Giacomo Falluca is the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board at Palermo’s Pizza, a successful, historic Wisconsin company.
I recently sat down with Giacomo for the first installment of Mercurious.
Giacomo was born and raised in Milwaukee. I was thrilled when he invited me to the international headquarters to make pizza together.
“The best part of making pizza is that it’s cathartic,” Giacomo told me.
“It’s part art, part science.”
He was right. It is literally getting your hands dirty and getting lost for a few minutes in the tomato sauce and toppings.
I asked him what is more important, the crust or the sauce. Giacomo looked at me like I was asking him to choose his favorite child, before eventually answering,
“They’re both important. The crust is harder to get right. It’s not an easy process and it doesn’t matter how good the sauce is if the crust it’s on isn’t great.”
On this chilly day, Giacomo’s pizza of choice was a traditional supreme pizza. I went with sausage, mushroom, green pepper and onion.
As we topped our pizzas, I asked how many pizzas he has in his freezer at home.
“Not many,” he told me.
“I eat a lot of pizza at work. I eat most of my frozen pizza here at Palermo’s. Every day there is pizza. Every hour of every day, there’s pizza here.”
We popped our pizza into the custom pizza oven that was built in Italy. 90 seconds later, they were done. Delicious, cheesy goodness.
We settled in for a chat about what makes one of Milwaukee’s most charismatic leaders tick. I had a bottled water that was, of course, wrapped in a slick Palermo’s wrapper.
After all, Giacomo is well regarded as a marketing genius. His drink of choice was a Diet Coke.
I was really interested in how much time the Chairman of the Board spend in the freezer section at local grocery stores.
“I’m in there all the time,” Giacomo told me.
“I look at the products, ‘Where are we? Why aren’t we in the front?’ The freezer section is very competitive. In some stores there might be 30 or 60 feet of pizza space. My job is to make sure that our pizza is so good that it sells. If it sells, we get the best space,” he tells me as he runs his hands through his thick, graying hair.
He prefers to eat his pizza with a fork telling me that he is a “neat eater.”
“I will eat it with my hands, but I like very little slices.” Most people cut a frozen pizza into eight triangles.
Giacomo prefers 16 smaller slices.
“I just don’t like to be messy,” he tells me.
As you would expect, he is passionate about pizza. As you would also expect, there a lot of other things that he is very passionate about.
He loves Milwaukee and feels a real sense of responsibility to take care of the Milwaukeeans that work for him. He knows that his company supports families.
He is also widely known as a philanthropist and the company is generous in the community.
“This is my hometown. I want to win. I want Milwaukee to win. That means being involved in the lives of people.”
As our interview progresses, I notice I’m eating all my pizza. Giacomo, not so much.
He confesses to me that he is trying to exercise more and eat less. That can’t be easy when you’re surrounded by pizza all day long.
It doesn’t slow me down from devouring almost an entire pie.
In setting up the interview, I communicated with Giacamo three different ways.
I broached the idea with him in person at a dinner party a few months ago. I followed up with a text. And then we worked out the details in a series of emails.
I ask him what his preferred method of communication is.
“I like personal communication. I like to talk to people on the phone or in person. There is less chance of things getting screwed up,” he tells me with a sigh.
“I’m not opposed to the use of technology. I use it constantly, but I prefer in person.”
Then he tells me an interesting fact about how he often starts his workday.
“I sometimes sit in my car right here in the Palermo’s lot and work. The reason is that I like to dictate my texts and emails and the Apple Car Play App is the most accurate. I’ll sometimes sit out there for 30 minutes. It’s quiet, it’s uninterrupted and I can just focus.”
I smile as I try to picture the office people seeing Giacomo conducting business in his car morning after morning.
Giacomo has more photos on his phone than anyone I have ever met. He takes pictures of everything. Cars. Buildings. People.
And probably, there are literally a thousand pictures of pizza.
The fun part when you hang out with Giacomo is that he has a picture to go with almost every story. And he is better at quickly finding those pictures than anyone I have ever been around.
I tell Giacomo that I like to occasionally print the pictures on my phone. I recently printed off about 300 pictures. He expresses some frustration.
“I want to print more pictures, but that means going to Walgreens or somewhere. How do I fit that in?”
It’s a legitimate question for a man who routinely goes to bed at Midnight and gets up before six.
The Palermo’s leader likes to golf and cook and travel. He is also a minority owner of the Bucks and rarely misses a home game.
One of his guilty pleasures is a nap on the couch on a Sunday afternoon.
He loves the Packers, but seems to feel even stronger about catching a nap as he cheers on the Green and Gold.
“What’s better than that?” he asks me rhetorically. “I watch some of the game, nap for 20 minutes, get up to grab a snack, then nap for 15 minutes.”
Those naps are rare quiet time for a guy who always seems to be traveling at 100 miles per hour.