Josh Gershonowicz looks out at the world through sky blue eyes and sees the vast opportunities in Detroit, the city he is proud to call home. At 34, he sits at the helm of a nimble young company – a company he founded just seven years ago – now poised to envision, create, launch and rebuild business in the digital age.
“We’re well prepared for rapid growth,” he says, “And I look for colleagues and employees who are ready, willing and able to grow with us. Work hard, have fun. That’s our motto. At Rebuild Group, we aim to foster a company culture that’s inclusive, creative, entrepreneurial, encouraging . . . and yes, dog-friendly. As a result, I know we’ve surrounded ourselves with some really great people.”
Hitting the sweet spot
“Rebuild was born in the suburbs, but our soul is pure Detroit,” Josh explains. Having relocated his fledgling company from Royal Oak to the city’s New Center neighborhood in 2014, Josh is planning his next move to new headquarters nearby in the Milwaukee Junction District. “We’ll be in good company, steps away from the stand-out building on East Grand, home to the Illuminated Mural and a co-working space and food hall in development. We don’t want to be just another local agency. Our vision is larger than growing our agency. We are rooted and invested in the city with the goal to become an anchor, rebuilding a neighborhood and creating jobs.”
Josh is equally committed to community building. A participant in Federation’s Cuba Mission (2015) and Young Leaders and Philanthropists Mission (2016), he now serves on Federation’s National Young Leadership Cabinet and on the Boards of Hebrew Free Loan, Midtown Detroit and Dodge for Detroit. A resident of the city since moving from New York back home in 2011, Josh was among the first wave of NEXTGen Detroiters to take up residency in Moishe House downtown. He and his wife, Michele, now enjoy city life as new homeowners on Winder Street. Keeping busy on the home front, they are the proud parents of Sonny, 9 months old.
Fast forward: Q & A with Josh Gershonowicz
myJewishDetroit: Five words that describe you
Motivated, focused, creative, strategic, rebuilding . . . forever forward, need I say more?
On family background, education, early influences
As you wish, please share a little about your educational and professional background.
I grew up in Jewish Detroit – the whole West Bloomfield High School thing. Then – don’t ask me why, I spun off from the expected choices – went to Western Michigan, where I graduated with a BBA in Marketing and Economics and spent a semester abroad at the University of Sydney to study International Business.
After graduation, I spent about a year and a half in Tampa, Florida, working as a commodities trader – buying and selling sulfuric acid (a huge market, by the way) for Transammonia. I then went on to New York to do the same kind of work, unfortunately at the worst possible time, in 2008, just as Lehman Brothers was about to collapse. I had an offer with a similar commodity company that was rescinded just after I had signed a lease for an apartment. So, I started moonlighting, trying to find anything I could and wound up working with a start-up doing text message-based advertising when Blackberry’s were hot. There was lots of promise with the evolving technology being developed, but with no salary, I ended up working at the North Face store selling winter coats just to make ends meet.
Around 24, I was ready to come back home to Detroit. I started moonlighting again, helping my dad with his dental practice and building a handful of small accounts for myself. In 2012, I decided to start growing and investing in my own business and set out as “Rebuild Nation” with one employee. In 2014, I convinced Steve DeAngelis to quit his job at McCann Detroit and become my partner. He took the leap, and we’ve been on the fast tract together ever since.
I should mention, I was able to hire Steve thanks to Hebrew Free Loan’s Marvin A. Danto Small Business Program. That one loan changed the trajectory of our company, and put us in a good position to operate the business at a new level of expertise and strategy.
Through David Contorer at Hebrew Free Loan (HFL), I also connected with people like Scott Stern (formerly an ad exec and Chief Operating Officer at Federation). The connections I made through HFL have proven to be invaluable and certainly have influenced my decision to serve on its board today. I find the work there to be both rewarding and extremely humbling.
It’s obvious you love what you do, what draws you to marketing?
I love the creative aspect. I also like the freedom of this type of business. It can be extremely challenging, but the great secret is that it’s also a lot of fun. There’s a certain level of creative freedom that you may not necessarily get on the client side or in businesses where you are strapped to a desk.
There’s the creativity of solving problems for our clients, and there’s also the creativity involved in teamwork, putting people together. Our business is collaborative, and we believe it reflects what’s happening all around our city. Our energies are focused on Detroit and we’re very motivated by all signs of rebuilding in the city in general. In brainstorming ideas for our clients, you’ll find our teams working all over town – riding the QLine, sitting in Kresge Court at the DIA, walking along the Riverfront. The whole city is our canvas and we celebrate that.
On community work
How has your career path influenced or enhanced your communal work?
At the start, I was so focused on Rebuild, I wasn’t really involved in community work. But joining a Federation Mission to Cuba in 2015 really opened my eyes. For the first time, I saw first-hand how our fundraising efforts and donation dollars go to serve the critical needs of Jews around the world.
The following year, I was invited to participate in both Federation’s Young Leaders and Philanthropists Mission and the Entrepreneurs Mission to Israel. Inspired by those two missions – and motivated by my cohorts on those trips – I’ve stepped up my involvement with Hebrew Free Loan and NEXTGen Detroit. And now, in my current position on the Young Leadership Cabinet of JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America), I’m learning more and more, choosing the spots where I can provide the most value and experience and still use my time most efficiently to keep my focus on my day job and my family. I’m doing as much as I can.
On living, working and raising a family in Detroit
Describe your neighborhood and the Jewish community as you see it now growing in Detroit
I love the energy of living in the city. It’s not as easy as living in the burbs with everything at your fingertips, where you can go from one parking lot to another to get everything you need.
But I believe I was made to be in a city. What’s happening downtown is amazing, now as new developments are just starting to move further into the neighborhoods. It feels like the wheels are turning and we’re starting to get some traction.
City life in Detroit is what you make it. Today, Michele and I are happy to be are part of a growing core of Jewish families living downtown, expanding what it means to be a part of a vibrant and diverse Jewish community. We have found a balance here, with our family nearby in West Bloomfield. We’re new parents, still figuring out the pace of life with a baby. Michele continues her full-time work, teaching children with autism at Anderson Middle School in Berkley, and we’re fortunate to have the convenience and excellent quality of daycare for our son nearby at Temple Emanu-El. It won’t be long before the school question will be something we’ll have to address. All that we can say for now is that we love our work and home in the city and will do what we can to stay.
Restaurants: Selden Standard, Lady of the House, Takoi, SheWolf Pastificio & Bar . . . so many choices
Places to meet for coffee: Avalon Bakery (downstairs on West Grand or downtown on Woodward). Great Lakes Brewery on Woodward
City parks: Belle Isle, the best and great for evening runs! Riverfront, always a good walk in the park.
Shopping places in the city: Honeybee, Whole Foods
Building in the Detroit skyline: Book Tower
Place to take kids and visitors: DIA, Eastern Market on weekends. Or just walking in the Midtown neighborhood.
Sports: Squash, running, working out. I like to be active, but I can get easily bored at the gym, so I created something with my buddies; if you don’t show up, you pay into a kitty.
Jewish Food: My wife’s Kugel
Guilty pleasures: What’s guilt?
Reading now: Beastie Boys Book, by ADROCK and Mike D with contributors