By Dirk Perrefort The News-Times, Danbury, Conn.
For MaryJean Rebeiro, growing up in a house with several brothers taught her to be assertive and make her presence known.
"If I wanted people to listen to me as a kid, I really had to speak up," she said.
Today, she's flourishing in a male-dominated industry and receiving accolades for her achievements.
Rebeiro was a young entrepreneur when she completed her business degree at Western Connecticut State University and began her own electrical company.
With just a few employees and a small office, Rebeiro began to make her mark in the industry when she opened NY-CONN Corp. More than 25 years later, the company employs more than 70 people, both men and women, who work on residential and large-scale commercial projects throughout Connecticut and New York state, including work at Fairfield University and the Bridgeport Correctional Center.
As a young girl, Rebeiro and her brothers would often help out their father, Tony Rizzo, an electrician and also a successful entrepreneur in the region, on the job.
"I don't like to admit it, but I guess I was always a little bit of a tomboy growing up," Rebeiro said. "If we weren't in school, we were at work with my father helping out. That's just what we knew as kids. It was our livelihood."
In 1989, after being one of the first members of her family to graduate college with a bachelor's degree in business administration, she decided to return to her roots and start an electrical firm.
"In the early years, I really didn't get a lot of respect," Rebeiro said. "It's a male-dominated industry and there weren't a lot of women working in the trades at time."
Next month, Rebeiro will be honored by the Western Connecticut State University Foundation for her achievements and her many contributions to the community. Rebeiro serves in a number of roles with area organizations, including the foundation, where she serves as a board member, as well as with the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce's Women's Business Council.
"I am very proud to be a part of the school that gave me an excellent education," Rebeiro said. "I obtained the stepping stones needed to navigate in the business world from my professors at the Ancell School of Business. I often catch myself quoting one of my professors, and it is then that I realize what a strong foundation I was given and the impact my teachers had on me then and now."
Eugene Buccini, one of Rebeiro's former professors with the university, said it's Rebeiro's ability to listen to others and to look at challenges as opportunities rather than roadblocks that have helped to make her so successful.
"She really has a tremendous amount of resilience and perseverance," Buccini said. "Instead of looking at a setback as something negative, she sees it as another mountain she gets to climb."
That was apparent, he said, during the most recent recession when construction work dried up in the region. Rather than put many of her workers on the unemployment rolls, Rebeiro said she decided to expand into New York state to find other opportunities.
"We saw the writing on the wall when all the bids started to dry up," she said. "We had to do something. Our employees are people with families of their own."
Among the projects the company completed in New York is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. It is also working on renovations at West Point's Keller Hospital.
Rebeiro's brother, Ross Rizzo, joined the company in 1995 and serves as the company's vice president.
"We complement each other very well," Rebeiro said. "He's strong in the areas that I'm weak and I'm strong in the areas that he's weak. It's a good working relationship."
Fran Pastore, CEO of the Women's Business Development Council based in Stamford, said Rebeiro is one of a growing number of female entrepreneurs entering nontraditional fields.
"We need more women like MaryJean who are bucking the societal trends and putting women on the map," Pastore said. "We are seeing more and more women taking the lead and getting into fields that have been traditionally male-dominated. MaryJean and other women like her are setting the example for generations to come."
Nowhere is that more apparent than in Rebeiro's own family. Her daughter, Stephanie Rebeiro, joined NY-CONN about five years ago after graduating from college.
"Having a working mother growing up had a really positive impact on me," she said. "I had a lot of friends in school whose mothers didn't work, but for us that was just our reality. Mom showed me that a woman can balance both home and work life and still be successful."
Rebeiro will be awarded the WCSU Foundation's Community Service Award during a luncheon on April 7 at the Ethan Allen Hotel.