The pandemic has taken a toll on the economy and the health of many of Wagner College’s Staten Island neighbors. Wagner alumnus, Michael Caridi’86 has had a front row seat to what Staten Islanders have been experiencing thanks to the many “hats” he wears. He is an entrepreneur, with activities in real estate, business management, and capital. As a philanthropist, he leads the Vincent Gruppuso Foundation, named for his father-in-law, to support children’s charities. Michael sits on the board of trustees of Northwell Health (including Staten Island University Hospital), Integration Charter Schools, and is trustee and treasurer of the St. George Theatre. All of his organizations have, in different ways, had to contend with the pandemic.
Education and Career
Michael’s strong work ethic and community engagement are a product of his early life on Staten Island. He worked full-time while at Wagner College graduating in 1986 with a business degree. Two of Wagner’s professors left their mark. One of his marketing professors who would tell real-world stories about the business he owned brought classwork to life. A challenging economic class made Michael realize that he had to work hard and find answers on his own. In gratitude, Michael is a generous donor to Wagner College and a member of its Inner Circle. It’s his way of paying it forward.
His career has been shaped by three (3) influential people. Michael’s father was very caring and instilled a civic responsibility in Michael, creating his drive to give back to the community. His father-in-law, Vincent Gruppuso, who founded Kozy Shack Pudding, taught him to think big and to take chances in business. The renowned Jack Welch’s (General Electric) management style has guided the value Michael has for smart, talented staff.
Managing through the Pandemic
As an active trustee of Northwell Health, Michael Caridi has been supporting frontline workers caring for New Yorkers. Northwell and its management learned lessons the hard way as New York City faced the brunt of the pandemic in the spring 2020. Michael gained an appreciation for frontline staff who balanced the risks they faced at work and how they sacrificed to keep their families safe. “Managing through the pandemic, I know an organization’s staff is one of its most valuable assets. We had to keep them safe and healthy,” said Michael.
Michael has been focused on bringing a customer service mindset to healthcare, combining top quality medical care and a more patient-centered experience focused on comfort and compassion. As part of Northwell Health, Staten Island University Hospital now has the resources to meet local needs. The pandemic accelerated changes at the hospital including upgraded rooms and safety protocols that will be in place for future health emergencies. Many of Wagner’s nursing and physician assistant graduates are working at SIUH and the Northwell citywide locations.
Wagner President Joel W. Martin met with Michael in March 2020, just days before New York shut down in response to the growing pandemic. Michael, like many at the time, thought it would only last a few weeks. Looking ahead, Michael hopes to grow the partnership between Wagner College health sciences and Northwell Health.
Impact on the Arts
The St. George Theatre was severely impacted by the pandemic. Michael was part of a group that orchestrated the revival of the Theatre and the arts on the north shore of Staten Island. In 2004, Mrs. Rosemary Cappozalo, owner of Miss Rosemary’s Dance Studio, and her daughters bought the theater and spent many years and thousands of dollars rehabilitating the landmark theatre. It was the lynchpin of an economic revival of the north shore of Staten Island which included new condominiums, restaurants and the Richmond County Ballpark where Wagner’s men’s baseball team holds its home games. The Theatre was thriving, and had its most profitable year before COVID-19, while hosting top performers such as Tony Bennett, Jerry Seinfeld, Liza Minnelli, Air Supply, and the Jonas Brothers. Wagner alums and comedians, Joel Richardson ‘02 and Richie Byrne ’85 also performed at the Theatre in 2019.
With all live performances cancelled, Michael and his board and management responded. The Theatre’s strong financial footing and its resourceful and talented staff enabled it to weather the storm. Financially, it secured federal emergency grants and loans while stepping up its fundraising efforts. It moved to online performances and pre-sold “forever tickets” for future performances. According to Michael, “It was important for us to keep the talented staff we had. We cut costs in order to keep the team intact.”
The annual Christmas Show, the Theatre’s most popular and profitable because it showcases local talent, was held online. As more people get vaccinated, Michael expects the Theatre to re-open in the early fall with small events. As a trustee of the St. George Theatre, Michael empathizes with Wagner’s Theatre faculty, students and alumni who have had to improvise to survive during the pandemic.
In his “spare time” Michael enjoys life with his wife Joanne and children Taylor and Brandon. Now that his businesses are established, he relies on trustworthy and talented staff to manage the daily operations. He and his wife are teaching their children the importance of giving back and balancing work, family and community involvement. “I make it a point to attend my children’s sporting events and school functions to show them what is important in life,” said Michael. “You need to have a work-life balance. The pandemic has taught us that.”