Tom Root

Managing Partner, Zingerman's Mail Order

Managing Partner, Zingerman's Mail Order
Co-Founder, Maker Works

Tom Root grew up near Youngstown, OH with a passion for business and entrepreneurship. After graduating from Miami University in 1993, he became a certified business counselor for the state of Michigan, counseling entrepreneurs on business plan development and capital acquisition through the SBA’s Small Business Development Center program. Tom specialized in computer and software start-ups, and at the same time ran a consulting company to advise clients on website development.

In January of 1995 Tom became the first employee of Online Technologies Corporation, where he was Director of Development and Training. Over the next year he taught weekly classes through Walsh College and led the development of over 100 websites. During one of his teaching sessions, Tom was introduced to a team of people who had been charged with the creation of a website for a Michigan public electric utility, Detroit Edison. By February 1996 Tom was the principal web application developer for Detroit Edison. During his three years at Edison he managed a budget of over $1 million per year and organized a team of seven to create and manage Edison’s eight external web sites and its 50,000 page Intranet.

In January of 1999, while attending a food conference in San Francisco with his wife (a manager at Zingerman's Delicatessen), Tom struck upon the idea for a Zingerman’s website and began the process of becoming a Zingerman's Managing Partner. On September 22, 1999 Zingermans.com took its first order, and Tom took on his first official role at Zingerman’s as Chief Information Officer. During the next two years he introduced Zingerman's to email, established a wide area network, connecting all the various Zingerman's locations and managed Zingermans.com (with lots of help from his co-Managing Partner and wife, Toni Morell!)

In 2002 Zingerman's Mail Order and Zingermans.com merged and Tom took on the role of Chief Fianancial Officer of the resulting business (known simply as Zingerman’s Mail Order). As CFO, Tom has championed open book management and taken the lead on educating staff about the financial ins and outs of the business.

In 2004 Tom was introduced to the concepts of Lean Manufacturing popularized by Toyota. Building on his experience with open book finance, Tom worked to bring the philosophy of continuous improvement and waste elimination to Mail Order. For the last 10 years Tom has been practicing Lean thinking though process improvement, class development and teaching.

In 2008 Tom was inspired by the financial crisis to start Maker Works. Maker Works is 11,000 sq ft manufacturing facility that is operated like a health club. Individuals or businesses purchase memberships to have access to high-tech tools like laser cutters, 3D printers and CNC plasma cutters. The mission of Maker Works is to democratize the tools of manufacturing to foster job creation, community and self-sustainability.

In September of 2014 Maker Works celebrated it’s 3-year anniversary. It has attracted over 700 members, added 16,000 sq ft of tenant space and played a role in a handful of start-ups including Sight Machine, a venture funded computer vision start-up.

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