Gina Rizzi: The "Never Quit" Entrepreneur

To put it simply, Gina Rizzi is changing the world positively. Starting from the small, farm town of Ortonville that she loved so much, Rizzi had her first job cleaning the famous dairy farm’s trucks of manure. In the midst of a tough and rather stinky job, she says “it was a really good experience learning what I didn’t want to do the rest of my life.” Flashing forward, Rizzi graduated from Michigan State University in 1995 as an Advertising major. While there, she worked at the State news selling retail advertising space which gave her very “hands on experience” that got her thinking about what she wanted to do with her career.

She noticed among her peers, most Advertising students wanted to work for an ad agency, but Gina had seen the possibility in opening her own company down the road and kept her sights on that. She started her 14 year long road trip to entrepreneurship at 3M where she went through a 2 year long training period before being hired full time. Not long after, AVIS Rent a Car gave her the call to bring her into sales and business development in AZ and then promotion led to the move to Chicago. She recalled that this transition time in her life was when she was working until 10pm most nights and was really intrigued in the business. All the while, she began training for a marathon of which changed her perspective.

Rizzi told a story from her training days while out on a 16 mile run. She recalled a run when she was absolutely miserable and wanted to quit. By setting little goals along the way, “I’m going to make it to this point up there,” she realized that even though no one was around to praise her for her hard work, she found the motivation from within to push through a breakthrough moment like that. A big contributor to her drive to complete the marathon was that she was running on behalf of children who were abused and neglected and having already been connected with a child and having their name on a bracelet gave her the reason to keep going. Today, she felt that moment looking down at the child’s name and digging up the courage to finish the fight on that run was a pivotal moment in her life.

“When you really feel like you can’t keep going, you can. You got to.”

Gina wanted to continue her education while still pursuing her career and went to graduate school at the Notre Dame extension in Chicago all while pushing her career to the next level. Shortly after beginning grad school, she developed an ear disorder called cholesteatoma. After surgery, she was left with only approximately 30% hearing in one ear. It was another time when she realized more of an understanding of others and sought to let this influence her entrepreneurial journey. She spoke about the importance of “weaving everything together” that you like. She realized there is a way to perform in business and help others at the same time.

Gina also spoke about a very humbling experience for her when put into a situation looking at a promotion for AVIS. Arriving to Rhode Island in short notice, she was faced with one of the most positive moments in her career: being surrounded by 12 men and her, she was put in charge of creating a whole new business unit. Among the men, she got paired up with Roger Penske to work together in planning and monitoring performance of the new sector. This was Gina’s moment to really try out her business model development skills and she wasn’t afraid to put things the way she liked it. While she loved learning the operations side of the business, working with charities and communities, when the big recession hit, Gina was put in a situation of a promotion. But, she ended up turning it down.

It was at this time that Gina evaluated if she really wanted to finally form her own business, she needed to invest in herself now. She says the best question she continued to ask herself was “If I was given a million dollars, would I bet a million dollars on myself or on a fortune 500 company that just laid off a bunch of people?” She was determined that she could do it from here and started up ARCUS Marketing Group.  

Rizzi left WE with several pieces of advice that involve being supportive of ourselves and each other:

Maintaining Connections

LinkedIn and being consistent in reaching out to someone that she hasn’t talked to in a while at least once a week.

Living in a business world mainly “run by men”

Data and confidence will be essential in showing your tough skin and knowledge undoubtedly.

You must love what you do.

Working weekends and evenings as an entrepreneur isn’t just expected, but is the proof that you love the work you are facing. Work must be fulfilling but also give you the space to balance physical health and time with others.

The “What If?s” are always going to be there.

You can spend a great deal of time reflecting on how things might have gone if you had taken one path vs the other, but in the end, you are where you are today because of every decision you made before. Don’t keep looking back on what could’ve been and continue to work towards where you want to go.

Mentors and inspiration feed much of what entrepreneurs do.

Every entrepreneur has a story of someone they looked up to that inspired them to take on their own business. For Gina, her mom was both as she became an entrepreneur of a tutoring center in the midst of a divorce, while working two jobs, and attending school to receive a teaching degree.

It’s better to lift each other up.

So often, women especially are seen to undermine one another in order to compete. Truthfully, we’re going to do better if we give credit to the right people and realize there is room for all of us to chase our dreams. Let’s work at supporting each other.

Find the intersection.

Think about what makes you most happy- doesn’t have to be work- and about ways you can intersect and bring your passions together. Get creative and push the boundaries.

Take your vacation time away from your worries.

Make sure some of the much needed time off you get every so often is spent away from worry also. Often times, freeing your mind allows things to flow into the right place on their own.