Giovanni Ruscitti on How Italian Immigrants Built Success

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This week on JobMakers, host Denzil Mohammed talks with Giovanni Ruscitti, son of immigrants from Italy; founding partner at the law firm of Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti in Boulder, Colorado; and author of the just-released Cobblestones, Conversations and Corks: A Son’s Discovery of His Italian Heritage. Giovanni shares his family story, of his grandparents being forced to leave the land they loved, coming to America with virtually nothing but a diligent work ethic, and how they were able to thrive and pave the way for his own success in entrepreneurship and job-making. Crucially, though, Giovanni explains that immigrants from all time periods, including today, bring value, innovation, culture, and strengths, and working alongside them builds up our communities for everyone’s benefit, as you’ll learn in this week’s JobMakers.

Guest:

Giovanni M. Ruscitti is one of the founding members of Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti LLP and currently serves as the firm’s Managing Partner. Mr. Ruscitti is equally comfortable in the courtroom as in the boardroom and regularly serves as lead transactional and litigation counsel. This unique and broad range of experience allows Mr. Ruscitti to provide the firm’s clients with comprehensive, strategic, innovative, and cost-effective counsel, and he often works as a strategic adviser to boards of directors and general counsel. His practice focuses primarily on construction law, complex commercial litigation/arbitration, mergers and acquisitions, real estate, and construction and commercial transactions. His clients include entrepreneurs, emerging growth companies, banks, and local, national, and international companies, and he serves a broad range of industries, including construction, manufacturing, medical, nutrition, development, telecommunications, innovation/technology, professional services, mining, and real estate. Mr. Ruscitti lives outside of Boulder with his wife of 32 years, Aggie Blake-Ruscitti. He enjoys spending time with his family, Italian & French wines, travel, fly fishing, hiking, yoga, and playing basketball.

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Please excuse typos.

Denzil Mohammed:

I’m Denzil Mohammed, welcome to Jobmakers.

Denzil Mohammed:

One of the primary reasons immigrants flee to the United States historically, and today is war instability. The inability to see a future in your own land, be the migrants today from central America, fleeing gangs or migrants from Southern Europe or century, both flee fascism. The story is the same, the journey, just as hard, the ambitions and willingness to survive indistinguishable, but perhaps for skin color for Giovanni Ruscitti son of immigrants from Italy, founding partner at the law firm of Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti in Boulder, Colorado, an author of the just released the Cobblestones, Conversations & Corks: A Son’s Discovery of His Italian Heritage. He saw that hard work and ambition firsthand with his grandparents who worked the coal mines and his father who did whatever work was available until he was able to start not one, but two businesses in the us Giovanni tells us his family’s story of being forced to leave the land. They loved coming here with virtually nothing ringing with them, a diligent work ethic and how they were able eventually to thrive and pave the way for his own entrepreneurial success and job making crucially though, Giovanni explains that immigrants from all time periods, including today, bring value innovation, culture, and strength, and working alongside them, builds up our communities for everyone’s benefit. As you learn in this week’s Jobmakers,

Denzil Mohammed:

Giovanni Ruscitti descendant of Italian immigrants, founding partner of Berg Hill Greeley Ruscitti LLP law firm in Boulder, Colorado and author of Cobblestones, Conversations & Corks: A Son’s Discovery of His Italian Heritage. Welcome to the jobmakers podcast.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

Denzil thank you for having me. It’s my pleasure to be here. I’m really honored.

Denzil Mohammed:

It’s a beautiful book with beautiful pictures. Why did you want write this book? What was important for you to tell and why?

