Whether we knew him as Michael, Mike or Ziggy, hundreds of us had a tendency to preface a reference to Michael Ziegler with two words: “my friend.”
The business, social services, faith and activist communities throughout the Capital Region lost that friend when Ziegler died of cancer May 12 at 75. A former private-sector executive and entrepreneur, in 1983 he became CEO of Roseville-based Pride Industries, whose mission is to provide jobs, training and a very large serving of self-esteem to people with developmental disabilities. The nonprofit had 65 employees and a $250,000 annual budget when Ziegler took over. In 2019, according to its annual report, it had more than 5,676 employees and more than $341 million in annual revenue.
“Mike told me, ‘Pride needed me to get it this far. But it needs you to make it go on,’’’ says Jeff Dern, who was promoted to president of Pride Industries two years ago and now oversees the organization. “I think he was referring to the fact that even though it had been founded with a humbler name (Placer Rehabilitation Industries), he started calling it Pride Industries right off the bat to make us sound larger than we were. At heart, he was a salesman. A great one.”
Stephen Fleming, president and CEO of River City Bank (and a member of Comstock’s Editorial Advisory Board), served on the Sacramento Host Committee and Greater Sacramento Economic Council boards with Ziegler.
“His contribution to the growth of Pride Industries and the many lives that were improved as a consequence was immeasurable,” Fleming says. “Perhaps what we’ll miss most about Mike was his unique ability to make everybody around him feel better because of his wonderful sense of self-deprecating humor.”
Attorney and former Folsom City Manager Martha Lofgren (also a member of Comstock’s Editorial Advisory Board) says she got to know Ziegler during her tenure as interim CEO of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce in 2011. “He had a unique ability to make you feel like a longtime friend, even if you had known him only a brief period of time,” she says. “He always thought big and succeeded in implementing those visions. Generosity is his brand, whether of time, resources or spirit. Thankfully, we will hold onto his spirit. I will remember Mike’s laughter. The sincerity of his good humor brought people of different factions together.”
To Winnie Comstock-Carlson, founder, publisher and president of Comstock’s magazine, “Mike Ziegler was a very unique and special person who cared deeply about his friends, about his team, about his community, about his family and about all those who worked with him at Pride. He felt blessed to do the work he did,
never taking it for granted, and always using it to bring purpose and joy into someone else’s life. He gave jobs to thousands — jobs they might never have gotten anywhere else.”
Ziegler also had, Comstock-Carlson recalls, a streak of mischief coursing through him. She asked him to speak at one of the magazine’s events, “and in usual Mike fashion, he had to be a bit different. He came on stage with a theatrical-quality horse’s head over his own, yelling out ‘Winnie! Winnie! Winnie!’ Everyone laughed, of course. Mike couldn’t resist the urge to change my name into the sound of a horse’s neigh.”
But, she says, Ziegler knew when to be serious about his work. “He had an incredible impact on the lives of many people who would otherwise likely have just faded into the woodwork because of their disabilities,” Comstock-Carlson says. “Instead, he turned them into a productive workforce, giving them self-esteem, giving them a livelihood. … How cool is that?”
Comstock-Carlson also mentions an experience many of us shared the first time we toured Pride’s main facility. “Mike knew his employees’ names by heart,” she says. And why not? He wasn’t just their boss. He was their friend.
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