For VP Joe Pusateri, being true to self has been a rewarding journey
CHEVY CHASE, Md., June 11, 2020 – You may not know his name, but you know the work he and his team create.
As vice president of marketing, Joe Pusateri oversees the multi-billion dollar effort to keep GEICO as one of the world's most recognized brands. That's pretty impressive for a kid from Cleveland who took a financial analyst job at GEICO 17 years ago only to tide him over until something else came along.
"Like many other long-term GEICO associates, I thought I'd only stay for a few years and then try something different" Pusateri said. "The non-profit where I was working wasn't doing well, and I needed a job quickly, but I soon knew that GEICO was a special place."
Joe's knack for numbers and data made him a standout. His ascension up the ranks surprised no one who knows his work ethic; the fact that he's excelled as an openly gay man may surprise some, but it inspires many more.
"Early on, I focused on the work, and I did keep my personal life separate, which wasn't ideal, but I didn't have the confidence then or see others like me who were out," he said.
Finding his Truth
Pusateri's parents came to the U.S. from Sicily in the 1960s in search of the American Dream. They worked hard, raised their three children with strong Roman Catholic values and believed in the kind of tight bonds that are common among Italian families.
Though Joe says he knew he was gay from as far back as he can remember, he struggled to accept it early on. It wasn't until he left for college that he started to be true to himself and others.
"At Penn State, I met people who would become some of my closest friends, and one-by-one, I got the confidence to come out to them," he said. "With each supportive acceptance, I got the confidence to come out to my family, one-by-one, after I graduated from college."
Coming out in the professional world was another hurdle. For years, he avoided the kind of casual office talk that could inadvertently out him. That changed almost eight years ago after then-President and COO Bill Roberts asked Joe, who was a rising marketing senior manager at the time, about his weekend plans. (Roberts would eventually become president and CEO and now serves as GEICO's vice chairman.)
"I made the conscious decision to be truthful, and I shared with Bill that I was going to Detroit to visit my partner's family," Pusateri recalled. "Bill then spent the next 10-15 minutes asking about my partner, his family and our plans for the weekend. He made me feel comfortable that I could be open about my personal life. From that point forward, I slowly became more comfortable being open at work."
His GEICO family has never given him a reason to regret that decision; in fact, it's been just the opposite.
"As I started coming out to others, I was overwhelmed with the positive show of support from so many around the company; for me, that even more solidified how terrific the people are here at GEICO."
Last November, just before Joe and his partner, Jim, tied the knot, Joe's marketing team surprised the couple with a wedding shower. In Jim, he's found someone who makes him a better person and helps provide balance in a hectic world.
"In my wedding vows to Jim, I started off by saying I'm not sure how I got this lucky to have met him," Pusateri said.
Now, with the kind of marital bliss he never could've imagined during his formative years, a family that loves him (and his husband) unconditionally and a job he loves leading a 142-associate team he calls the best marketers in the world, Joe personifies all the good that living authentically can reap.
Leading by Example
Joe knows his positive outcomes are still all too rare for many in the LGBTQ+ community, who continue to face bias, violence and fear of rejection. Openly gay corporate leaders don't come a dime a dozen. Joe is aware of this, so he doesn't shy away from the title "role model;" he embraces it.
"I do feel a sense of responsibility to try and make the path smoother for those struggling with coming out," Pusateri said. "I have a Pride flag I keep visible outside my office door to let everyone know GEICO is an environment where they can be comfortable and excel being their true selves. During Pride Month, I wear a rainbow armband to show LGBTQ+ visibility because it's a dimension of diversity that still isn't that visible. And I'm proud to serve on GEICO's Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Panel and work alongside the other members to further our culture of inclusion."
Joe doesn't want other LGBTQ+ associates to experience the fear of being judged or overlooked for simply being who they are. He's walked that path and hopes his experience shows others that they don't have to.
"GEICO is a stable and fast-growing company with so much opportunity," he said. "Work hard, take on new challenges, but, most importantly, don't be afraid to be your true self. So much energy goes into compartmentalizing life, energy that can be used to invest in yourself and your career."
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