Giovanni Ruscitti:

Great question. You know, my father passed away in 2019 and, and my dad lived this pretty remarkable life of, of the immigrant American dream story. He was the guy who came here with the literally disturbed on his back at 21 with no education and retired at 62, very successful. However you define the word success. And he, he, he taught me a lot of things about hard work and entrepreneur, but you know, one of the things that he, he, he said right before he passed was he was a deeply, like a lot of immigrants, deeply proud person of his family, his heritage, how he got here, how he became who he was. And he said, two weeks before he passed you know, somebody should tell my story, our story, you should write a book and, you know, Denzil, a very busy attorney and arbitrator and mediator and managing partner in my law firm.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

I didn’t really think I was gonna be able to do it, but I said, yeah, dad, I’ll I’ll do that. Andso I made that promise to him and 20 then came around and, you know, with obviously COVID, but then more importantly, you know, BLM and, and the social unrest and the political unrest and then really a lot of the targeting towards immigrants. That started a few years before I just felt compelled to, to sit down and just fulfill that promise. I had no intention to write a book and I certainly had no intent to write a, a memoir. I just was gonna honor my promise to my father and, and his story came to life for me. In 2013, when I did my first trip back to Italy, to my parents hometown and the stories that he had shared with me so many times as a little boy had, which had no context in meeting in the past, suddenly came to life.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

And, you know, just, it was this confluence of things that just came together. And here we are yesterday, the book came out and received a lot of great reviews and doing really well on Amazon hitting number one, new releases already. So very honored and pleased by that. But really what I wanted to do is tell this story. It’s at the end of the day, it’s a, it’s a love story about a father, some relationship that evolves over time, you know, father, some relationships you know, have their peace in their, in their, their, their valleys. And, and ours was like that got really strong, but it’s also a love story about my parents and their relationship, my, my falling in love with, with their town in my ancestral hometown. And then of course we’re Italian, right? So love of food and wine that really emerged yeah, exactly over my entire lifetime.

Denzil Mohammed:

That’s terrific. And it’s written in such a personal and easy to understand way. I could feel like I’m walking with you through the town, you know yours and those of the other people you grew up with are the immigrant stories that span generations guide us through some of those stories. What was fascinating or note noteworthy about those stories in these immigrants?

Giovanni Ruscitti:

They worked hard, you know, they, they, my father and my grandfathers, my mom, my grandmother’s, they, they had very little back in Italy. You know, they, they were poor by any definition before world war II. And then they lived through extreme poverty and misery. And, you know, these were people who lived very simple, basic lives. And you know, they, they took that kind of work ethic with them to the United States after they left. But, you know, for my family, it all started in 1943. When the Nazis invaded their central part of Italy, because what they were doing is they were trying to get themselves positioned for the Americans and, and Polish who were coming up throughly. And you know, my dad was seven. My mom was four and they had to make a choice. The choice was fight and be killed or prisoner war camp and be servants to, to the Nazi soldiers or leave and abandon their homes and all their possessions.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

They chose the latter, they left and they, they, they struggled through a long time and family members, one at a time started coming over and, you know, it’s a traditional kind of story that you’ve heard many times somebody would come over. Typically, you know, one of the men in good job and for my family, they worked in coal mines in Colorado, and they would send money back. And one family member at a time would come over. And, you know, my, my, my mom came in 54. She went back and my dad in 57, and then he came over in 58. And like I told you before, he was truly the, the shirt I was back story. So but when they got here, you know, they moved to a town where most of the people from cons had moved to. So my first language growing up was not English.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

It was Italian. And so I spent a lot of time with all these old men doing things that none of my friends were doing. We were butchering goats and lamb. We were making wine and proto, we were, you know, drawing out sausage and bacon cheese. And, you know, I didn’t really get to have the same kind of upbringing that a lot of my friends had, which I kind of resented at the time, to be honest with you, because, you know, you wanna be out playing. But I spent all this amazing time with these, these great men and great strong women. And it, it, it really framed who I became and, but I didn’t know any right. You know, you don’t really appreciate those things until you’re, you’re older, but my dad always said, Hey, you can do it. You know, if I was able to succeed, you can do it.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

I was the first person in my family to go to college and I got my MBA. Then I law school, my dad and I got very close in 2013 through this trip and got to spend a lot of quality time together in another trip. And then just, you know, talking about his upbringing, there’s so many, I mean, there’s so many stories and my dad was, my dad was a storyteller. You know, he, he, he would talk about, you know, like the first part of the book talks about the road called and the whining road up to the town, which I’d heard about a million times. My dad told a story about how he was 10 or 11, and they would be cutting down wood. You know, they didn’t have any other resources, their, their assets were the timber in the mountains.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

