Detroit.- There’s a familiar narrative that wants us to believe every successful person once had it hard. That they all started out just like us. This is no different with regard to Peter Karmanos Jr., the co-founder of Compuware whose roots in a working-class Greek-American family taught him the value of a buck. His parents kept their daily profits from the family restaurant in a cigar box, and would use that same money to buy supplies for the next day. If there was anything left over, they knew they were doing well.
“I never forgot that you had to take in more money than you spent,” says Karmanos in Pete Karmanos: A Life in Progress (Word Karma Books, $44.95). The book chronicles his journey from “scraping chewing gum from under the counters” to starting one of America’s largest computer companies in an abandoned motel in Southfield. He became one of the city’s most significant financial givers, too, with the founding of the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute after his wife, Barbara Ann, died of breast cancer.
Written by his second wife, Danialle, and including editing and interviews by former Hour Detroit Editor Rebecca Powers, A Life in Progress reads like an intimate family scrapbook with countless photos and inspirational quotes.
Danialle’s honesty, perhaps, is its most endearing quality. With just one anecdote from their domestic life — Karmanos refused to stop smoking cigars during one of Danialle’s pregnancies and the odors caused her nausea — we can almost picture a normal life and marriage.
The message, of course, seems to be that Karmanos is flawed. That he really is just like everyone else. While that’s not exactly true, if you’ve ever been skeptical of big business — or that oh-so-American belief that hard work will get you everywhere — the book does an admirable job demystifying these paradigms in a man who is unapologetic of his values and ideals. “(M)ake no mistake,” Danialle writes, “If Peter Karmanos did it, he believed with all his heart that it was the right thing to do.”
The book is available at The Detroit Shoppe downtown and at the Somerset Collection location in Troy. — Monica Mercer