This past February, Gloria Competelli, the mother of my best friend from childhood, passed away. Growing up in our household of 17 kids, the Competelli’s house was like a retreat (they had only two kids). My friend Sal actually had his own room (I didn’t have my own room until after I graduated from college). His parents always included me and my brother Tom on their outings—whether it was just to a friend’s or to an amusement park. I spent half my childhood between their house and business.
I didn’t realize the significance of Gloria’s influence on my life until I heard Sal giving his mother’s eulogy. She was a brash talking Italian from Brooklyn, New York. She had a zest for life, and always spoke her mind and provided advice to anyone she felt she could help. She was one of the hardest working individuals I knew. She took care of her father, raised two kids, and helped manage their restaurant, Carmine’s. I remember her taking Sal and me there on the weekends. She would hold herself up in the office to work on the books all day long while Sal and I played around in the restaurant and throughout the neighborhood.
After the funeral, I began to piece together specific elements of Gloria that really shaped my life. For instance, I’ve read that children of business owners are likely to become business owners as well, but my parents didn’t own their own business (although running a family of 19 probably felt like it). Until now, I have often wondered where I got my zest for entrepreneurship, but it was clearly from Gloria and Carmine Competelli. They were hardworking business owners, and in fact, both of their kids became business owners and so did I.
When we were kids, Gloria encouraged Sal and I to generate our own money, so we created many revenue generating (though not always profit generating) ventures together, including lemonade stands, Mik-Sal donuts, a neighborhood newspaper, kid carnivals, and magic shows. I think Gloria’s spirit of “being your own boss” rubbed off on me.
Gloria exuded this constant energy and ability to be around people and help others. She was always providing straightforward, no-nonsense advice to friends and family alike, whether in person or via her princess phone (those who grew up in the 70’s will know the telephone to which I’m referring). I have always admired employees, friends, or family who can tell it as it is—I believe she made me realize the importance of this, creating my belief that this is the way all relationships should be.
She taught me about perseverance during personal hardships. Her husband Carmine battled cancer and died 30 years ago, and she not only supported him through his illness, but took over and ran the restaurant and the family’s other businesses. She just did what she had to do, and today the restaurant is still operating with her son Carmine at the helm. She was one tough lady with a heart of gold.
I must admit I do have a few regrets. I wish I had spent more time with her as an adult and shared with her the struggles, challenges, and opportunities I was having in my own business and life. I know she would have provided honest and unbiased feedback in her raspy Brooklyn voice with a cigarette in one hand and a vodka cocktail in the other.
So, who has been an influence in your life? I encourage you to let them know and give them feedback on the impact they have had on you and/or your business. I wish I would have let Gloria know how she, as my ‘second’ mom, helped shape my thoughts and actions as an adult and business owner. Thank you, Gloria.
This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services.