The driving force

Ron Pizzuti is many things: an art lover, a car collector, a wine aficionado, a world traveler, a business owner, a family man.

But one thing he says he definitely is not: a golfer.

“Every year I set a goal that I’m going to become a golfer,” he says. “And every year I put my clubs in the trunk, and at the end of the season, I take them out again. I’ve just never been willing to take the time to cultivate the game.”

Perhaps that’s because he simply doesn’t have the time right now.

Along with overseeing the construction of the ritzy Miranova high-rise development along the downtown riverfront, serving on the boards of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Columbus Museum of Art and chairing the board of trustees at Kent State University, he also runs a roughly $200 million development business that employs more than 100 and keeps offices in four cities. Little wonder that the 60-year-old chairman of The Pizzuti Cos. has trouble finding time to hit a few golf balls. Not that he’d have any trouble digging up a suitable golfing partner if he did.

Pizzuti lists among those he admires Dimon McFerson, the recently retired chairman of Nationwide, who was ranked earlier this year by Golf Digest as one of the 100 best chief executive golfers in the country. Still, that’s not the reason Pizzuti thinks so highly of McFerson, whom he’s gotten to know in the last few years during Columbus’ quest to attract major league sports teams.

“He’s an inspiration,” Pizzuti explains. “Dimon will leave a legacy. The Arena District will be part of it, but his greatest legacy has been to grow that business over on High Street.”

Two other fellow executives involved in landing Columbus a National Hockey League franchise — John F. Wolfe, publisher and chairman of The Dispatch Printing Co., and John H. McConnell, chairman emeritus of Worthington Industries Inc. — also make Pizzuti’s “most admired” list.

“John McConnell is the fairest, most decent person I know,” Pizzuti says. “John Wolfe is a good citizen. I have a great deal of respect for him. He’s as fair and ethical as anyone.”

The first name that crosses Pizzuti’s lips when asked about mentors, however, is his one-time business associate Les Wexner, chairman and CEO of The Limited and Intimate Brands Inc.

“He’s certainly the most visionary person I’ve ever known,” Pizzuti says. “He sets high standards for himself and for everyone around him.”

Then there’s Shelly Berman, founder of SBC Advertising and chairman of Xtreem Creative Inc. as well as Macaroons Inc., whom Pizzuti calls a master marketer; Augie Cenname of Merrill Lynch, whose recruiting and staff development techniques Pizzuti lauds; and Paul Pfieffer, who was Pizzuti’s marketing professor at Kent State University and very supportive of Pizzuti throughout his careers in retailing and development.

“All these folks are great family people,” Pizzuti says, noting that his wife, Ann, should actually top his list since “I don’t make a move without her.”

“They all have great ethics and none compromise their standards. They lead by example.”

Some might say the same of Pizzuti, who lists his family as his greatest accomplishment: “No question. It’s a one-word answer,” he says.

Pizzuti’s three grown children, in fact, appear to be following in their father’s footsteps when it comes to community service.

“I believe strongly you have to give something back,” says Pizzuti, who moved to Columbus from Kent in the early 1960s to start a retailing career with Lazarus. “I came here with $14 in my pocket years ago and this city’s been very good to me.”

Of his community involvement, Pizzuti says he’s most passionate about the symphony.

“It was on the verge of bankruptcy a few years ago,” he explains. “Seeing the orchestra flourish — it’s just wonderful.”

Those kinds of successes drive Pizzuti, not just as a civic leader, but as a business owner, too.

“I just love seeing results,” he says.

The Pizzuti Cos. certainly has seen its share of those. The business, which Pizzuti founded in 1976, recorded more than $250,000 in profits its first year. Today, the companies’ portfolio includes more than 10 million square feet of development space nationwide valued at close to $1 billion. Profits have generally followed a “nice, steady progression,” Pizzuti says, but he admits there have been “a few blips” along the way.

One of the scariest moments in Pizzuti’s career came in the late ’70s, “when interest rates were above 20 percent and we had buildings and projects in the pipeline that were financed with development loans tied to prime,” he recalls. “The interest just killed us. And we didn’t know when it would end. We weathered the storm, but it just wiped our profits out.”

Pizzuti credits much of the success of his company to those around him — be they contractors, architects, lenders or employees.

“No one builds a business like this alone,” he says.

Perhaps that’s why Pizzuti likes to say his company is “in the business of developing people and developing properties. It’s not either/or, it’s both.

“If you recognize someone’s talent, you have to be willing to let them produce,” he says. “You also have to set the example. Ask anyone here, ‘Who is the first person in here each morning and the last person out each night?’ They’ll tell you it’s me. I don’t know if that’s something I should be proud of, but I have a strong work ethic and some of that rubs off by osmosis.

“I would pit this staff against any in the country.” How to reach: Ron Pizzuti, chairman, The Pizzuti Cos., 280-4000, www.pizzuti.com

Nancy Byron ([email protected]) is editor of SBN Columbus.