I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Rizzetta, CEO of North 6th Agency (N6A), a PR and social media agency based in New York City and Toronto. Under his leadership, N6A has been ranked as the #1 fastest-growing agency in the United States in its revenue category by O’Dwyers, as well one of the 50 most powerful agencies in the United States by the Observer. Matt has also been instrumental in creating N6A’s award-winning “Compete & Care” culture, lauded as the most rewarding, collaborative and unique in the agency world by Forbes, Monster.com, New York Post, Chief Learning Office Magazine, Entrepreneur, and others. He serves on the Alumni Board of Directors at his alma mater Iona College, and resides in Westchester County, NY, with his wife and three daughters.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’m the Founder and CEO of North 6th Agency (N6A), a public relations and social media agency. I founded N6A just under a decade ago in my basement. We now have offices in three cities — New York, Toronto, and Boulder — and operate on a global scale, servicing clients in more than 20 industries at all stages of growth.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There are too many to count. I work alongside some of the funniest people I’ve ever met. I take my direct reports out to dinner each month when we hit our goals, and we usually end up spending the entire time laughing at each other. We are a high performing team and very goal-oriented, but we always know how to lighten up the mood and keep things in perspective. If you need a specific story, my SVP of Operations once understated the difficulty of generating revenue since he operates in a non-revenue generating capacity. We ran a friendly experiment where he wasn’t allowed to leave my office until he generated a dollar of revenue, while I sat at his desk and attempted to perform all of the operation tasks that he was responsible for. The end result was a pretty hilarious combination of newfound appreciation for each other’s job, and the realization that neither of us could cut it in the other’s role. He failed miserably at generating any revenue, and I managed to completely mess-up his super organized computer filing system (which I felt pretty guilty about). It was all in good fun, and we laughed it off in the end.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’ve always had a very experimental mindset toward creating a culture of innovation. We’ve never been afraid to experiment and to take calculated risks. I think we’ve been smart about our experiments, cutting our losses quickly on the ones that didn’t work, and then doubling down on the ones that did work. From this approach, some of our greatest competitive differentiators have been born — everything from our signature Pace Points program where employees can choose their own perks, to developing a proprietary performance management software system so our customers can rank us each month.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Our Pace Points perks program is a big priority and a constant work-in-progress for us. Pace Points empowers our employees to choose the perks that matter most to them. We have reward options in six different categories — cash, travel, health and wellness, experiences, quality of life, and housing and transportation — with values ranging from a few hundred dollars to well over $50,000. Since it’s such a new concept and there wasn’t a precedent for it, this is a program that we’re constantly working on and trying to improve.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Show your employees that you have an obsessive commitment to improving for them, and to holding yourself more accountable than anyone in your organization. If you’re going to encourage a culture of improvement and accountability it really needs to start in the corner office, not at the front desk. Many people think that you become a CEO because you make fewer mistakes than others. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve made so many mistakes in my career. I think good CEOs are the ones who are upfront about their mistakes and are constantly learning in an effort to improve for their employees. I’m just a human being who’s trying to do the best job I can and trying to get better every day for our employees and our customers. My performance as a CEO today is nothing more than the collection of nine years of learning from mistakes. I’m going to continue to learn from mistakes and hold myself more accountable than anyone else in our company as long as it helps our employees and our customers get the most out of their experience with N6A. So many people come back to N6A a few years later and say how much better we are than we were when they last remembered us. There is no greater compliment you can get as a CEO than that. It’s all about improvement and progress when you’re a CEO.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I’ve had so many people who believed in me when they had no reason to. CEOs like Al DiGuido were our first customers and gave N6A a shot when we had no track record; my wife gave me her blessing to give up my job and start a business when we were expecting our first child and we had so much to lose; my father advised me against starting N6A at first, but from that moment on has done nothing but gotten behind me and supported me with every ounce of energy he has; and so many of our current employees continue to believe in what we’re building. It’s touching when you have so many people who believe in you. You can’t forget the impact they’ve had on your career, and you need to be committed to repaying them at every step of the way.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have three beautiful daughters at home. I try to use success in business to set the right example for them by showing them that humility, generosity and work ethic are traits that they should carry with them at every step of their lives. I sit on the advisory board of multiple clients of ours, as well as boards that are focused on higher learning and young entrepreneurship such as Marketing EDGE and my alma mater, Iona College. I am also passionate about several social causes which impacted my life growing up. As the grandson of immigrants, immigrant initiatives are near and dear to my heart. Our company was named as a tribute to my grandparents, who were my heroes growing up and who taught me so many values that I’ve carried with me for my entire life. I also grew up with a developmentally disabled sibling who passed away when I was 21. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them and thank them. I try to live my life for them and for the values which they represented.
Can you share the top five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line?
DEFINE WHAT DIVERSITY MEANS: The first thing you need to do is define what diversity means in the workforce and understand your responsibility as a business leader to cultivate an environment of full inclusion and diversity.
CHALLENGE THE MISCONCEPTION: There is a false perception that diversity stops at gender, age, ethnicity, veteran status, and other checkboxes on application forms. While it is essential that all businesses embrace diversity in these demographic profiles, they also need to understand that the quest for creating a diverse work culture only begins at these touchpoints — it doesn’t end there.
EMBRACE 360 DEGREE DIVERSITY: In order to cultivate a truly inclusive workforce businesses need to embrace 360-degree diversity, including diversity of perspectives, socioeconomic backgrounds, hobbies and interests, motivational drivers, philanthropic viewpoints, and so on.
TREAT DIVERSITY OF PERSPECTIVES LIKE YOU WOULD TREAT DIVERSITY OF PORTFOLIO: Diversification of perspectives in work culture is the same thing as diversification of assets in an investment portfolio. The more diversified you are, the better you are set up to scale and improve for the future.
BOTTOM LINE IMPACT IS NOT THE INTENT, BUT A LIKELY SIDE EFFECT: Businesses should treat diversity of perspective as if it is the lifeblood that flows through the veins of their culture. Don’t think about it from P&L perspective, think about it from a culture perspective. Once it seeps through the veins of the culture, it usually finds its way onto the P&L in a favorable manner, even though that shouldn’t be the intent.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
I heard a TED Talk by legendary columnist David Brooks about the concept of living for your eulogy versus living for your resume. That speech changed my life, as it came during a time when I was at a crossroads in my business career. It was at that moment when I made up my mind that we were going to run our business with the “eulogy” approach. Even though things can get incredibly stressful on a day-to-day basis, I remind myself that I am “all in” on the “eulogy” approach, and that each day we are writing another line in what will be a beautiful and fulfilling eulogy when all is said and done.
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 with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
I have a ton of respect for so many business leaders and public figures. But honestly, if I could have one meal with anyone it would be my grandfather or my sister. I would give up just about anything to have one more day back with them and to show them the role they’ve played in my life ever since they left me.
Originally published at medium.com