Greco and Son’s is a full-service distributor operating out of Phoenix, Arizona, with an acute specialization in Italian and Mediterranean concepts, but also with a presence in many quick-serve and sports bar restaurant concepts as well.
Founded by Eddie Greco and his father Pasquale in 1990, the company holds sway over a growing enterprise; with its corporate office, manufacturing facility and main distribution centre based in the Chicago suburb of Bartlett, Illinois, the company also has a distribution facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and in Phoenix, Arizona. From here, the company services Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California and the Las Vegas markets from these strategic points. We caught up with the President of Greco Arizona, Tony Yannone, to uncover his role as a CEO in driving continued expansion across the company.
Greco & Sons has experienced change on a regular basis since it was founded, so as to include numerous different concepts. In its infancy, Greco manufactured fresh Italian sausage, and just distributed to pizza and Italian fine-dining restaurants.
Tony Yannone is the President of Greco Arizona, as well as a partner in the business. As such, he is responsible for all facets of this facility from formulating the annual budget to implementing and executing the company’s annual plan for growth and profitability. Alongside, he manages the directors of all departments and oversee daily operations.
Tony begins by describing Greco’s expansion into Arizona – reflecting on the swift establishment and astronomical growth, he refers to it like being strapped to a rocket. “We began March 3rd 2008 in a 35,000-square-foot facility with only a couple of trucks. We grew very rapidly then moved into our current 70,000-square-foot facility just four years later in 2012. We are now constructing a 130,000-square foot facility which we will move into the 1st quarter of 2017. Five years from now? I will let you know – right now, this rocket just keeps accelerating.”
To Tony, this underlines the important role that Greco & Sons plays in the industry, by providing a range of product lines and brands that are recognized as the best in the industry. “Greco and Sons has an excess of 12,000 items that have been sourced worldwide, specializing in pizza products, Italian specialties, as well as all other foodservice applications. Greco also operates as a USDA inspected facility, where we handle and process fresh beef, fresh pork, fresh poultry, and our very own ‘world-class’ line of Italian Sausage.
“We always pride ourselves on carrying the best quality products in our industry. Our competitors all like to push private label products; there is no loyalty to those brands.”
To Tony, his involvement in Greco & Sons is a very personal experience, and one that he is forthcoming about, especially in regards to his approach to leadership and management of staff in this rapidly growing business. “My partner and friend Eddie Greco, the founder and principle owner of Greco and Son’s, has been a mentor for me. I always knew how to work hard but he
always inspired me to push beyond what I thought were my limits. It was very tough at times. I have always found my greatest lessons are learned when things are at their worst. That is when the true character of a man is exposed. Do you give up? Or do you dig in and face the challenge.”
Tony has carried these principals through to the way he runs his company. He is immensely proud to have created a culture of hard-working employees throughout all levels in this company. “When we interview potential new employees, we spend 90 per cent of the interview evaluating if that employee will meet our culture of striving for excellence and doing whatever it takes. We do not focus on asking about their skill set – we can teach that. What you cannot teach is the “Can Do” attitude that we aspire to. We can stoke a ‘fire in the belly ’ and make it into an inferno, but it can be very difficult to light that fire to begin with.”
Tony’s background as a leader comes from his childhood dream of being a career military man. “I have always had a great respect and admiration for the men and women who serve our country – I think it is the highest honor in our land, and I was on that path from an early age. I began to beg my parents to go to a military academy when I was 12. After convincing them to visit a few Military Academies they began to see the advantages of a high discipline environment and leadership training that the good ones promote.
“And so, I attended Missouri Military Academy in Mexico Missouri – their motto was “If You Don’t Want Them, Neither Do We”. The washout rate was quite high, with very few cadets graduating from the entire 4-year program. I was very proud of that particular accomplishment. I learned some of my greatest leadership skills from my time at the Academy – it was hammered into us every day all day. While I was there, it was rated as not only the top military academy in America by the US Army, but also as the top private school.
