In an exclusive interview, 2018 Cecil J. Previdi Award recipient MaryJean Rebeiro gives us a glance at a successful and inspiring life founded on family principles and values that have shaped the woman she is today.
Rebeiro is a proud native of Danbury, where she continues to live “La Dolce Vita” with her husband, Anthony, whom she describes as being the rock throughout her career, and her children Nicholas, Steven and Stephanie, who shares that her mother’s strongest character trait is her determination.
Rebeiro is the daughter of Anthony Rizzo, Sr., and Joan Rizzo, owners and founders of Rizzo Companies.
Tribuna: Have your parents’ influence impacted the career path you have chosen?
MaryJean – I truly believe that it is because of my upbringing that I am in the career I am in. I am a firm believer that the character of a person is molded at a young age, based on the experiences you have, the environment you grow up in. With my parents’ business beginning to operate out of our garage and my mother handling all the paperwork, as well as raising us, I saw firsthand that a woman could do more than just raise a family. I was being educated in business from a very young age, watching my parents run their business from home.
Tribuna – A little background on NY-Conn Corp. and your role as the president/CEO? MaryJean – NY-Conn was started in December of 1989. The business was located in a small office and garage up in Brookfield, CT. In the beginning, we did small residential projects and small commercial work. As I began to seek ways to grow the business, the State of Connecticut WBE (Women’s Business Enterprise) Program was something I felt would allow me to expand our footprint. It was a grueling process with a great deal of documentation having to be submitted, as well as an on-site inspection. The approval opened a door for NY-Conn, allowing us to be hired by contractors to fulfill minority goals on state projects.
Today, NY-Conn employs 95 employees. In addition to doing electrical work, we work on a number of street-scape projects, traffic signalization projects and sign projects throughout the state. The sign projects allow us to be more diversified and allow us to employ laborers and equipment operators in addition to our electricians/apprentices. We work all over the State of Connecticut as well as New York (Westchester County, Dutchess County and as far out as New Rochelle, NY).
My job as president/CEO allows me to delegate now, as opposed to handling all the paperwork. I am able to mentor those that work for me. It gives me time now to focus on the finances and allows me to view the entire company and those that work for me. It enables me to give back to the community as I have time now to be committed to Boards and to offer my expertise in certain areas.
Tribuna – Describe some important work ethics that have helped you achieve your business success.
MaryJean – As a young child, I saw firsthand what a work ethic was. My parents were totally committed to their business. I saw the sacrifices that were made to grow their business. My father worked long hours and my mom could be found sitting at the dining room table doing the payroll for the business as well as other paperwork late in the evenings. For me, the only girl, I paid attention to my mother and her attention to detail. She was meticulous in how she handled the paperwork and the books. [She was] teaching me at a young age how to document in a ledger (this was before computers came into play) as well as showing me how to file, always emphasizing being organized. Those were skills I took with me and utilized in my business.
Even if I am out of the office, if someone calls and asks, “Where I can find this document,” I can answer the question as I am a stickler for everything being in its place so that business can go on in my absence.
Tribuna – One word to describe each one of your brothers and their impact on your life?
MaryJean – The one word to describe my oldest brother Michael Ross Rizzo now is “non-confrontational.” Mike does not want to deal with stress and he lets his siblings make the decisions where the real estate is concerned. If his opinion is asked, he usually responds that he will go along with whatever we decide. Although as a child he was a workaholic, he probably has the most laid-back personality of the four of us now. He was the one I could count on in grade school, my older brother who always watched out for me.
“Mediator” is the word that comes to mind when I think of my brother Anthony Michael Rizzo Jr. Growing up, he was like my mom, quiet and shy, but [he was] the sibling that tried to smooth things over when trouble was brewing. I think he took on that role because he truly was the middle child. I was the only girl, but he was in the middle of my three brothers. As we grew up and took on leading roles in our respective businesses, we always respected what the other had achieved… He is the brother that is most like me. We have always strived to be the best at the things we commit to.
The word that comes to mind when I think of my youngest brother, Ross John Rizzo, my partner at NYConn, is “delegator.” He is great at distributing work to our employees. I have always been one that likes to hold things tight and at times, micro-manage everything. He has always been able to let go and have confidence that those we train will get the job done. Having him as a partner has allowed us to grow tremendously. It’s great to have someone that is not only your partner in business but family you can count on.
