Marco Altieri, fresh out of college and working as a counselor for the Center for Disability Rights Inc., stood in a client’s living room. The man had suffered a series of small strokes and could barely lift his arm from the bed.
In that instant Altieri realized how little he understood about disabilities, and perhaps about people in general.
“I’m thinking, ‘What the hell am I going to do here?’” Altieri says.
Nine months later, the client—largely through the client’s own hard work, Altieri insists—could raise himself up, write his name and have conversations with his wife again. Altieri’s eyes had been opened to what is possible for people with disabilities when they get appropriate care and respect.
“For me it really became a passion,” Altieri says. “I really dove into it.”
Thirteen years later, Altieri’s passion is evident in his work as CEO of Angels in Your Home, a licensed home care service agency. Since he joined the organization in 2011, Angels in Your Home has increased annual revenue from $1 million to more than $19 million. The workforce has grown from 35 employees in early 2013 to 913 today.
“We project by the end of the year to have 1,100 employees and to increase production another 25 percent,” he says.
Altieri, 37, has done this without advertising. The Angels in Your Home office on Lake Avenue—which is owned by David Wegman—does not even have a sign.
“People know who we are,” Altieri says. “There doesn’t need to be a sign on the building.”
He personally meets and gets to know every client in the organization, even though there are now 374 of them. He handles complaints himself, no matter how small. And he hires very selectively, especially for his small administrative staff.
“Your people are going to make you shine or they’re going to make you tank,” Altieri says. “We think we find the right people. There’s just a lot of people out there who have a real passion for this work.”
For all his success growing the organization, Altieri does not look the part of a hard-driven CEO.
He wears shorts to the office. Next to his desk is a full-size video arcade machine. He jokes it looks like a 10-year-old boy’s bedroom, with Superman everywhere and soccer posters on the walls. All that is missing is a bunk bed.
“I don’t take myself very seriously at all,” Altieri says, “but I take what I do very, very seriously. This is me. I meet my clients and they’re always taken aback. Gone are the days when I have to show up in suits, and so on and so forth. I’m not here to sell you anything. I’m here to help you, if I can.”
Jim Cobia, an independent psychotherapist who counsels brain injury patients in Monroe County, says he has been fascinated by Altieri since they first met early in Altieri’s career.
At the Center for Disability Rights, Altieri was promoted up through the ranks, including a few years as manager of traumatic brain injury services.
“I particularly wanted to know who he was,” Cobia says, “because it seemed to me that he had a constant interest in improving whatever it was that he was doing.”
Altieri went on to become director of development there, then left for a development and public relations position at ARC of Yates County before joining Angels in Your Home in 2011 as program director. Within months he was promoted to CEO.
Cobia says Altieri has transformed his clients’ perception of the agency.
“Now these guys are the go-to people,” Cobia says. “You got problems, you got issues, you got things that need to happen, these are the people you go to for services.”
Why? Because Altieri seems genuinely to care about the clients, Cobia says.
Recently, Altieri removed his own service coordinator from a brain injury client’s case because he felt the client was not getting the help he needed.
“He goes out and he re-rigs this whole thing for this guy without a profit motive, if you will, without any other motive other than we need to do the right thing for this guy,” Cobia says. “As somebody who’s worked in the human services business since 1980—and I have—that just doesn’t happen with administrators. It’s not something that anybody ever does. You don’t get rid of your own people. You don’t.”
Altieri switched that client’s services to a different part of his agency, Cobia says, and also used his connections to get him help from outside his agency.
Cobia says it is not unusual to see Altieri come out of his office to hug a client—or the rest of the office staff, for that matter.
Customer service comes naturally to Altieri, says John Hayes, president of Rochester-based GLC Business Services Inc.
Hayes hired Altieri as a teen for an after-school job at a copy center. They have stayed in touch since.
“I used to call him Marco the Magnificent,” Hayes says. “He’s just a very dependable guy. If something needs to be done, Marco is ready, willing and able.”
Even at a young age, Altieri had a gift for customer service, Hayes says.
“It’s something I think you either have or you don’t,” Hayes says. “It’s tough to learn good customer service, if you’re not humble enough to give it.”
Hayes says he is not at all surprised that Altieri has done so well at Angels in Your Home.
“Marco has that approach of, ‘I’m the guy responsible, I’m the guy in charge. I want you happy and satisfied. Let’s get working on whatever’s wrong to make it right,’” Hayes says. “I know a lot of smart people who don’t get that.”
Altieri grew up on the northwest side of Rochester, the third of four sons of an Italian immigrant. His father worked long hours in a factory so his boys could have the education he never had.
Altieri now has a son of his own, Cristiano, who is almost 4. There are so many pictures of Cristiano in his office that it looks as if he has several children.
“I love everything about this little boy,” Altieri says. “He brings me so much joy.”
Altieri put a car seat in the back of his Trans Am for Cristiano, who shares his love of hot rods and muscle cars.
He tries hard to make sure Cristiano feels comfortable around people who have disabilities, Altieri say. In his own life, it was not until that first job working with disabled people that he realized how much he took for granted in his own experience.
“Ultimately the thing that really grabbed me was, several of the people I worked with had been in institutions, nursing homes or these state schools,” Altieri says. “Listening to the stories—terrible, terrible experiences there—just, it turned me off to everything about those institutions. Knowing these people, my friends now, what they went through, we would do whatever possible to avoid someone else having that experience.”
He is proud of the fact that he personally has transitioned some 70 people out of nursing homes.
He hopes Angels in Your Home will serve even more clients and help them remain in their homes, where they have dignity and independence in spite of their disability, he says.
“I’d like to see the organization grow,” Altieri says, “as long as we’re providing the care we are now known to provide.”
Julie Kirkwood is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
Position: CEO, Angels in Your Home
Family: Wife, Jennifer; son, Cristiano, 3
Education: B.S. in political science and sociology, SUNY College at Brockport
Hobbies: Giving his son rides in his Trans Am; following Italian soccer; listening to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, U2 and Bon Jovi
Quote: “I don’t take myself very seriously at all … but I take what I do very, very seriously.”
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