Edward J. Pettinella:
“Work Hard, Play Hard”
By: Joseph W. Norman
For more from Bigger Impact co-founder, Joseph Norman, visit www.normanized.com.
Enjoy the read about...Eddie Pettinella...below! Thanks for your readership!
One of the first things somebody notices about Edward “Eddie” Pettinella is his incredibly high level of positive energy and down to earth sense of humor. “I’m wired and I have ADD,” he reflects. That hasn’t stopped his career, but rather he claims it has helped him. That type of energy is essential when running a public company because you are on the ropes twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. He thrives in the environment and it has brought him to where he is today, President and Chief Executive Officer of Home Properties, Inc., a $1.7 billion market capitalization Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) headquartered in
. Rochester, New York
Eddie is a 1973 graduate from the State University of New York at Geneseo. He admits that he just went to
with fourteen of his friends from the college, a testament, he says, of the kind of relationships the college experience creates. As a member and former chair of the Geneseo Foundation Board, he remains intimately involved with the college. Las Vegas
Eddie on the college experience:
“I jokingly tell people, ‘When I came through it was during the Vietnam war. You had to have about a 67 average and a pulse and I at least had one out of two.’ It was a difficult experience because the War was raging. Many kids went to college, probably more than should have. There was a lot of angst and a lot of unsettledness. You knew the war wasn’t right but there was nothing you could do about it. Before Nixon repealed the draft, if your number was 40, you went. It was hard to circumvent the war. Many people don’t like “Tricky Dick,” but he’s my favorite because he abolished the draft for college kids. That’s why I never had to go into the service.”
Before digging more into Eddie’s college stories, of which there are many, it is important to learn about his life before college. He grew up in
with very little. He lived in a 900 square foot apartment for many years with a few of his friends. His sister lived there with him until she was six years old. In downtown Batavia, New York his friends were a couple of African Americans, an Indian American, and an Italian. “You never forget that,” he says. “I didn’t move into my first home until I was about 12 years old.” Batavia
He took many lessons from his underprivileged background and now reflects about it from his current position. “I’m in one of the largest apartment companies in the business so I’m kind of the poster child because I started my life that way.” What happened in those early years formed some powerful character traits in Eddie that have no doubt been a key to his success. He says it permeated through high school and college, eventually leading him to be President of his class at SUNY Geneseo, and speaking in front of thousands at graduation.
While his substance and style helped him build relationships with both his classmates and the administration at Geneseo, his credo has always been, “Work hard, play hard.” The declaration of this philosophy led to many, wonderfully told stories about Geneseo. He reflects on the college experience:
“We could drink when we were 18. We had a ratskeller on the campus that we could go to for ‘subs and suds.’ It was coed. We’re talking about the epitome of permissiveness. It was the late 60s and the early 70s - anything happened. You would go to concerts and you thought the place was on fire. The marijuana smoke would blow you out of the woods. It was just a different environment.”
For Eddie, this wasn’t his gig though, as he was a runner in college. In fact, he boasts an impressive career on the track, running professionally until the age of 32. He states about his running career and training:
“I ran right up until the age of 32 on some professional teams. I didn’t train that hard in college. I actually got much better after I left. I ran the 800 in 1:54 or . The 800 meters I could always coast on the back stretch in the second lap in high school. In college, you’re hammering that. I ran cross country to stay in shape but I hated it. I would run 200 Meter repetitions for speed work.”
Now, he has the pleasure of watching one of his two sons, Ryan, a 6’9” twenty-two year old play
basketball for UVA. In fact, Ryan just recently received an offer to play professionally in
after he graduates. He was a center for
when they were ranked second in the nation out of 35,000 teams in 50 states. He was in the European National Championships as a fifteen year old. After high school, he went on to Wharton, but didn’t like the ball side of it there, so he is now at UVA. McQuaid Jesuit High School
basketball for UVA. In fact, Ryan just recently received an offer to play professionally in
after he graduates. He was a center for
Eddie states, “He is a big guy, and real smart.” My other son, he always says to me, “Dad, you and Ryan are both high type A’s, I’m a low C minus type.” He’s got a great personality, Eddie says. “Those two kids are my greatest gifts.”
Notable: Eddie is a gifted story teller. In fact, it is probably safe to assume that his uncanny ability has helped him manage the thousands of people he has in his illustrious business career. A story of his that should not go without saying, because it is a prime example of his sense of humor and style, is as follows:
Eddie Pettinella, the Water Balloon Launcher, and the Unassuming Girl
Eddie’s roommate was a biology student who had no real intentions in college; a classic example of the effects of the Vietnam War era. He went there just to get out of the war, Eddie stated. He was going to go back to
and take over his father’s plumbing business – which he subsequently did. He was riding through with C’s, so he didn’t really care. “He was a bad influence, but a great tennis player,” Eddie reflected. Nonetheless, this roommate, who shall remain nameless, brought home a high quality piece of rubber surgical tubing. Albany
“Sure enough we’re playing cards and thinking up goofy stuff,” Eddie says. “Finally we had a balloon launcher perfected and could shoot out into the quad 80 to 100 yards.”
When the people were coming through they would take their shots. “It was best at night because people couldn’t see it coming,” Eddie admitted. “If we saw a lot of guys coming we’d get about 8 or 10 of my buddies on the job and start to run an assembly line.” Some people would get knocked right over because of the surprise and the impact.
