Game Changer, Big Time
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
March 31, 2016
by Vivian Henoch
Are you a hunter? According to David Farbman, if ever you have dated, competed in a sport, held a job, bought a home or sold an idea, your answer is a definitive and resounding yes. “We are all hunters,” he says.
Self-described as an “outdoor junkie,” David is an expert hunter himself, having honed his skills through a lifetime of lessons learned in the woods. Today he uses those skills with laser focus to achieve goals beyond his wildest imagination. His first book, the New York Times best seller, The Hunt: Target, Track and Attain Your Goals can be read as a field guide to those striving to hit any target in life.
David Farbman: Finding His Cool at 40
A natural-born leader and champion of the new economy, building brands on numerous fronts, David has served as CEO of NAI Farbman, where he established the medical focus of the company and now remains a principal. In 2007, he switched gears to digital media and launched OutdoorHub.com – now the #1 outdoor website on the Internet and the leader in daily outdoor content. David is also the founder and chairman of Carbon Media Group – a global media company now reaching 37 million unique visitors a month (ranking as the 12th largest sports male-oriented audience on the Internet) with streaming video and content on more than 500 websites.
Visiting David Farbman in the corporate offices of HealthRise Solutions, the company he founded in 2012, one is struck by his energy and vision at the helm of a young company on the rise. Given its culture of innovation and its creative interiors designed by the Quicken Loans go-to team at dPOP! (not to mention the fully equipped gym and game room), HealthRise seems soon slated to be one of Detroit’s most coveted and “cool places to work,” particularly in the healthcare field where technology has opened the floodgates of new data and opportunity.
With his characteristic fervor that started each of his business enterprises, David also has embraced his role as a Jewish community leader. The youngest donors to support the Detroit Federation’s Centennial Campaign, David and his wife, Nadine, have committed $1 million to the community – with half a million earmarked to Jewish education.
Lifelong Detroiters, the Farbmans live in Bloomfield Hills and are the proud Hillel Day School parents of three sons, Hunter (8), River (6) and Fischer (4).
On The Hunt
You’ve written a book, created a brand and built companies based on hunting as a metaphor for life. Where did it start?
The analogy of the hunt always has worked for me. In business, in my relationships, in my spiritual beliefs, everything comes back to the hunt. In meetings, in board rooms – even back in college – people have told me, “Farbman, somehow you always break down issues or problems in terms of hunting. We don’t even hunt, but you make things simple to understand.”
What are your first memories of hunting?
Real estate is a form of hunting and, basically, I learned the business at my father’s knee. My dad (Burton Farbman) would take me and my brother (Andrew) out every Sunday morning. We’d leave at 7:00 in the morning, go to see Harvey Goldsmith to get bagels at New York Bagel Factory in Ferndale, then drive downtown. My Dad would take us to different areas of Detroit, explain its history, the types of construction of each building, what happened, why it’s here, what used to be here, what was important, who lived here. With my father, I learned every alley, every back route, every road in the city. (No Google directions needed!)
From Huntington Woods where I grew up, it was into the woods at an early age . . . I remember bird hunting with my Dad, Bruce Kaplan and his son, Michael. I must have been 11 at the time. Bow hunting has been my passion since the time I started at about 13.
Actually, it was fishing that first captured my imagination.
I was a very hyperactive kid and there were two things my mother, Suzy, did that changed my life and helped me focus and calm down.
First, she came up with this theory that having something in my hands would help me channel my energy – so she gave me a shoelace. That shoelace became a focus tool for me and, to this day, I keep a shoelace in my pocket. . . . or in my hands.
The second thing my mother did, one summer when I was very young, was to put me on the dock in front of an apartment my family had in Charlevoix. She left me with the dock master and we’d sit and kibbitz and fish all day. That experience crystalized for me the act of watching, waiting and hunting something out in the water.
I don’t hunt as much as I used to. I’m just as happy to spend time with my son, Hunter, sitting with me in a tree stand. I don’t care if we scare every deer in the woods.
On Transitions and Big Decisions
According to Jewish tradition, the age of 40 marks a transition from youth to maturity. Now that you are 44, how is “mid-life” treating you?
I would say that I am finding my forties to be the coolest phase of life so far. At 40, I think there’s a certain maturity to the soul. Spiritually, for me it’s been a wake up, like a light flipping on. And from a business perspective, I feel I have gained a certain sense of calm and confidence to make my decisions.
How did you decide it was the right time to make a million dollar commitment to the Jewish community?
First, I have to give credit to Nadine for what I see as a permanent change in our religious life. Without her commitment to Jewish learning and raising our sons with a strong Jewish identity, there is no way that we’d be doing some of the things we’re doing today as a couple and as a family.
I started thinking about philanthropy some time ago, and it just sort of hit me one day as I was talking to my good friend, Rabbi Avraham (Avi) Cohen. Beside Nadine, Avi probably holds the biggest influence over my Jewish “awakening.” I’ve been studying with him for so many years that I’ve come to call him my shrabbi (shrink/rabbi). I was telling Avi that I was considering what I might do with a foundation in my future and, in his rabbinical manner, he launched into a related story, the “vort” (or point) being that in matters of giving, it never pays to wait.
