“I invest time each week to focus on helping someone on my team fulfill their passion and purpose in their career. Sometimes the greatest gift a leader can give to his people is quality time and the willingness to walk beside them in the trenches.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Frankie Russo, the CEO and founder of Potenza, an Inc. 5000 fastest-growing marketing and software company for five straight years. He is also the author of “The Art of Why”, a critically-praised book, and Amazon bestseller, in which he explores how you can discover your life’s mission and find the perfect balance between work and family.
Thank you so much for doing this with us. What is your “backstory”?
I grew up in Acadiana, a region in Southwest Louisiana steeped in Cajun and Creole culture. As a child, my parents, Carlos and Suzette Russo, owned a retail clothing store in Kaplan, La. In 1991, my father, who was also an ordained minister, left the business to establish homeless shelters and a variety of services for the homeless.
There, I attended Westminster Christian Academy, where I first got the entrepreneurial bug, creating and selling tee shirts to my classmates for an English project. After high school, I studied at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, earning a degree in public relations and marketing in 2004. As a college freshman waiting tables, I met a mortgage broker who gave me my first big break, a part-time job as a mortgage originator in 2001. I quickly learned that this would be the best gig I could get with the limited hours I had available after the commitments for college.
I turned that part-time job into a full-time career after graduating. At its peak, my company, Russo Consulting Group, had 15 sales people. That success, however, ended abruptly. It all came to a screeching halt in 2008 when the mortgage crisis hit. Fortunately, soon before that, I decided to launch a small company with my younger brother, Giorgio, who had just graduated in graphic design. That company was called Potenza. A year later, after the mortgage crisis ravaged my business, I made Potenza my full-time focus.
Potenza began as a creative agency, focused on graphic design, audio production, website development, and event marketing. By 2009, it was a full-service marketing company. The truth is we had no idea what we were doing. We made it up as we went along — which was the best thing that could have ever happened to us because it made us rely on the needs of our clients to tell us what direction we would take our company.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the most interesting moments in my career happened right after I bought a US-based software development company with an ‘office’ in India in 2015. The day after signing the paperwork to close the deal, I found myself on a plane to India, a country I knew very little about and had never visited, to meet the lone freelancer working for the company at that time.
I traveled there thinking I would find a few freelancers to strengthen my team and be back on a plane to New Orleans in no time. But immediately after arriving, I realized that if I was going to be successful in this country I had to actually start a company — hire a full staff, find an office, get an accountant, a lawyer, etc. — and I had to do that all in one week.
But I was lucky. The one freelancer I had there used to work for Google and ended up becoming my director of India operations, a post he still holds today.
I’ll never forget sitting on the flight home thinking “what in the heck did I just do?” That week was one of the most interesting and rewarding in my career. Because I not only was able to build a company in a completely new country, I’ve been able to enjoy becoming a part of their unique culture
What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
One of my biggest challenges I’ve had to walk through was losing my first successful business. I was very young when I became an entrepreneur, so I didn’t know how to prepare for the ‘bad times.’ And there are always some bad times. My first successful venture in the real estate banking industry made money too fast and thought it would last forever. I spent everything I made on meaningless things, and when the mortgage crisis hit in 2008, I lost it all. I walked to work for over a year. I had to start over in a completely different industry. And to add to the hard times, I was also realizing at the same time that I had to get sober from drugs and alcohol. It was a humiliating experience but without experiencing firsthand true failure and loss I could never be the entrepreneur I am today. As painful as it is to fail, the most valuable things I have learned in life have come from losing something or someone important to me.
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
Leadership, to me, is all about vision plus true mentorship and connection. It’s about being authentic and vulnerable with the ones that are most important to you, even when it’s uncomfortable. I invest time each week to focus on helping someone on my team fulfill their passion and purpose in their career. Sometimes the greatest gift a leader can give to his people is quality time and the willingness to walk beside them in the trenches.
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? Can you share a story?
My younger brother, Giorgio, has been a huge part of how I became successful. Without him, I would have never got into the marketing and creative business which is what Potenza Inc was founded on. In the early days, he was there pulling countless all nighters because we had to carry the whole business on our shoulders until we became successful. I will always be very grateful to him for his role in my life.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?
For years it was incredibly difficult, because I was pulled in every direction trying to launch a start-up business while maintaining a moderately healthy personal life. I always felt like one part of my life was always sacrificing for the other. Today I work hard to create a harmony between family and helping others and growing my business. I take it one day at a time to make sure I’m always in the moment at home, at the office, or out in the world. Being actively present with whoever I am with is my goal for each day. The truth is my personal life and my work life both enhance each other, So, I strive to treat it all as one, instead of two things trying to balance a tug-of-war.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?
Yes, it definitely gets more difficult. And it destroyed some big relationships in the process. Today I have to focus on living in the moment so that I don’t forfeit relationships because I’m so consumed with my career. And as a result of making this balancing act my priority, not only am I much happier, but my business is actually more successful than when I let work own me.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?
- When in doubt, be patient and sit with the people that matter most in that moment.
- Be vulnerable and share your work life with your partner and close friends, even when it’s uncomfortable.
- Make family time for seemingly small moments as important as your work schedule.
- Be real and authentic in both work and personal life.
- Be honest with yourself and the people around you about what your needs are, about what you need to be happy — family, friends co-workers, etc.
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride?
Helping other people fulfill what they are passionate about. Especially if it’s not for monetary gain. No one accomplishes great things alone, and at some point, we all need help and guidance and someone who believes in us — because often we don’t yet believe in ourselves. Helping people find what they are passionate about and focus their energy on that, and best of all see results, gives me a great sense of pride.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Generosity of spirit. For me, the greatest sense of purpose has come from opening my heart and my mind freely to those around me, to help them in any way I can. That willingness to share one’s gifts, so to speak — and to do so out of respect and compassion, not with some end goal in mind — is what’s missing a lot today. When I mentor employees or help others that are really in a tough place, I get so much meaning and fulfillment out of it. All I ever ask the people that I help to do in return, is to give themselves to help someone like I have. If more people adopted this way of life there could be a large impact from each persons giving of themselves.
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?
About the author: Jacob Rupp is a coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and rabbi. He is the founder of Lift Your Legacy, a community that helps people live a more authentic life. He has a regular, syndicated column that appears in ThriveGlobal and Medium magazine. To learn more about him or to listen to the Lift Your Legacy podcast, search iTunes or visit his site: liftyourlegacy.live