So they would cut down wood, take it down to a town named Somona, sell it for either food or, or they’d trade it for, you know, provisions that they needed or money. My dad would have a sandwich somewhere in town, there a little glass of wine because that’s part of the culture. And then he would walk back. So it was six or seven miles, one way with all the wood, and then he’d walk back. And I heard that story dental so many times, right. But it came to life that day in June when I was Dr. Doing that drive. And, and he was telling the story again, he’s like, that’s where we used to cut down the wood. And there’s so many stories like that that really defined him. And, you know, I have a million more of, of who he was and my memories as, as a boy and, and his hard work and just the things that he used to do that were funny, you know, he was charming charismatic guy, but he was also tough Italian machismo kinda guy. And so he had all those things coming together

Denzil Mohammed:

And he knew how to negotiate. He knew how to do that. And he did so much of some of, of what you’re saying resonates with me because we hear these stories generation after generation. And it’s, it’s not so dissimilar to families who are forced to flee, you know, Guatemala or El Salvador, because they face death or having to surrender to, to gangs and things like that. It’s, it’s a similar story. It’s very fascinating for me, the children of immigrants. I think the children of immigrants are just the most awesome people. They can straddle to cultures, they’re multilingual multicultural. And they do so much exponentially better than their parents did. What was it like for your parents when they first moved here? They came with very little, they came with no English skills. I imagine their priority was just to work and to try and find some stability. Right?

Giovanni Ruscitti:

Yeah, totally. I mean, they, you know, when, when my, my dad got here at 58 he, he, he had no education, so it was any job that he could get. And, and literally he took any job that he could get in. A lot of it was in, you know, very difficult kind of construction work. He, he did not wanna be in, in the mining. Like my grandfather’s were, he just did not wanna work in a coal mine. But he was a custodian. He did lots of things like that. He’d take any job. My mom also was working and then my sisters were born and I was born in 66. But one of, one of the jobs that my dad had was he worked for a company where one of the things he got to do or had the opportunity to do, and I have got to do, because that’s the way he viewed it was he got to work with the, the executives and clean out their suites.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

He was one of his tasks was being a custodian. So Denzel, what do you think he did? He took on the wall street journal from their offices. And he learned how to read and write from reading the wall street journal. So he was very entrepreneurial. And what he did was he went to my grandfather and my great uncles and said, Hey, instead of us working for these other guys, helping them make all this money, why don’t we form our own construction company? They’re like, oh, Emilio, you know what you were talking about? We, we just got here, we barely speak the language. And my dad’s like, no, we can do it. And so they, they started doing some of that. And later he, his brother formed a construction company, but he also learned how to buy and sell stock. He learned about real estate.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

And so he, he started working two or three jobs in amassing, in a lot of assets. And, and you mentioned learning how to negotiate. There’s some great stories in the book that I tell that really framed me when I was a kid. So in the seventies, there was a, there was a a department store in the town where I was from, that was going outta business. And so it was like Amar, it wasn’t Kmart. It was called Gibsons. And my dad and my uncle had this construction company. They, they walk in and I think things were like 70% off at this point. So they walk into the paint department and my dad says okay, I’ll give you, you know, 200 for all this. Then the kid is like an 18 year kid. And I was, I was a kid myself.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

I was like seven or eight. The kid like, sir, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s 70% <laugh>. And then, and then my uncle kind of SWOS in, I think they had this creep plan. I didn’t realize this until later my uncle comes in and then offers another number. And then the, the kid goes back to his supervisor. Next thing you know, my dad and uncle bought thousands of cans of paint that they were gonna use for their painting business. Right. But if I go to my, my, my mom’s house, hundreds of those bottles of paint, 40 plus years later are still there. <Laugh> and I would tell my dad, dad, you’re not gonna use all this paint. You know, he wasn’t a hoard or anything. So he was just this great negotiator. So he loved going to the markets, right. He loved negotiating. And for him, it was like, we, we walked into Kmart and he wanted to buy a table saw, and it was like 200 bucks. He said, he tells the kid, I’ll give you hundred 50, the like it’s $2. And so but he was a negotiator and that taught me. And actually it’s a tool that I use now as an intern, don’t be afraid to ask. Right. Worse. Anyone do say don’t so

Denzil Mohammed:

Yeah, he had no boundaries when it came to this kind of thing. <Laugh> he didn’t exactly know the American way all the time. One thing that I, that is, that is fascinating in your book is you mentioned that many of the immigrants to, that were from the same city in Italy.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

Yes.