Tribuna – You have one daughter and two sons. Do you see your own story repeating itself? MaryJean – When my kids were young, I would always tell them that they could be anything they wanted to be. I would often tell them that they had to have passion for their work. I did not care if they swept sidewalks for a living as long as they loved what they did. My daughter, being the only girl, has seen me working since she was young. I see passion in Stephanie’s work now, as she works with me daily. I have no doubt she will try to bring this company to another level and yes, there are times when I see that determination and drive that I had. I wouldn’t say the story is repeating itself, but it’s a good feeling to see her evolve in this business.
As for my sons, one has followed in his father’s footsteps and works with him. My youngest, always the most individualistic and creative, lives in the city and is following his dream to be in advertising.
Tribuna – A quote or principle that may have helped shape the person you are today?
MaryJean – I would have to say that my college Professor Dr. Eugene Buccini’ s comments in my Employee Productivity class defined how I treat my employees. He said this to us: “If you treat your employees like people and not a number, they will give that much back to you in productivity…. You must change with every generation of workers. The generation of today will not be like the generation of yesterday or tomorrow. You must adapt to the various generations.” Being in business for 29 years, I can honestly say that was the foundation that NY-Conn was built on. Our people are our greatest asset in the service industry. I am always trying to find new ways to make them feel appreciated.
Tribuna – Any advice for minority and women-owned businesses?
MaryJean – When you venture into an area where you might be the minority (for me, it was being a woman in the construction industry) never lose sight of what is important to you. Do your homework; always be prepared, because if you are one step ahead of those sitting in the room with you, you’ll never be at a disadvantage. Knowledge truly is power and the more you know about your industry, your company, the stronger you will feel when faced with a difficult situation. Take advantage of the tools that are available to you; by that, I mean the programs that are offered locally or by the state. There are a number [of them] out there, but you need to seek them out.
Tribuna – Have you achieved your American Dream?
MaryJean – I truly believe that I have reached the business goals I set for myself and reached the American Dream. I believe the American Dream is that if you work hard, you can climb the ladder of success, whether it is in your own business or in a career that you love. For me, I have reached milestones I never thought I would reach. To be honored with the Previdi Award this year, an award my father had received, is something I never thought possible. I never thought I would be able to walk in his shoes, much less be honored with similar awards that he had won. It warms my heart and I know it has made both him and my mother proud. But I often hear people say, “Your children are an extension of yourself.” I truly had two great teachers in my parents.
Tribuna – Do you believe we live in a nation divided, and if so, what would bring people together?
MaryJean – I truly believe we do live in a nation divided. What would bring us together is if we work together. Those that lead, and hold positions of power, who are elected by the people, must learn to teach those that are less fortunate to stand on their own two feet. They need to create programs that will help them rise above poverty. I am a firm believer that the environment we grow up in, the circumstances we face, mold who we become; if no one is trying to push them in a different direction, the cycle will continue.
Tribuna – What is on your bucket list for 2019?
MaryJean – To make more time for family, especially my family that is aging. To work at getting some of these regulations changed that are crippling the trade schools from producing skilled labor because they can’t get registered. To ski a few more times than I did last year. That truly is one of my passions and it recharges me and gives me a new perspective when I return to work on a Monday.
Tribuna – What does the Cecil Previdi Award mean to you?
MaryJean – Winning this business award is extremely special to me for a couple of reasons, the first being that it is one of the most prestigious business awards in this area. I remember when it was initiated back in 1988 and thinking my father would be a perfect candidate. He did in fact win it in 1993, and to follow in his footsteps, to be put in the same category as him and many other prominent business people that I have looked up to in my career, is truly humbling.
Tribuna – Tell us about your family.
MaryJean – My kids have been what kept me grounded. Any working mom can tell you that you can plan everything to the letter but if one of your kids gets sick, the schedule is altered immediately. They taught me to have back up plans in place if there was a school delay, snowstorm, etc. I believe that I taught them how to multitask the way I was taught. I truly believe that having a working mom showed them you can have the best of both worlds. My daughter saw firsthand that you can have a family and a career at the same time. She knows it won’t always be smooth sailing, but she knows it’s possible!
Tribuna – What is your holiday message for our readers?
MaryJean – No matter your religion, I truly believe that the month of December, the advent season, brings out the best in all of us. We are a little more patient, a little more sensitive to those around us. Cherish the peacefulness this time of year brings and open your heart to someone less fortunate. A kind word can mean the world of difference to someone and shed light where darkness might have been.
About Cecil J. Previdi Award
The Previdi Award honors a business person in the community who demonstrates vision, leadership skills, an entrepreneurial spirit and progressive business attitudes. The award was created in memory of Cecil J. Previdi, President of Danbury Printing & Litho, after his untimely death in a private airplane accident in 1987.