Irv Zakheim, President/Chief Executive Officer
Whether it's puka shell necklaces from Hawaii, or embroidered goods from the Philippines, or melamine and acrylic dinnerware from China, Irv Zakheim has learned the intricacies of the importing world and how to use them to build a business. Zakheim has been importing goods from other countries and distributing them to consumers around the world for more than 30 years, but as a child growing up in Los Angeles, his dreams were focused on more traditional ambitions.
"I wanted to play professional baseball, then become a teacher and a coach, Zakheim recalls.That was my goal, and that's where I was going."
With that strong focus, Zakheim worked toward accomplishing his goal. He played baseball at California State University at Northridge, then realized his dream of playing professionally when he joined the Chicago White Sox. The focus he had carried for so long, however, also made him realize that this determination could help him accomplish another dream, one that took shape in 1976 when he found a supplier of puka shells in the Philippines and began selling the trendy necklaces in Hawaii. That was Zakheim's introduction into importing goods, a business he hasn't strayed from since.
The partnership he developed in the Philippines helped him diversify from the fad that was quickly drying up and enter into the embroidered goods market. But when quotas started being placed on imported textiles, Zakheim knew that he would have to diversify again if he wanted to see the budding company reach the potential he knew existed.
"For whatever reason, I saw some children's dinnerware that was made out of melamine, and I thought that it was really interesting," Zakheim said.
With an uncommon eye for opportunities, Zakheim realized the potential in the untapped market and, in 1985, began looking for suppliers and distributors for the products. He also looked for something else that no one else had thought to look for - licensors who would lend their characters to the products.
"We hit on something that really worked," Zakheim said. "We served up a market at a time when no one really knew there was a market."
In the 20 years since, Zakheim has continued to find innovative ways to serve that market. With Zakheim leading the charge, Zak has grown into today's global leader in children's dinnerware. The company has diversified to provide trend-setting tableware and kitchen prep products for adults and on the go mealtime products that fit today's active lifestyles. It has also expanded beyond the borders of the United States and now includes offices in Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico, Japan, China, Canada, France and Switzerland.
Zakheim continues to be the primary driving force behind both the daily operations of Zak and its vision for the future.
"I want us to continue to grow and take advantage of opportunities like we always have," Zakheim said. "There is a great deal of potential that we have yet to achieve."
That determination was rewarded in 2006 when the U.S. Small Business Association named Zakheim the Washington State Small Business Person of the Year.
Zakheim's achievements, however, expand well beyond the business he created. Arguably the most noticeable example is the Zak!Charity Open. Zakheim started this golf tournament and auction as a way to raise money for local children's charities. It has become one of the premier charity tournaments in the Inland Northwest whose proceeds go to the Rypien Foundation and YWCA Child and Youth Services. Since its inception, the tournament has raised nearly $2 million.
Zakheim also continues to pursue his passion for sports in other venues. In 2007, Zakheim took over ownership of the Spokane RiverHawks, a collegiate baseball team that's part of the West Coast League. When he bought the team, Zakheim immediately set it up as a non-profit organization so that he could use the proceeds as a means to help improve baseball in the Inland Northwest and give more children the opportunity to participate in the sport that means so much to him.
"I see the RiverHawks as a vehicle that we can use to raise the level of excellence of baseball in Spokane," Zakheim said. "We don't just want to invite the community to our games, we also want the RiverHawks to get into the community and get involved with baseball at all levels."