Death is very difficult. It’s final. It hurts.
Stephen Luigi Piazza meant more to me than I can express in a blog or probably ten years’ worth of conversation. He and I were thick as thieves for years. Where he went, I went. Where I went, he went. When I had troubles, he was there. When he was in trouble, I was there. We spent midnights at the office together brainstorming. We met at 5am. He was a mentor, a friend, a partner. We were a team.
He’s gone now.
When you have a partner who invests time in you, mentors you, and believes in you, it changes you in a way that’s hard to put into words—I’ll try.
Luigi was awesome in a thousand ways. It’s no surprise to see how many of his awesome qualities have been documented this week on social media. He was a special person. He and I were as close as 2 people can get in business.
I could easily rattle off 50 Luigi stories or lessons that he taught me, but here are just a few that really stand out.
- He cared deeply about the people who looked up to him and worked for him. More than anyone I ever met. He went to bat for his people and he saw them as possibilities for the future and believed in every single one of them. Sometimes it was crazy to me but it was impactful how insane he was about his peeps.
- He never “managed up”. Ever. He hated authority and at times was as crazy obstinate as I have ever seen. He would have rather kicked the CEO’s ass than kiss it. Every day and all day and twice on Sunday. In fact, he loved telling authority to go get f’d. The CEO was always his favorite target to rile up with his insubordination. It was totally inspiring.
- Luigi liked to spend money he didn’t have. “Punch the Budget” was always his favorite phrase to let me know he was on a mission. Whether or not it was in the “budget” was of no concern. In fact, he enjoyed spending money even more if it was not in the budget or in the bank account! Keeping in line with number 2 above, Luigi also took pleasure in letting the top brass know he “broke the budget”, and he often sent me to be the messenger of the ugly details. I sometimes wondered if he was on a suicide mission, but it taught me SO MUCH about how to advocate for something and how to defend what some viewed as indefensible.
In short………he did the opposite of most of what I’ve seen people do in my career. To steal a line from Frank Sinatra, Luigi did it His Way. He bucked conventional wisdom and he swam against the stream. He lead those AROUND him and never managed UP. In fact, he hated authority and never saw people “above him” as important. Wow did that impact me. He loved people who wanted to become great or showed any sign of being good. His favorite thing to tell me was “DH, I like you cause you like to go………..most people are 1 for the money, 2 for the show, 3 to get ready, 3 to get ready, 3 to get ready…………..you go DH……..i like guys that go”.
He was a true overachiever. I used to tease him that “no one does more with less”…………and it was all because of his belief system. His mind made him unique and irreplaceable. And he was an inspiration. Because he was the biggest overachiever I ever met in my life. He came from nothing. He had no advantages. He didn’t have rich connected parents or access to mentors like he eventually became to so many. His success and achievement in life was all him. It was because of his belief systems, his grit, his determination, his passion, his love of life, I could go on and on. He was pure and simple determination. I thought I was determined and he was 1000 times what I was.
But none of that is why I loved him. Those are the reasons I respected him.
I loved him because I couldn’t help it. I COULD NOT HELP BUT TO LOVE HIM. Would be impossible not to love someone who poured so much of their life into you the way he did into me. He saw something in me that made him want to push me and help me and mentor me. I’m incredibly grateful that someone like this was introduced into my life and took such an interest in my own personal development
He also got me “unfired” 3 separate times. That’s true. I remember so clearly brainstorming with Luigi how to unwind the jam my brashness and bravado had landed me in with “upper management”. Although he did his best not to let on, deep down, I knew Luigi loved it. He loved when I went over the top and threw my finger in the air. I was following his lead. The teacher had found his student.
And then there was the very best thing Luigi ever did for me………..when he called me into his office as a hot shot 29 year old. I was the biggest producer at the company but I was still finding my way. I was also full of bravado and brash talk…………… and secretly…….I was full of insecurity. He told me “if there is ever a conflict in this office about a deal that 2 separate people talk to the same client………you ALWAYS give it away DH”…………….I was very perplexed and aggravated by that…………”Why the hell would I do that? I’m the top producer”…………..and as only Luigi could do very calmly and looking me dead in the eye he said “cause you’re the f-ing best. And that’s what people that are the best do”…………and that was it. And I followed the order. And he helped this hard-headed big ego crazy man understand what was important. Other people.
Luigi changed me and my life for the better. He was a true servant leader. He poured so much of his life into others.
And I know without a shadow of a doubt…………..he’s in heaven today spending money he isn’t authorized to spend. It made him so happy.
Love you Luig. I’ll never forget the lessons.