During difficult economic times, businesses may struggle to remain afloat and even larger corporations might find it necessary to restructure and downsize. Business owners may seek creative solutions, and top professionals may lose their jobs and have to reinvent themselves. Here are the stories from three Legates who have pulled through such tribulations through entrepreneurial savvy and with the help of their faith.
Man with a plan
Bill Orosz, an Orlando Legate and CEO of Hanover Capital Partners LLC, has weathered housing-market meltdowns, business crises, and other hardships during his long career in real estate. But the Harvard Business School graduate knows such cycles are to be expected in any industry.
“Ultimately, every business has its ups and downs, and every entrepreneur has experienced changing market conditions, regulations, capital constraints, and personnel issues,” Orosz said.
After he and his partners sold their residential construction company to an Orlando-area savings and loan in 1984, Orosz stayed on as CEO. Although the firm did well despite a weak housing market, it was shut down along with its parent company during the S&L crisis in 1991.
“Overnight, without notice, I was jobless,” Orosz said.
Investing nearly all of his remaining savings, he bought developed subdivision lots on favorable terms, wrote a business plan, and prayed for direction. “Long story short, within 24 hours I had raised $1.5 million in equity and was in business,” he recalled. “Thank you, Holy Spirit!”
The experience, he added, “was difficult, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
In weathering the challenges of entrepreneurship, Orosz gives credit to his partners – not only his business partners, but also his life partner of 41 years.
“My wife, Jody, has an uncanny sense about people and timing, and she has always been a great sounding board when difficult decisions need to be made,” Orosz said. “And having great partners who understand the nature of the business and are focused on long-term success makes it much easier to navigate difficult times.”
Maintaining very conservative financial principles has been a key to getting through rough economic patches, he explained. Even when forced to downsize staff, Orosz and his partners have been able to keep key team members and talent in place.
There are upsides to enduring difficulties in business: Hard times reinforce one’s humility, he said. And “if you learn from hardships, you never actually experience ‘failure.’”
Recently honored by the Orlando Business Journal as the 2019 Developer of the Year, Orosz remains conscientious about “giving back” to his Church and community from the fruits of his success, both in financial gifts and volunteerism.
Strength in diversification
Dan Cristiani of Clarksville, Indiana, has found ways to keep his excavation business operating through good times and bad. It survived the Great Recession of 2008-2009, although it changed the way he runs his enterprise – and transformed him and his family in intangible ways as well.
What started as a small landscaping and snown removal business decades ago has morphed into Dan Cristiani Excavating, which performs large-scale land cleaning and site preparation for construction projects. The enterprise has expanded to include a trucking company and a chain of landscaping outlets selling mulch, topsoil, and other goods. Dan’s wife, Anne, had started an equipment rental company, which enabled Dan to rent what he needed at a discount rather than purchase new heavy equipment.
“This diversity helped us get through the recession,” said Dan, a Louisville (KY) Legate.
The recession and housing crisis, in turn, changed the excavating business, turning its focus from primarily subdivision development to include commercial, municipality and government contracts. Field supervisors were brought into weekly meetings to help strategize more effectively to keep the business operating. For the Cristianis, who were raising their five children and caring for Dan’s mother at the time, there were many sleepless nights.
“Stress levels were definitely escalated,” Anne recalled. “Dan had incredible pressure needing to keep 125 employees working to receive a paycheck to feed their families.”
Prayer is a pillar of strength for the Cristianis. “There is no way we got through the tough economic times without our faith in God,” Dan said. Both he and Anne were raised as strong Catholics and have witnessed the power of prayer in their lives. Committing to weekly Eucharistic adoration, Anne said, “has been a total game changer for us both professionally and personally.”
The Cristianis use their business success to benefit worthy causes through acts such as donating mulch and topsoil for Catholic Charities housing, offering beef to feed the homeless, and completing construction projects and volunteering time to assist the area 4-H Club.
A transformative transition
After UBS Investment Bank acquired Charles Schwab Markets in 2004, Brian Deane was retained as a director and senior trader on UBS’s cash equities desk. Four years later, amid the financial markets meltdown, his job was eliminated, just two months before the Deanes’ third child was born.
“Up until that point professionally, I had worked through and survived three or four corporate mergers, multiple years of layoffs and downsizings in my industry and occupation,” Deane said, attributing much of the upheaval to the increasing automation on Wall Street. “In less than a decade, literally thousands of traders were replaced by machines.”
The challenge, he said, was that he didn’t have transferable skills. “My former profession,” Deane mused, “was disappearing. I could no longer identify myself as a Wall Street trader.” So Brian’s wife, Janine, re-entered the workforce to resume her career as a healthcare actuary, and Brian became a full-time, stay-at-home dad.
It was a transformative time for the Newark (NJ) Legate. His spiritual life had been “pretty dark” during his Wall Street years, and he was focused on making money for his firm. A nominal Catholic as an adult, he had resumed attending Mass weekly less than a year before his displacement. Soon after he lost his UBS job, another unemployed trader invited him to attend a men’s faith conference.
“Those twenty-four hours changed my life forever,” Deane said. “Men gave their witness and shared their struggles. They shared how their faith gave them purpose and meaning. We were challenged to be real husbands, real fathers, priests of our domestic church.” On fire, Brian immersed himself in his Catholic faith – Knights of Columbus, church ministries, even working toward a master’s degree in theology. But that was out of balance: just as during his working career, he was spending too much time away from his family and straining his marriage. “It took awhile for the spiritual light bulb to click on,” he said. “God placed me here to first serve my wife, second to serve my children, and then everything else.”
Eventually he founded a new company, Apostolic Financial Advisors, which caters to clients of faith. He emphasizes values-based investing, a philosophy that guides investment decisions based on moral principles and social responsibility – avoiding companies that support or profit from such evils as abortion, pornography, and other affronts to human dignity.
For Deane, it’s a way of living his faith more fully. “My wife always reminds me to preach the gospel and only use words when necessary,” explained Brian, who is involved in a number of Catholic and charitable causes. “I continually pray that this Wall-Street-trader-turned-soccer-dad-andCatholic-financial-crusader can help bring families back to church and closer to God.”
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.