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In times of uncertainty, people look to the past for answers and comfort, but when the past has never seen the present troubles, it can become a fearful path to navigate.

Being a leader during this time is even more challenging as you try to guide your team through a situation you know just as little about. Yet, leaders on a global scale are pushing through the struggles of this pandemic daily and making strides for nations, communities, and businesses.

A leader we admire and who has shown unwavering dedication to not just her team but also the businesses in her community during this time is our very own Debra Rizzi, President of Rizco. She continues to do the work necessary to help businesses grow, even when they feel the odds are stacked against them. We sat down with her to find out how she has overcome the challenges the pandemic has brought about and what she hopes for in the future.

Debra Rizzi

1. What have been some of the biggest challenges your team has overcome since going virtual?
I would say that we just miss being together! Rizco learned a lot from Hurricane Sandy, so we were thankfully ready for any crisis. Our protocols were already in place for a fast transition. The team was split into groups to safely enter our office last March to pick up their computers and return home to work virtually. We have only been together twice since this date, and we are not rushing the process to get back into the office. #SafetyFirst

2. What is a challenge you personally have struggled with as a leader since the start of the pandemic?
I have to chuckle about this question. I keep asking myself, “Have we really survived? Is it over yet? Can I catch up on sleep now?” LOL! There were so many challenges, but there are two huge ones that stand out.

  • First challenge; The business needed to exist, and ensuring job security was our top priority! We have been in business for 21 years and have experienced economic downturns before, but nothing like this – we didn’t have control of the future in this situation. That being said, we are so thankful for:
  • Financial Support: The PPP and Monmouth County CARES Coronavirus Economic Assistance Grant Program enabled us to keep all of our staff employed and still support the non-profits we are committed to helping.
  • Clients: Our clients stuck with us, they were open about their situations, and we worked together to create new, flexible financial models that worked for both of us.
  • Process: Rizco’s proprietary process allows us to work within any vertical. When we lost 40% of our business last March, we were able to pivot and focus on the industries that were investing in marketing so we could fill the apparent gap.
  • Second challenge; The mental stability of our team.
  • During the heart of the pandemic, we had weekly video calls where we were transparent about where the company stood, tried to minimize stress, and constantly checked in with our staff to see how they were doing. Previously, when we were together in the office, I could sense when someone was having a bad day or had something going on personally. In today’s environment, I have to ask our team to be vulnerable and openly communicate when they need help. They are all so strong and don’t want to show weakness, but this is when the “family” and human aspect of Rizco’s culture is the strongest. When one team member needs help, there is always someone willing to pick up the slack, including myself. COVID-19 impacted the Rizco family in many instances, and in each situation, someone stepped up to fill the spot of an employee who needed time off or extra support. We are so proud of our team!

3. What have you and your team have adopted during this time that you will implement into Rizco’s culture or schedule going forward, despite circumstances? Example: a concept or event, a new skill, etc.
Rizco University! We always had monthly team meetings and professional development. The truth is that “personal development” has become a priority since COVID-19, so we decided to start Rizco University, where we all meet as a team to educate ourselves and grow through virtual learning sessions. The staff has been great in providing important topics – we have had sessions around personal finance, meditation, stress-reduction, and identifying gratitude, etc. We learned something new about ourselves during each of these sessions!

4. As a leader, was there an aspect of work you worried about that the pandemic changed your outlook on?
It wasn’t a worry, but I truly believed that you needed to go to a physical space to be productive every day. The truth is that creatives thrive being together, but we don’t necessarily need to be in an office every day. We use Google Hangouts, a free service, to have daily meet-ups and face-to-face time to review work, learn and strategize. Personally, I have found 2-3 extra hours a day by not having to commute, not to mention that I spend more time with my family and can prepare dinner at a normal time or go for a run in the middle of the day during lunch when there is still light. As long as you can get your job done, be accountable, and produce great work on behalf of the client, it doesn’t matter where the work is done or what time it is accomplished. The work needs to be great; there is no wiggle room there, pandemic or not.

5. Is there a campaign that you worked on during COVID that you are proud of?
Yes, there are two, actually, and the creativity that comes out of a crisis is pretty amazing to witness! The first was a collaboration with the NJ Hospital Association in the development of “Get Care Now NJ,” which was an educational campaign to inspire New Jerseyians to seek medical help during the pandemic and provide accurate, up-to-date resources. The second was for Plum Practicewear, a gymnastics activewear company. We knew we couldn’t ask people to buy a product when people didn’t have jobs and weren’t participating in sports. We developed the Plum University of Fun, which included a weekly curriculum for gymnasts to complete creative, academic, and physical assignments to earn rewards, discounts, and free products. It kept Plum’s customers engaged and even attracted new customers that kept the brand alive during a trying time.

6. What key learning(s) are you carrying over into the future?
Stay lean, hire smart, continue to ask people how they are doing daily … even after the pandemic has gone, and remember that relationships are pivotal in life and business.