At age 5, Phil Hagerman started stacking soda bottles for 2-cent deposits at the family pharmacy in Flint, Mich. While other children watched cartoons on Saturday mornings, the little boy joyfully went to work with his father.
He knew he would become a pharmacist one day.?
“I’m kind of a boring guy,”?Hagerman said. “I’ve lived within 10 miles my entire life, except for college.”
After a stint at Ferris State University just two hours west, Hagerman returned to the bedroom community of nearby Fenton, where everything began. He partnered with his father and built a health care network?specializing in complex diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis. Their private company went public and made a fortune.
All those millions? He takes abandoned buildings rich in history and brings them back to life. He invests in young people launching companies. He makes dreams come true.
Some think of him as?the angel investor of Flint.
“We know he could pack up and go anywhere,” said Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, a clinical psychologist. “He could do what he does anyplace else and he has chosen to be here. That shows his commitment to Flint."
Since the family company,?Diplomat Pharmacy,?began selling stock to the public in 2014, the newly created Hagerman Foundation?gave?more than $15?million?to 48?projects almost exclusively benefiting children and families?in Flint or its Genessee County.
“Some people give money, but he gives the trifecta: time, talent and treasure. Phil is a regular human being all while being a giant amongst us. We’re watching history," said?Isaiah Oliver, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
Outside Flint, few people may recognize the name Phil Hagerman.?The man known for his gentle smile and sense of grace is 66. He avoids the spotlight. He prefers not to talk about himself. He drives a Chrysler minivan.?
"I have always driven minivans and friends laugh at me that it is not a sports car or hip, but I like the ease and simplicity of it," Hagerman said.
He?retired a year ago from Diplomat but remains chairman emeritus and a member of the board.?He?confirmed he maintains ownership of about 20 percent of the?company, valued at more than $400 million.
Hagerman quickly changes the subject away from money. He's?eager to spotlight?others in town.?He reluctantly acknowledges that people often ask why he hasn't moved away.
He?can't imagine living in a big city like nearby Detroit.
He would rather invest in?the people of?Flint. The stories are endless.
Big money in a small town
Wes Stoody came home?from Chicago five?years ago to launch an eyewear company with his sister. They'll see an estimated?$1.5 million in sales after just four?years in business.
“Being in New York or Chicago or L.A., we would’ve been just another fashion brand located in those cities. Here, we’ve been able to collaborate with people in Flint who help us grow,” said Stoody, 30, CEO of Article One.
He and creative director Maggie Stoody Vocos, 28, manufacture their classic designs?in northern Italy and sell through independent?businesses nationwide.
Their company is named for Article 1?of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that all humans are created free and equal in dignity and rights,?Stoody explained. The company has donated more than $17,000 to Helen Keller International. “We want to do good.”
The company has?been featured in Outside and Runner’s World magazines, with more to come.
"We definitely credit Phil," Stoody said. "His investment as a partner and his guidance as a mentor have been invaluable."
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Working out of a car trunk
Kiara Tyler, 26, is a college track and field scholar who earned a degree in political science and now runs a “high-end streetwear” fashion company called Kalm Clothing. Having once worked out of her car trunk from home in Flint, she saw first-year sales of about $100,000.?Tyler sources her fabric from Pakistan, running a business for two years?with her cell phone – no laptop.
Today, she works in a refurbished building that Hagermen invested $7.5 million in so it could open as a hub for young businesses in November 2017.
"I want to be the next Ralph Lauren," Tyler said. "It’s just about perseverance.”
Flint lost a lot of great young talent like Tyler, Hagerman said. “Talent is dispersed equally around the world, but opportunity is not."
He went on, "People in Flint, Michigan, have incredible grit. It’s people working together in a tough community. Flint has been at the top of the world and at the bottom of?the world. The?people of Flint are resilient, they are positive and they refuse to give up.”
'It was almost scary'
After the Great Recession, when everyone else left town, Hagerman and his company didn't just stay. They expanded.?
"The city embraced me in a way that I could never imagine,"?Hagerman said. "Flint was maybe not at the bottom, but pretty darn close.
"I convinced the state of Michigan that for some tax credits that I could hire 1,000 people in five years, and I did. The community believed in me. They supported me in a way that was almost scary at first. It’s like, wait a minute, I’m just one company, just one guy. I can’t change all of Flint. ...That’s when I started to understand the heart and soul of this city.”
So he created a fund to help finance the dreams of others. "I'm in a spot where I can give back," he said.
Now, as CEO of Skypoint Ventures LLC, Hagerman emphasizes that he’s just one piece of what’s happening in town. The University of Michigan-Flint is growing. A?culinary institute is opening soon. A restored theater is a point of pride. The water crisis continues to be a priority that requires bottled water in parts of the city, and ongoing care for affected children.
"We want help. We need help," Mayor Weaver said. "But we want to be part of our own recovery."
'A million wrong mistakes'
"Everyone is walking around with ideas like lottery tickets," said David Ollila, 49, an accomplished inventor who left Marquette to be?president and chief innovation officer at Skypoint. "You can come in, share your idea and move forward or not. We have a team to help level the playing field. You can come in with $0 and a concept and explore."
Skypoint?has created a?$1.5 million annual budget for?100K Ideas, a nonprofit idea factory, where regular people come in to pitch their ideas – in tech, retail, service. It's also?investing smaller amounts of money in more people and staying with them and providing ongoing support.?
"These are the unusual suspects," Ollila?said. "You exclude people from participation when you have to wait for four people from an Ivy League school that do a business plan and win a competition and launch a business. That is actually not how any business gets started."
This is Heartland-style investing, Hagerman said. "We're a maker place."
Think of 100K Ideas as an extraction tool, he?said. "I made a million wrong mistakes. You're going to make a bunch, just learn from them. Don't worry about it. Don't let your ego get in your way. And don't make a mistake of betting the farm. Make small bets and compartmentalize risk. Hard work over time is the answer."
'You see the heart'
One of the buildings Hagerman helped transformed includes a district headquarters for U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee.
"Thousands of people here have jobs because Phil Hagerman was willing to take a risk on his own idea," Kildee said. "He didn't take that wealth that he generated and go live on the?beach. He bought?old beat-up buildings in downtown Flint and turned them into amazing spaces. He is making a connection between our past and our future in a way that's really important.?He didn't leave Flint behind when he could have. That sends a pretty strong message."
Between charitable gifts and business investments, Hagerman has put more than $50 million?into Flint.
Kildee, who has worked to bring?clean water for families and rid?urban blight from?the district, said, "Flint is a special place, not because of the bricks and the buildings. It's the people. We have a toughness about us. And pride."
These days, the smart money is on Flint.
"You see what's happening, you see the heart," Hagerman said, "and you change the narrative."