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Lasting Inspiration

This story was published in the Detroit Jewish News

Andy Gutman was the quiet adult adviser in the corner for a generation of teen boys active in two AZA chapters, yet he left an indelible mark.

"He was just so good at it," recalls Eric Hoffman, a former Shapiro AZA president and now principal at a New York investment firm.

"He made us all better people," says Jordan Brackett, a Marx chapter alum now the COO of the 14th Street Y in New York.

While better known as president and CFO of Farbman Group, the real estate firm, Gutman achieved near-legendary status as a BBYO adviser for 11 years: Former AZA chapter members remember him as someone who gave them confidence, helped launch their careers and inspired their current management styles.

Shelly Rubenfire, outgoing chair of BBYO Michigan Region, sees Gutman's success as a marker of the importance of BBYO advisers -- an unsung, volunteer position whose rewards are many, even if most are intangible.

Because their teen members lead BBYO chapters, the most successful advisers are mentors who attend events and offer direction and guidance, while subtly motivating and reinforcing their best instincts.

Gutman remembers being a shy high school student who didn't thrive as an AZA member.

"He didn't have a great experience himself but he wanted to help us have what he didn't," Brackett says.

He and others say Gutman provided rewards -- unexpected pizza, for example, and the courage to let young leaders try and fail, sometimes in chaotic arguments that, nevertheless, provided useful experience.

Gutman circled back to the organization in his 20s, as an adviser to the (Groucho) Marx and Singer chapters, and stayed for 11 years. He says the students he mentored inspired him: Their enthusiasm, intelligence and energy kept him going. When he tried to quit -- and he did, a couple of times -- members somehow pulled him back in.

For Eric Hoffman, Gutman's leadership was life-changing.

"If he wants to help someone, he goes all out. Teaching you, prepping you, being available night and day," Hoffman says. His AZA experience, he says, reinforced his identity as a Jew in ways he only now appreciates.

Jordan Brackett remembers Gutman "as someone whose style of leadership was to help each person be the best they could be, but to help them figure that out for themselves. I can barely remember him speaking."

The strength of Gutman's legacy will be demonstrated Sunday, June 5, when many of Gutman's former advisees will be among those honoring him as the 2016 BBYO Michigan Region distinguished alumnus at Bacco Ristorante in Southfield.

BBYO advisers fill a special role. They're mentors and models rather than group leaders, on hand to advise but not to run the student-led chapters.

"They're really creating the leaders of tomorrow by helping them plan and invent programs, delegate responsibility, and motivate other members in their chapter" says Rachel Ellis, BBYO Michigan executive director.

In his first stint as an AZA adviser, a small group of six guys from Huntington Woods and Oak Park headed for the national convention, Gutman recalls. "It was a big underdog story, David and Goliath. There was a quiz bowl event and these young, uncertain guys just kept winning," he says. "It made me feel so good about what the organization teaches you. It taught them they could do anything."

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