type of store setting.
You’ve both been active board members in regional nonprofits. How does that fit with your personal and organizational goals?
Involvement with nonprofits has provided opportunities to help advance community initiatives, and also allowed us to work closely with fantastic local leaders. Nonprofits are a great way to try on some new skills as well – if by day you are a marketing professional, try volunteering on a finance committee, and vice versa. Our nonprofit experience gave us the background to form Argus, which is not a nonprofit but rather a mission-driven LLC called an L3C (low profit, limited liability company).
What do you think business schools can improve upon to better prepare students for careers with impact?
It is important to be aware of the many ways that social impact roles can be incorporated into careers. Some may decide to go all in and pursue careers in the nonprofit sector, and others may elect to be involved through volunteer or board roles. The business school provides great education about the importance of social impact and could also provide coaching about the best ways to incorporate this into career and life pathways.
- Kathryn and Bill in front of the original Argus Farm Stop on W. Liberty. They also have a location on Packard.
Do you have any advice for students pursuing a viable career in the social sector?
Career choices are made differently based on the stage of your career. There are often trade-offs between maximizing compensation, job enjoyment, career achievement, work/life balance and other factors. It is important to think about these with a fresh perspective at each career juncture, as they change over time. We have benefited by always having a good mixture of professional focus, community focus and family focus. Earlier in our careers, the professional focus was very high, but there was still room for some community roles. In this latest career chapter with Argus, we have been able to focus on social impact as a primary goal.
There are a many articles about Argus online. These three are especially good to show what we have been trying to achieve at Argus:
- These Married Ross MBAs Are Connecting Local Farmers With Consumers
- The Argus Farm Stop, changing the local food paradigm in Ann Arbor
- Argus Farm Stop: Bringing local back to the community, one farmer at a time
It was a perfect case of synchronicity. We shared information in our February newsletter about the new +Impact Studio course, and one of our high-powered alums, Cynthia Koenig, asked how she could get involved, because she has a job that encourages design thinking, and the business she founded was created with wicked problem-solving. We invited her to speak with the class and hold a fireside chat while she was here. Below are some highlights from her visit.
Every year, we award one student with the Skip and Carrie Gordon Scholarship. This recognizes the current student who demonstrates an outstanding commitment to solving complex social challenges by leveraging their learning. The 2017-18 recipient was Colleen Hill (MS/MBA ’19). We interviewed Colleen recently to see what it’s like to be completely immersed in mission-driven work while at U-M.