Denzil Mohammed:

What is the value of having an enclave of people from your home country? Because the narrative in the us is you they’re isolating. They don’t wanna learn the language they’re not integrating, but there is a tremendous value of having people from your home country to, to support you that’s social capital, right?

Giovanni Ruscitti:

Oh, absolutely. I mean, it was this community that was right there. These people all really supported each other. And I remember as a young kid, my dad, when he wasn’t working a job was at one of these other, they were called Kaza. So the people of called themselves Kaza. He was at another Kaza person’s house, helping them fix something in their kitchen or their bathroom or building something. And they, they didn’t pay each other. They were helping each other. My dad always helped others. And you know, his greatest gift was he knew how to help people. He was good with his hands and he realized that was his gift. And he gave it to other people. He would help whenever he could. And, and so much of that being a servant is lost. But you know, when you have that tight culture, yeah. There are, there are some negative things that happened.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

I, I didn’t speak English until I was five or six, even though I was born here in 1966. But man, you felt very safe. You had, you had people there who were from the exact same experience as you who knew what you went through and were going through the exact same things here at the same time. And it, it was that that sense of community that I think is missing in this country. Unfortunately and you, if you look at what things, what, what things bring people true joy, one of them is community it’s, it’s being with family or a close knit group of friends.

Denzil Mohammed:

And to be clear, community does not mean that you’re all the same, but you probably share similar experience or have a similar ambition. Let’s get into the entrepreneurship. As you know, many immigrants start businesses in the us often, it’s their only option. What were some of the businesses started by the immigrants and their descendants around you? And do you see parallels with today’s immigrants? Is today’s story sort of similar to when you, you guys first came here?

Giovanni Ruscitti:

Yeah. You know, I, when I was a kid I talked about this in the book. You know, we, we didn’t have a lot in the early seventies, but I didn’t know it. Right. My, we always had enough, we had food and we had a house, the house that my dad built. But my dad started off. His first business was construction company and he and his brother Lu would go around and they, they would build homes and they built a lot of homes in the town I was in. So my cousin and I would, would go around and help. We thought we were helping, right. We were probably more of a nuisance, but they wanted us there to, to help them. And and they, they were very successful. And then, you know, as I mentioned, he, he used his experience in the wall street to start buying real estate.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

So he started buying some rental properties and he would take his experience as a construction worker to remodel these homes. So he was building new homes. He was not flipping the property. He was using them as rental property. He just viewed, and, and by the way, a lot of the people that he was renting to were immigrants, and he was helping them. The, the rent was very cheap, but he was building capital, you know you know, one, one of the people who reviewed my book is a famous economist who wrote the mystery capital and his whole view about giving people rights is through property. Right. And, and my dad lived that was, he became empowered through property. Now, by the way, all this time, he had a full time job or two, and he worked for a company that was about to go through an acquisition and they wanted to move him through to West Virginia or Texas.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

And he said, no, my, you know, his, his mom was still alive. His siblings were all around and he said, no, I’m gonna stay. And so he started over again, this was in the early eighties and started a grocery store, no experience as a, you, my dad had the, the, the viewpoint that you can do it, which is the way he told us all the time. And so then he became a grocer and you know, he just, he, he never stopped building and being an entrepreneur and, and talking about negotiations, you know, he would, he would go to the local. I mean, this is truly local organic farms, not like what you see nowadays. He would go to the local farmers, you know, say during corn season. And the guy would said, okay, well, we’re selling a whatever dozen or a dozen corn for a dollar.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

And my dad said, okay, I’ll buy the entire truckload. So he had this old beat up white for pickup for a hundred dollars. And the guy would look at him <laugh> and he would do it. And then we’d take the truck back, go in front of the store, park it there. And then he would sell so much corn. He does this with, he does this with everything, right. But he was always an entrepreneur. He had that spirit and nothing phased him at all, nothing. I mean, he, he could do anything. And so, you know, he was immensely successful doing that. And it taught me a lot about taking risk, not risk in the sense of what a lot of people do nowadays, but betting on yourself and hard work. And that’s what, the way I built my legal career.

