Renowned entrepreneur Stephen Odzer has been generous with his advice to young business people with big ambitions. Having started his own first business from his parent’s basement when he was a teenager, Odzer grew his company to become Adiva Supplies, a leading force in the food packaging industry.
Throughout much of 2020, simply helping restaurants, hospitals, food trucks, kiosks, and meal delivery services find the packaging supplies and disinfectants they need to stay in business was a mitzvah. Odzer displayed a genius for finding high-quality but affordable dinnerware, barware, disposables, cutlery, deli containers, plastic cups, take-out boxes, wrapping paper, garbage bags, bowls, concession supplies, and equipment, all of them biodegradable and compostable.
Thirty years of compassionate yet shrewd devotion to the packaging industry gave Stephen Odzer the knowledge, connections, and capital to become an unsung hero of the pandemic. So, what does Odzer tell young entrepreneurs about finding their own pathways to service and success?
- Wear (and use) your thinking hat. Stephen Odzer is a fan of convergent thinking to come up with the best solutions for business challenges and social challenges. His approach to business and charity is inspired by DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats.
- Don’t be afraid to revisit old ground. Iterative thinking can solve iterative problems. (That’s a nice way of saying that we all learn from our mistakes.
- Stay positive. A positive, productive mindset as we revisit our “learning experiences” keeps us free to innovate.
- Invest some time in daydreaming now and then. Daydreaming is an incubator for ideas. It nurtures free, outside-the-box thinking.
As CEO of BuyLifeguard.com, Stephen Odzer takes pride in his company’s ability to deliver the right product at the right time. Odzer’s charitable endeavors reflect the same mindset.
Stephen Odzer supports organizations that think outside the box to find jobs for people with disabilities.
For many years, he has been a significant supporter of AHRC, a New York charity that helps intellectually challenged children. Part of Odzer’s own origin story has been overcoming prejudice, poverty, and political difficulties. Odzer notes that intellectually challenged children bear a special burden that exacerbates challenges for the most vulnerable members of society. Odzer helps AHRC help children get a start in life that leads to productivity, stability, and respect.
In supporting agencies that place people with disabilities into jobs, it turns out that Odzer is supporting small businesses, too. People with disabilities take fewer sick days than their fellow employees who are not disabled. And they spend their time productively. People with life challenges in the right placement have all the work skills of other people on the job.
Stephen Odzer isn’t afraid to revisit old ground.
Odzer and his family are major supporters of Bris Avrohom, a New Jersey-based charitable organization focused on helping Russian Jewish immigrants come to the United States. Since the organization’s founding 40 years ago, it has assisted 28,000 new Americans in adjusting to and contributing to life in the USA. It would be fair to say that Odzer’s involvement in this charity reflects his principle of not being afraid to revisit old ground. After all, helping the immigrant has been part of Jewish tradition for over 3,300 years.
And lest it be forgotten, both Jews and Arabs are children of Abraham. Odzer supports Arab-Jewish business cooperation. But this is not the only example of how Stephen Odzer stays positive in his philanthropic life as well as his business life.
Odzer has created a scholarship program for 20 college students across all fields of study. The criterion for receiving the scholarship is answering one question in 500 words or less: “What is the biggest issue facing our modern society?
Broad questions invite broad answers, Odzer believes. Being open to possibilities, especially those you didn’t expect, is key to solving evolving problems. Odzer takes a positive view toward young people as responsible, innovative, thoughtful contributors to the common good.
And don’t shy away from reminiscing about past events, even when they are painful.
Odzer was good friends with his cousin Nachshon Mordechal Wachsman, the soldier in the Israeli Defense Force who was captured and held by Hamas for six days before he was killed in a failed rescue attempt. “We had asked Hashem for Nachshon’s safe release from his captors,” Stephen told reporters at the time. Sadly, the rescue mission resulted in Nachson’s death and the deaths of three soldiers sent to release him.
In remembering this tremendous personal loss, Odzer remembers his other principles for a successful life. He responded to a huge negative with huge positives. Stephen Odzer and his wife named three of their children with variations of Wachsman’s name. They held a memorial service attended by 400 people for him, including Wachsman’s mother in New Jersey. And they founded a school for children with special needs in his name in Jerusalem.
How does Odzer’s counsel present to future philanthropists who operationalize his four principles? He gives doers of good works five rules:
Decide what you are advocating for, Odzer says. Once you find a cause worth fighting for, you can immerse yourself in making your contributions a positive force for it.
Use every tool to charitable advantage. For Odzer in recent years, that has meant adapting Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to the service of good. The next generation of philanthropists will continue to find even more technical tools.
Don’t shy away from politics. Odzer took a course to expand Jewish presence in politics by supporting the Republican Jewish Coalition, to make sure that issues important to the community reach Capitol Hill.
Narrow down your message, Stephen Odzer counsels. It’s just not possible to reach everyone with every fact that you find relevant to your cause. Clear, concise messages resonate with more people.
Finally, Odzer says, live your beliefs. You can’t recruit other people to support your causes if you don’t support them yourself.
Stephen Odzer isn’t all work and no play. Odzer and his wife have seven children and eight grandchildren. They frequently travel from their new home in Henderson, Nevada back to New York for visits with the grandchildren and Yankees games.
Stephen Odzer has shown many people the way to become successful in business and in charity. It helps, one might say, to have the money to give to the causes you cherish. Stephen Odzer lives out his business life and his philanthropic life with integrity that light the way for others to renew the world.