Sweet Business Lessons from a Donut Tradition

J.R. Ball Finance, Issue 08 - Nov/Dec 2013 3 Comments

A company’s cream filling is its customers, according to former donut man Angelo Gencarelli, now CFO at The Results Companies.

By J.R. Ball

If the name Joseph Campbell does not immediately ring a bell, that’s OK. He is not exactly a household name. Unless, that is, your household is comprised of comparative mythology professors adorned in tweed sport coats—the ones with suede elbow patches. In that case, I imagine his name gets thrown around quite often.

photoOdds are, however, you are familiar with some of the works that Campbell—a noted author and scholar who frequently examined the nature myth—directly influenced: most notably, the Star Wars saga, The Lion King and The Matrix. Campbell is perhaps most fondly remembered for The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a nonfiction work that examines the template behind “the hero’s journey.” Campbell’s roadmap for this journey proceeds as follows: the hero or heroine departs home, seeks adventure, transforms through a series of challenges, finds purpose and returns home a wiser, more complete character than when he or she departed.

It’s Luke Skywalker, leaving his desert planet to become a Jedi, later returning to save his friends from peril. It’s Frodo Baggins, departing The Shire to destroy a possessed ring and save his world from certain doom, then returning home to pen tales of his travels. It’s Angelo Gencarelli, the son of a successful East Coast baking magnate and businessman, who humbly passed over a sure-thing position in his family’s chain of donut shops to go off to school, gain the knowledge needed to bring value to said company, and return home a changed man.

“I never wanted to have a job just because it was a birthright,” Gencarelli said, referring to Bess Eaton Donuts, started by his father in 1953 and operated by the family until 2004. At its height, Bess Eaton had 56 locations canvassed across New England. “I wanted to earn a job there,” he continued. “I wanted to gain experience, then come back into the business with some credentials so people felt I had something to offer.”

And so Gencarelli set out to attain those credentials, graduating magna cum laude from LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York, with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and a minor in Philosophy. Once out of college, he joined global accounting firm Ernst & Young. Years later, with experience and wisdom in tow, Gencarelli returned home, bringing his own journey full circle, as Chief Financial Offer (CFO) for Bess Eaton.

“That experience served me well,” said Gencarelli, who also noted that when he returned, it was by choice. “I had something to offer, instead of having a job handed to me because I was a family member.”

Gencarelli had something else to offer beyond real-world experience. Something that could not be taught in a lecture hall or job training manual: a deep-seeded commitment to the customer experience, taught to him by his father years earlier.

“Growing up, my dad would take me with him when he visited different stores on Sundays,” Gencarelli said. “We would always walk in the front door to take the customer’s view.”

Gencarelli says his father never took anything for free, whether it was a donut or cup of coffee. By leading though example, his father set the tone of personal accountability that has defined Gencarelli’s career.

“Things like that stick with you,” he said. “You don’t even realize you’re learning it at the time. But when you get into the business world, it’s there.”


The Journey

The journey, as Campbell surmises, is not without challenge. Gencarelli’s journey would evolve beyond Bess Eaton, into a Senior Vice President (SVP) and CFO role with AppliedTheory, a tech company specializing in Web hosting and IT solutions. No sooner had he attained CFO letterhead that Gencarelli inherited the responsibility of leading the company through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“I stepped into the CFO role just as the company was undergoing a 363 transaction,” Gencarelli said. Before filing Chapter 11, he and team had secured a stalking horse  bidder, and helped manage  the company  in and out of bankruptcy within 30 days.

“It was a very interesting process—a good outcome in a bad situation,” Gencarelli said. “Fortunately, our customers, employees and creditors were taken care of.  But looking back, it was a good lesson for what not to do on many levels.”

After a period of 20 years, the lifelong East Coaster took his talents South to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Following his tenure with AppliedTheory, Gencarelli stepped into another SVP and CFO role, this time with global software company Equitrac Corp. Having grown, the company was sold to Nuance Communications in 2011.

After Equitrac’s sale, Gencarelli joined The Results Co., an award-winning business process outsourcing firm that caters to those in the health care, telecommunications and financial service industries. Serving as the organization’s CFO, Gencarelli says he has found a partner that shares his passion for the customer experience.

“Interestingly, before I joined Results, their DNA was absolutely customer focused,” he said. “That’s why they’ve been so successful and grown over the years.”

And with Gencarelli’s arrival, it also meant Results was hiring its first true CFO.

“What they needed—and what I brought—was a little financial discipline to balance that customer focus,” he said. “They welcomed new financial controls. The fact that they were already customer centric made that process very easy.”

People First

photo2For Gencarelli, the ability to apply a high-touch approach to working with people is not limited to internal and external customer interactions, but in leading the finance team and the greater organization as well.

“When it comes to managing relationships, both up and down the corporate ladder, I’ve utilized the DISC approach throughout my career,” Gencarelli said.

The DISC assessment is based on the theory of psychologist William Marston. It infers that everyone shares four basic personality traits—dominance, inducement, submission and compliance—at varying levels. For professional applications, it often is used when calculating the right management approach to individuals based on their personalities.

“I’ve never believed in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to management,” Gencarelli said. “It’s vital to understand how people are motivated. If you can do that—anticipate how people will react and perform in a number of situations—you can accomplish your goals and get things done.”

At Results, Gencarelli says he finds himself in an environment of likeminded colleagues, focused on investing in the organization’s most important resource: its people.

“Our approach is to invest to make people better, not just job specific training for a given role,” he notes. “Better people will do a better job. They’ll do better work and stay with the organization longer.”

The Road Ahead

For those at the foothills of their own professional journey, finance-related or otherwise, Gencarelli advocates a foundational approach to success.

“So many people become technically proficient with the newest software, especially in finance. But it’s key to understand how a business operates,” he said. “Learn the foundations. Until you understand how it all works, how do you expect to make an impact once you’re running the business in the future?”

Regarding the future, it may come as no surprise that Gencarelli foresees teaching to be on his horizon.

“Results is a such great company, I don’t see myself retiring,” he said. “But I’d love to give back somewhere down the road—perhaps teach and share my experience in some capacity.”

For Gencarelli, a man who has spent a venerable lifetime focused on the experience of others, the opportunity to help mold a captive audience to be champions for customers would complete the ultimate full circle.

J.R. Ball is a freelance writer based in Dallas, Texas.


Angelo's Key Partners:
InSource Inc. (Insurance and Employee Benefits)WeiserMazars LLP (Audit and Transaction) | ADP (Payroll) | Fifth Third Bank (Structured Finance)

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