Hard work and dedication, throughout my life I have had to dedicate myself and work harder than everyone around me, this mentality has helped me achieve things that US-born individuals have not been able to achieve.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Davide Uccello-Barretta, a native of Partinico, Italy who moved to the United States with his family at eight years of age. From an early age his family instilled in him the importance of education and hard work. He was the first in his family to attend college, he simultaneously at the age of 19 along with his brother Dan opened their first full service restaurant/sports bar in Belmont, Michigan while maintaining a full-time class load at Grand Valley State University. The business quickly more than doubled, requiring Davide to work 65 hours per week yet he still maintained a full-time class load to finish his degree.
Never moving far from his educational experience, Davide is regularly a guest speaker every semester in Marketing classes sharing his strategies on the importance of branding, sales and how to run an effective retailing campaign. He chairs the advisory board for the Professional Sales Association, a student organization that helps students develop skills to sell themselves, products and services.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born and raised until 8 years of age in Sicily, Italy. My upbringing was one of sacrifices and hard work. From an early age, I had to work twice as hard as everyone else.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
a. Emigrating to the US was triggered by forward-thinking from my parents. Italy, especially southern Italy (Sicily) is a beautiful place but one that has minimal opportunities. From the start my parents knew that to be able to give us a vast opportunity, they would need to relocate to a country that is driven by free enterprise, limited government, and individual freedom.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
Coming to the US was the biggest challenge my family and I have faced. From day one I was challenged by being put in school where I could not speak the language. I remember being scared and hopeless. With the support of my parents and school officials I was able to start communicating within the first 30 days and able to fully read, write and fluently speak within the first 3 months. Aside from the language barrier, the cultural differences were vast, jokes that made sense to other kids, I was not able to pick up. Through that time my parents worked 90+ hours a week and I was left taking care of my little sister immediately after coming back from school while at the same time continuing to progress in the process to become comfortable with English, American society, just to mention a couple.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
I’m extremely grateful for the first teacher I had in the United States, stepping into 3rd grade a week after emigrating to the states would have been a disaster without Mrs. Stanley. I remember walking into the first day of school and being welcomed with open arms and affection. She also took the time to label everything in Italian with an English translation.
So how are things going today?
Today, things could not be any better. I can truly say that the vision that my parents have is one that has become reality. For the past 10 years, I have been able to develop strong relationships in the community, and business, allowing me to live the American dream.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have been able to use my success to bring goodness to the world in many diverse ways. Since early on all my companies have committed to giving back 1% of all sales to local community organizations. Aside from giving back in a financial way I have committed my time to serve the public, students, and young entrepreneurs. Serving and committing my time in diverse ways such as being part of the Downtown District Authority of Greenville, Reimagine Plainfield Committee, Alumni advisor to the Professional Sales Association at Grand Valley State University, speaking at many universities, and helping 8 young entrepreneurs realize their dream by launching companies in diverse industries.
You have firsthand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
- Making the legal process of gaining citizenship much shorter.
- Allowing for sponsors to prosper and take in immigrants with less red tape.
- Setting up a worldwide organization to help educate communities emigrating to the United States on the legal process.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Sacrificing short-term wants and needs to gain long-term goals and success. Example: My parents were not around for many of my childhood years due to work, although at the time I hated them for it, it was only because I did not understand. As an adult, it all started to make sense and I would never have wanted it any other way.
- Hard work and dedication, throughout my life I have had to dedicate myself and work harder than everyone around me, this mentality has helped me achieve things that US-born individuals have not been able to achieve. For example, throughout college, while my friends were out partying, I was working and studying. While there should be a balance, that balance is determined by your hard work and dedicated efforts.
- Taking care of those who take care of you. Helping individuals has always been something that has brought me great joy but helping someone who does not appreciate it and will never reciprocate back will hurt your journey to the American dream as it did for me. Example: A few years ago, I helped 2 immigrants get off their feet, into good jobs, and starting their own companies. Through the process of helping them get jobs, they burned many bridges for me, I should have stopped there, instead, I kept helping and help start companies for them, which caused them to burn more bridges for me. When you have a gut feeling early on and the person you are helping is not helping themselves, move to help someone who will.
- Understand that alone you can do many things, but with a team, you can conquer the world. As a young entrepreneur the first couple of years in business, I wanted everything perfect and sacrificed the relationships I had with my team. It’s extremely difficult to have your team do everything the way you want it, trust them and lead with a vision instead of commanding actions and micromanaging.
- DO NOT over-leverage yourself! Early on in my development of diverse companies, I wanted to grow and grow as quickly as possible. To do so, I leveraged myself in any way possible to gain access to capital. It brought my companies to an exceptionally low point where we did not know where to get more money to simply pay bills. Thankfully, we overcame that early on and it taught me a valuable lesson, if you don’t have the money to do it, work harder, slow down, create partnerships, try and avoid going to the bank for everything.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- Striving to bring back the middle class through manufacturing jobs returning to the United States. This will at the same time cut down on the global emissions level since the US manufacturers in a cleaner way than other countries too who we have outsourced jobs in the past.
- The people, the US is full of diverse backgrounds and having those diverse groups makes us the most versatile country in the world.
- The fast turnaround of our economy after the pandemic.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Dana White. He was able to build the biggest entertainment platform in the last decade in an industry that saw no advances for many years. His ongoing involvement is one that I cherish, too many individuals build something, sell-out or back off once they have realized their success. Dana White on the other hand never lets up!
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
a.Check out my company, Exclusive Brands’ website at https://www.exclusivebrandsmi.com and follow us on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/exclusivebrandsmi/ to follow along with all the work we’re doing in Michigan with cannabis and social equity.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!