Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It was the mentor who made this salesman

Retiring clothier pins success on kind boss

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He's going.

But he's not leaving.

Sounds like a piece of Las Vegas stage magic but, after more than 50 years of dressing some of Winnipeg's most prominent and stylish men, haberdasher Vittorio Rossi is entitled to retire with a little trick up his cuff-linked sleeve. That's the way his success story started, though, like an old-fashioned fairy tale.

When he arrived from Europe in September 1960, just shy of his 18th birthday, his name was Vittorio Scarnecchia, not Rossi. His older brother, Nello, and sister, Erenia, were living in St. Boniface, and young Vittorio had come to stay with them, but not to stay.

Vittorio's original goal was to learn English and return home, but in the meantime, young Vittorio needed a job.

His brother-in-law, who was an orderly at St. Boniface Hospital, got young Vittorio his first job.

In the hospital laundry room..

But it was his big brother Nello who helped get him the job that would transport Vittorio to his career as a truck-driving delivery boy for Hanford Drewitt, the men's clothing store.

By day he drove all over the city delivering gentlemen's clothing and at night, he went to English classes.

By the time Vittorio was 21, he was working as a salesman. By 23, he was the top salesman. And by 24, he was the store's general manager.

He did that by doing what came naturally. While other salesmen stared in the mirror combing their hair, he worked. And as he worked, he used something else that came naturally.

Charm.

His wife, Judith, whom he met in 1975 when she was a ballerina, was captivated by what she calls his "European flair." Vittorio credits what he calls his manner -- that European flair -- to his upbringing.

"My mom taught me to show respect for people."

What I'll call his stylish respect has always come with the kind of big smile that still makes his eyes sparkle like the Pellegrino mineral water he prefers over lunch. Which is what we were having last week -- lunch over pasta and Pellegrino -- when he got into the other reason he succeeded so young and so fast.

He was given the gift of someone who treated him the way his mother had.

Like a son.

Hanford Drewitt partner Ralph Drewitt was the man who hired Vittorio when his last name was still Scarnecchia and he couldn't speak English.

Drewitt was the someone we all need when we're young; the someone who gave him a chance to succeed.

But Drewitt did more than that.

He recognized Vittorio's ability, nurtured it and, perhaps most importantly, believed in him.

"He taught me the fundamentals of our industry," Vittorio recalled.

"He saw something good. Not a day would go by when he didn't give me a slap on the ass and say, 'You're doing a good job.' "

Someone once said it's clothes that make the man. Ironically, Vittorio Rossi's own success story is less about how he dressed them than who helped him learn to do it.

But you probably still have some questions, as I did.

Why did Vittorio Scarnecchia change his name to Vittorio Rossi?

Because Rossi was his mother's maiden name and it was easier to spell over the phone and easier for customers to pronounce.

What's a man who has worked so hard all his life going to do when he officially retires on Jan. 31?

"I'm going to keep busy. I need to keep busy."

He'll brush up on his French and take some Italian cooking classes.

"I don't know how to cook."

And finally, that trick he has up his cuff-linked sleeve.

How does he get to go and not leave?

While Vittorio is retiring, he'll still be consulting with three men who will assume ownership of the store; longtime partner Frank Trunzo and relative newcomers Michael Manicotto and Manfred Lang.

Here's the real trick, though.

Vittorio Rossi is going but he's leaving his name behind on the store front and the business.

"It will keep going," says Trunzo.

And so will the kid who started as a truck driver with nothing but drive.

And someone who believed he would deliver.

If only more young people had someone like Ralph Drewitt in their lives today.

 

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2012 B1

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