One day, Sheila Bear, an unassuming, studious young lady nicknamed by the “catapult crew,” comes whistling by with her books. They hit her right in the side of the head. Now, Eddie states, “We didn’t have much accuracy so we were just happy when we just got close. If we hit somebody it was a big score for us. We hit her in the side of the head and we knocked her down with her books. She gets up and she’s stunned. We’re all rolling on the ground laughing. She goes up to the administration and blows us in. So, when we go up there they tell us we’ve got to shut down and they want the balloon launcher. We gave ‘em a little baby one and we were back in business a week later.”
It got to the point by late March that people would flinch when they would walk by. You knew if those windows were out in Eddie’s place you were in trouble. Good clean fun. “We did some crazy stuff on the campus,” Eddie said. “We’d study but we had fun too.”
Besides the fun and games, Eddie was poised to make his mark on the business world. He started in the management training program at the Community Savings Bank in
, taking a brief hiatus to obtain an MBA in Finance and Operations Management from Rochester , graduating in 1976. Although his interest was banking, he reflects that the Operations Management studying has served him the most over the years, although that was not his expectation at the time. Syracuse University
He then worked as a financial analyst for three years. Eddie states, “That concentrated three year period and grad school set the tone for me; how I think and how I was probably able to move on. I learned so much because I had to.” He got tired of the strict analysis though, because his interpersonal skills made him seek more human interaction.
After applying to work in financial sales for Ford Motor Credit Company, he was denied the job he applied for after his interview because they said he was ‘overqualified.” Eddie thought to himself after that, “Yeah, that’s a nice way to blow me off.” Sure enough, Ford Motor World Headquarters in
called him in for an interview and hired him on the spot after a grueling day of interaction with senior level executives. Dearborn, Michigan
After his former boss at the Community Savings Bank was fired, Eddie went back to the company to manage a $3.5 billion portfolio. He moved up the ranks from Vice President of the Investment Division, to President of Investment Banking, Executive VP and Chief Financial Officer, and finally Executive VP and Chief Operating Officer. He helped take the Rochester Community Savings Bank public before merging it with Charter One Bank’s New York Division. Leaving Charter One in 2001, he ended up at Home Properties, Inc. In 2004, he became President and CEO.
After deliberating over his career progression, he reflected on what he learned about life:
“A lot of it is energy, drive, determination, and a large part of it is luck. It is being in the right place at the right time. A lot of people say, ‘Did you see all of this? Did you have a plan?’ You don’t have a clue.
Life is like a big Roulette table. You don’t know where that ball is going to land. You can control it to the point where you can go somewhere you are happy, but you don’t always know where you’re going to go. You have to feel your way around. You keep trying to identify who you are and what you like. Then try to match up to things that will be a good marriage, if you will.”
At the age of 55, Eddie is still healthy and thoroughly enjoying his efforts. “I love getting up every morning and I love coming to work,” Eddie says. “It comes back to finding the right niche - something you really have a passion for. Something you like doing.”
Eddie reflects on Retirement:
“To put it in perspective, I have been doing this since I was 21, so 34 years now. I’ve been in three industries. I’ve been in public companies. I’m a public company animal. I would not want to start a small company. I’m better at a major company and figuring out how to tweak it. I’ve managed thousands of people over the last few decades. That’s what I do.
I want to keep doing it for a few years. It is ironic, but at my age I finally pretty much know how to do this. I’m the smartest on my job today than I have been for 34 years. I’m comfortable with what I do.
What do I do? I move stock prices for the shareholders. I come in to tweak organizations, but don’t get me wrong this company [Home Properties] was a well oiled machine when I got here. But, my public company skills and experience brought me here to mesh with the two chairmen, who are brilliant real estate entrepreneurs. My background was Wall Street, so we work well together.”
Eddie Pettinella’s Ultimate Keys to Success:
“I like to think that I keep my ego in check. My success is based on the principle that I want to treat you the way I want to be treated. When I walk through the buildings, whether I’m talking to service managers making $20 or $25 dollars an hour, or I’m talking to somebody making $400,000 or $600,000 a year, I treat them all the same.
Continuity, fairness, and being equitable is first and foremost. If you are not that way, then the 2,000 people that work for you will see through you and see you as a phony. Even if they see you as a phony, they still have to work for you, but the level of productivity won’t be as high unless they think you roll up your sleeves, you’re into the game, you’re able to motivate people, and they see that you believe in the vision.
What I do for a living is create vision and communicate it. You develop a level of trust and integrity over time. It takes a while to earn it but that is huge for a CEO to be able to develop with their employees. You’ve got to get good people and let them run. If their good you’ve got to make sure you compensate them properly as well, because otherwise you will lose them. Take the low hanging fruit of reasons for people to leave off the table. One of the biggest killers for large companies is turnover.”
In a public company, it is people, people, people. You’ve got to start there. I’m big into participative management. I’ve been in this game for 34 years - I could give a crap if I go into the Board and deliver a great idea - every chance I get I’ll put my people in front and give them a chance to shine.”
Eddie’s high energy persona, passion for life and his pursuits, and focus on treating people right has helped carry him to where he is today. Wherever he goes, his impact is known whether it is through his words of wisdom from “34 years of getting [his] head beat around,” or his stories of life’s humors. Eddie broke the mold of an underprivileged background to achieve and influence thousands. As a healthy man at age 55 that is on top of his game, he will no doubt continue to make waves in the community, the business world, and most importantly, the people he interacts with.
Joseph, Eddie, and Ben at Home Properties Headquarters in Rochester, New York
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Edward J. Pettinella
President and Chief Executive Officer
Home Properties, Inc.