How did it feel to make the decision?
After talking to Bob Aronson about my commitment, I felt it was the biggest, coolest thing I had ever done, that the “return on investment” in philanthropy is beyond anything money can buy. I’ve been in deals for land, buildings, cars. . . but doing this has been a life-changer. It feels like direct sunlight on my soul.
On Work Life
What is your definition of an entrepreneur?
One who is willing to take calculated risks and to constantly challenge the status quo. The best entrepreneurs strive to adjust their paths. They don’t fear change. Instead they know that obstacles and sudden turns in their plans often lead to breakthroughs.
What have you learned from the healthcare business so far?
It’s all about relationships. It’s no coincidence that when your relationship principles in business are high, the financial results go hand-in-hand.
We serve five hospital systems with a total revenue of $6.5 billion. We are a team of 60 people and expect to double our size by the end of 2017. We deal in mountains of data with amazingly talented people who do ridiculously hard executions. But we never forget that we’re a people business. We are only as good as our relationships and our teamwork.
When did you have the first inkling that you were going into healthcare?
In the Farbman Group we started a company called MRES – Medical Real Estate Solutions – doing business for hospitals on the real estate side, dealing in properties for medical offices and surgical care centers. Through that work, I developed relationships with leaders in healthcare and have kept those relationships alive.
With the Affordable Care Act and hospitals across the board moving to Electronic Medical Records, it was obvious to me that change was coming and coming fast and that it was time to create a company to help hospital systems manage change and optimize their financial results.
“I believe there’s been a generation skip”
How has the Jewish community of Detroit inspired you?
I can’t say I’ve always felt as strongly about being Jewish as I do today, but I believe that if you’re a Jew, you eventually wake up and realize it’s who you are. I had that awakening around my 40th birthday. Today being a part of the Jewish community of Detroit is front and center in my life and I’m so proud to be a Jew.
I think of myself as the new school – the next generation to step up to the measure of powerful leaders like Max Fisher and Al Taubman. The Centennial Gift that Nadine and I have given is our pledge to the strong and vibrant future of our community. We’re all in. It is our hope to bring the message home to Federation’s NEXTGen Detroit. . . big time.
Who are your heroes?
Nadine and my sons Hunter, River and Fischer – my compass and my points on the horizon.
My parents, Burt and Suzy, who have always encouraged me to be myself, to be authentic. They had the wisdom to put me outdoors in nature to find my center. My mom is the one who gets the credit for the kind of communicator, writer and speaker I am. My dad is also my biggest fan and an awesome partner.
My brother, Andy Farbman, is also an incredible partner and my partner in all the companies. His amazing ability to grow Farbman Group to new heights has enabled me to lead us in diversification. Without Andy, I couldn’t do what I do.
Rabbi Avraham (Avi) Cohen: I’ve been hanging out with him for years and am proud to call him my rabbi, my life coach and dear friend.
Nancy Grosfeld: she has sparked my passion for community work and philanthropy and continues to inspire me.
The Farber Family: community-builders, who have inspired us by their commitment to Jewish education.
Bob Aronson, a longtime friend of our family and advisor on philanthropy.
Terri Farber: She’s the real deal, a Hillel mom who is “all in” and awesome as Federation’s Campaign Chair.
. . . so many others. But I’ll give a shout out to Scott Kaufman, Matt Lester, David Victor, Dan Gilbert, Gary Torgow, Steve Freedman, Josh Opperer, Andrew Echt and Antonia Victor (my mother-in-law who rocks!). Each of them, in their own way, have been my mentor, role model and inspiration.
To grow more partnering hospital systems for HealthRise in and out of state.
To work with Bob Aronson, Nancy Grosfeld, Scott Kaufman and Terri Farber with Federation to reach out and help motivate younger people to step up in the community and help Federation raise the funding to take care of the needs of the Jewish community and to build a vibrant future for our children.
To continue with our family’s resolution to stay “24-hours-off-the-grid” for Shabbat and to be an awesome parent and spouse.
To seed a HealthRise Foundation that will grow and do amazing things for the community.
Restaurants: Bacco, Phoenecia, Beverly Hills Grill
Building in the skyline: The Guardian Building no doubt.
Place to take the kids: Franklin Cider Mill or to the movies.
Place to take visitors: Downtown
Sports: Football, baseball, and hockey. There’s not a playoff I don’t like.
Jewish holiday: Shabbat for sure. It completes our family and makes me a better person.
Jewish food: Matzoh ball soup, knishes, lox and bagels.
Jewish expression: Baruch HaShem and Ma Nish Tanah
Guilty pleasures: A really good port. Shark fin pie at Mitchell’s and the white chocolate brownie at The Rowe up north.
Never leave home without: My shoe lace, hopefully a 45-inch sport lace.
A galley proof by Cathy Salt called Performance Break Through, and I just re-read a favorite by Patrick Lencioni called The Five Temptations of a CEO.