Unfortunately for Tony, his ambitions underwent a sudden and drastic change in course when, in his Sophomore year at Florida State University, his mother was involved in a very serious car accident and remained in a coma for 16 years before passing away. “Shortly after my mother’s automobile accident, my father was having a difficult time coping with running our family business Arena Distributing Company (Pizza Supply Company) and managing my mother’s extreme circumstances. That is when I knew it was time to help out at the family business.” Tony states unequivocally that he has no regrets about not finishing college, or getting a chance to follow his military dream.
“I enjoy what I do,” he says proudly. “Heralding from a traditional Italian family, we were all very close. My father was definitely my greatest teacher. He was an incredible salesman and could read people like no other. Our family lifestyle seemed to always revolve sitting around a table full of food either to strategize for our family business or discuss current events in our personal lives.”
Drawing his strong leadership traits from this devoted, close-knit family circle, as well as his military upbringing, Tony channels these energies into a new direction, working along with Eddie Greco to build the company based on extreme customer service.
“Many people preach that, but don’t really live it,” he states. “We do not put a price on servicing our customers. I have a standing order for every manager in this company: if you find yourself in the situation where you don’t know what to do and cannot find your supervisor, then make your decision to always service our customer, no matter what the cost. That way, you can never be in trouble from me – even if I don’t agree with your decision – because you chose to service our customer.”
As if to reinforce this message of putting the customer above all else, Tony shares an anecdotal reference to what he describes as the ‘light-switch’. “I tell this story because it is about training your mind set. The difference between most people and highly successful people is just that little extra effort. Have you ever walked out of a room and you are two steps out the door and realize you left the light on? That is the critical moment of choice: do you take the couple extra steps back and shut the light off, or do you say ‘hey, it’s not that big of a deal – I will be coming back in a while anyway’? Training yourself to always take that little extra step makes all the difference between mediocre and greatness.
“Last Friday, I had just left the office and a customer called me. He said that he might be short on shortening for his fryer this weekend. I said I just left the office but I can turn back and bring it to him – it was right by my home, anyway. The customer said, ‘no, I can probably make it through the weekend anyway.’ He let me off the hook, so what do you think I did? I called home and said I would be a little late for dinner.”
Reflecting on his own past experiences with being micro-managed – an experience he has no fond memories of – Tony pledges to not do that to his own managers. “I give them the responsibility for their position,” he explains, “but I also give them the authority that goes along with that. I have found that it is the best way to create good leaders – I hold them accountable for their results in each department, and this sometimes includes letting them fail and learn from that experience.”
On top of his credentials as a leader of employees, Tony confesses to being a big fan of technology – however, he also expresses concerns that businesses need to be careful when it comes to the danger of information overload. As he explains, “sometimes we spend so much more time managing information – especially through email – that it takes our focus away from what is important: the customers. We talk quite a bit about Return on Investment (ROI) of our time; in other words, what is going to be our largest return for the time invested? I have seen many employees get frustrated because they are not doing a good job while working long, hard hours. That tells you they are not making good choices about how they prioritize their time spent on tasks.
“If an employee is doing a poor job, the first person I look at is their manager, and then myself. Why did we not create an environment for that employee to succeed? Was it insufficient training, equipment needs, resources etc. I make a big distinction between management skills and leadership skills.
A leader gets his employees to want to do a good job. A manager can sometimes create the same result, but not have the respect of the team. That is why we push leadership qualities and skills. People can be your best asset in business, or they can be your worst.
In the matter of Greco Arizona, Tony is unabashed in his claims to have “the best employees in the business.” He is, he says, very fortunate to be surrounded by people that have real talent, and while he gets a lot of the credit for the superb work that they do, he works hard to create an environment that lets their individual talents shine. “While we do have a chain of command, we do not allow our employees to put titles on their business cards. We want to create a humble atmosphere which fosters a better team attitude. No room for egos here – nothing good ever comes from it.
“I really do owe it all to them.”