Denzil Mohammed:

So let’s get to your business. Now, you went on to found your own business, a law firm from my experience, immigrant business owners, don’t usually want their children to go into business because they know how hard it is. But what has the experience been like for you and your experience with your father help you in any way?

Giovanni Ruscitti:

Completely well, I, so I I’ve been passing law almost 30 years in, in November, 2001 me and the other founding partners of our firm, <inaudible> for safety foremans firm. I was young, I was 35. I was leaving, you know, a solid kind of job. And, you know, I had three kids and told my wife, he said, Hey, I, I, I think I’m gonna go out and start a new firm. And that was risky. And, and, you know, my, my dad had taught me that I could do it. I mean, that was his phrase. You can do it. And, you know, he always preached about controlling your own destiny making your own decisions, you being your own boss. And so we set out, you know, there were five attorneys at the time. We were gonna be a boutique construction real estate firm.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

Now we have almost 60 attorneys offices inBoulder, Denver, Cheyenne, Irvine, San Diego, truly a national international practice. And definitely the teachings of my father, I use every day. And when I’m mentoring young lawyers, some of the phrases that he used with me, I use with them. And no, I, I would not have the, the work ethic to do what I do without some of his really teachings, obviously very different work. You know what I do, but the Denzil, the common theme isbeing willing to work, the willingness to do what it takesto make something successful. And I got that from him.

Denzil Mohammed:

And the willingness to accept risk risk is, is part of the deal. I often say the act of migrating is itself an entrepreneurial act. And that’s part of the reason why immigrants are twice as likely to start businesses here in the us. They are job makers, not job tickers.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

Exactly.

Denzil Mohammed:

You can do it. And you did finally your family’s experience is both unique and storied. And yet also very much the immigrant story, right? What would you say to Americans today about welcoming new, ambitious entrepreneurial immigrants to their communities,

Giovanni Ruscitti:

Please, please, please be open and nonjudgmental. You know, our country was built on no matter how you define it, the immigrant story for some, for some, it was just a year or two ago for others. It was three or 400 years ago, but we’re all at some point in time, we come from that same kind of story and background. And, you know, we don’t know what these other people are going through. We don’t know what they’re escaping, but I do know this. We are blessed in this country. We have so many resources available to us, whether it be our educational system, our healthcare system, our jobs, just the stuff that we have around us, right. That 80, 90% of the population of our client don’t have, and they’re looking for something better and that’s all they’re trying to do. And you know, you know what, Denzel there’s enough abundance to go around for everyone, certainly everywhere I believe. But in this country there, it’s not like they’re taking something from you. They’re looking to better their lives. And as you said before, and it’s so true, they’re usually building something.

Denzil Mohammed:

Thank you so much for joining me on this podcast. It’s an incredible book. Couple stones conversations and corks, a son’s discovery of his Italian heritage, Giovanni Ruscittidescendant of immigrants from Italy. Thank you for joining us on the Jobmakers podcast.

Giovanni Ruscitti:

Denzil, thank you very much for, for having me, really humbled by the reception to the book and, and honor to be on your show.

Denzil Mohammed:

Jobmakers is a weekly podcast about immigrant entrepreneurship and contribution produced by pioneer Institute. A think tank in Boston and the immigrant learning center in Malden, Massachusetts, a not-for-profit that gives immigrants a voice. Thank you for joining us for this week’s special episode on one family’s ambitious journey to success in the us, the story of all immigrants really we’ll be taking a break next week, and we’ll be back with you again on September 8th for another Jobmaker’s podcast. I’m Denzil Mohammed. See you then.

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