The boy with the jet-black hair and the Italian accent has been replaced by a much older man, his face carved with creases of devotion to his God, his family and his business.
And always in that order.
At 72 years old, Anthony Rizzo Sr. is gone from the CEO chair of the Rizzo Companies, but he is not nearly retired. He still walks through the hallways here with a “Rizzo Corporation” lanyard around his neck and a Bluetooth receiver in his ear.
A half-century in business will do that to a man. The technology changes, but not the ardent commitment.
It’s impossible to tell the story of Tony Rizzo, of course, without the helix of Horatio Alger and Danbury, the city Rizzo loves like one of his children.
Rizzo Electric was founded in September 1962 with one truck and two employees — Tony and his wife, Joan, the woman he still calls his girlfriend, with a wink to those unfamiliar with this romantic custom.
Today, the Rizzo Companies, along with the family’s spinoff businesses — North America Equipment and the NY-Conn Corp. — employ hundreds of full-time workers and even more part-time and contract workers.
Rizzo has a unique window to the best — and occasionally, the worst — this nation has to offer; Rizzo understands that small business is the real bellwether for America’s economy.
So I posed this question to Rizzo the other day: “If Barack Obama and Mitt Romney walked into your office today, what advice would you give them to create more jobs and to help small business?”
Rizzo’s answer was as simple as it was sound. There was nothing partisan in his logic, only ideas pulled from his own proven methods.
“I never had an ego. When we started in business, I never dreamed I was going to be the biggest. I dreamed I was going to be the best,” Rizzo said. “So now, if I see someone who has a dream like I did, I do everything I can to expand that dream and help open the door for them to be successful.
“If business is successful, then the community is successful,” Rizzo said. “It’s like a farm. You have to sprinkle the seeds and water them and take care of them.”
As he speaks, Rizzo leans over a long conference table and rubs his thumb and first two fingers together, as if he’s planting those seeds right then and there on Triangle Street.
All that’s missing from Rizzo’s metaphor are the overalls. He knows there is no quick fix for this troubled economy, the same way there is no quick fix for growing a business.
“We live in the most blessed land on Earth,” Rizzo said. “The America I came to gave people the opportunity to work hard and to fulfill the American dream. I have been very blessed and it’s important to share those blessings with my family and my community.
“We need to help people. We need programs like food stamps, unemployment, welfare. We need to help the homeless and our veterans. But at the same time, side by side, we need to teach everyone how to be self-sufficient.”
Sometimes, that means learning a trade. Other times, it means getting a college degree.
In plenty of cases in Greater Danbury and beyond, it probably means both.
“When you have a leader who is a driven individual like my father, you can’t help but be driven, too,” said Anthony Rizzo Jr., who now sits in the CEO chair. “You don’t fill those kind of shoes. You walk alongside them.”
One of the Rizzo Companies is JAR Associates, a property management business that owns a number of leases in Danbury’s south end.
Over the years, fueled by a commitment to pay it forward, Tony Rizzo has helped the dream weaver growing his upholstery business out of an oversized garage bay, and the insurance man who smartly set up shop next to the Danbury DMV.
Rizzo has also helped Julio Castillo, the president of MegaBusiness Corp. on Lee Mac Avenue, develop a thriving import-export business with its own brand, Del Campo Foods.
Castillo’s first lease with JAR was for 800 square feet. Eight years later, Castillo is overseeing a global company with offices, warehouses and factories in the United States as well as Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.
“When Julio does well, we all do well,” Rizzo said. “I was blessed with people helping me, and now I’m blessed to be able to help others.”
This is the secret to success after 50 years, I learned.
Maybe Tony Rizzo didn’t invent it, but he sure mastered it.
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