Can The Celebrity CEO Feroce Fix RI?

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Picture a candidate with high level military experience.
 
That same candidate ran one of Rhode Island’s biggest corporate success stories of the last 25 years. Meanwhile, this person also has political experience. He served in the RI state legislature.
 
On the surface, could there be a more impressive resume?
 
Yet this person is Giovanni Feroce, the colorful former CEO of Alex And Ani. Feroce boasts a wild success story at Alex And Ani. But he’s got baggage to carry.

Are His Shoulders Broad Enough?

A Republican, Feroce’s plans contain the kind of red meat ideas that should excite GOP voters. He plans to run for Governor on an anti-tax platform.
 
Do you hate paying income taxes? He wants to end them.
 
Should Rhode Island have the lowest corporate taxes in the nation? Feroce believes it should.
 
Feroce also wants to end inventory taxes.
 
There will be spending cuts as well.
 
“Everything is on the table. When you’re restructuring something, everything is on the table,” said Feroce. “So what I would do, let’s just say from a visual standpoint, what i would do, let’s say we create two rooms. And I say for now, we’re going to stay in this room. Now one at a time, I’m going to take some of you in another room. And it’s going to be based on need, and affordability,” said Feroce over a chat over coffee at a Dunkin Donuts in Pawtucket.
 
“And I’m going to say you. Come over. You’re coming with me. We’re going to need you. You go in that room. You go in that room. You go in that room. How much do we have left in the budget? OK, I have three people I can pick from. Ok, you, you, and you stay in this room. And the rest of you? You stay in this room. You’re not coming for the ride.
 
Folks in the media, like freelancer Phil Eil or the Providence Journal’s Amanda Milkovits, aren’t fans.
 

An Anti Tax Crusader?

That sounds a lot like zero-based budgeting. That’s a method of budgeting that forces managers to account for every single expense. That’s popular in business. It’s harder to do in government. 
 
Feroce also will rely on economic expansion to offset his planned revenue cuts.
 
“Everybody goes and plans with the resources they have. I have faith in myself, and in my planning, that I will get more resources.”
 
Feroce doesn’t support building a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox.
 
His main criticism of Governor Gina Raimondo is that she relies on corporate welfare. Without it, we’d have no economic development, he points out.
 
“When I joined Alex And Ani, I wanted to prove that we could provide economic development without state aid. And we proved that,” said Feroce.
 
If he could do it as Alex And Ani CEO, than other companies should also be able to create jobs in Rhode Island.
 
Feroce also has a penchant for using Military analogies to explain his thinking. He talks of battlefields and wars and logistics.
 
It makes sense. He is a retired Army Major and a veteran of the Iraq War.
 
This is music to the ears of a Republican electorate. But then again, baggage.

He Was A King

Yet this candidate is a larger than life figure.
 
He’s had impressive business successes at Alex and Ani. The company had $2 million in sales 2009. When he left, in 2014 it was approaching $400 million.
 
Job creation? When Feroce started at Alex and Ani, the company had 23 employees. When he departed, it had about 1,100 workers.
  
But while Feroce has tasted the sweet nectar of success, he’s also tasted the sour aftertaste of failure. He pumped millions into Benrus. A WW2 era clothing line, he hoped to transform into a lifestyle brand. Feroce wanted to open stores across the country.
 
He also bought a semi professional basketball team called The Providence Skychiefs. The team lasted less than two seasons.

Sweet Nectar of Success

Feroce, at the height of his successes, was living in a Newport Mansion that was worth several million dollars. He drove around in BMW’s that retail for about $135,000. When he didn’t feel like sitting in traffic, he would fly around in helicopters. He even produced a cool rock video with Nuno Bettencourt from the rock band Extreme.
 
Should Feroce’s financial woes preclude him from running? Milkovits thinks so.
 
He was a king in Rhode Island. At Benrus, he advertised with professional sports teams like The Boston Celtics and Buffalo Bills.
 
All that came crashing down with the troubles at Benrus. The revenue was never near the expenses. That’s a recipe for failure.
 
A charitable way to describe Feroce is to say he’s confident. A less charitable way would be to say he’s got Trump-like arrogance. But is Trump-like arrogance a liability, or an asset in an age where the man is President of the United States?
 
Feroce recently posted a photo of himself and a friend in Vegas on Facebook.

 
Personality aside, Feroce’s critics believe that he was lucky at Alex And Ani. Then he got to thinking he was good. Disaster ensued.
 
“Feroce presided over a fad, and he took to thinking that (the success) was him,” said Nick Cicchitelli, a Rhode Island political operative who follows politics closely.
 
“Not even out of context, he described himself as ‘the most experienced person you will ever meet’, and with all his experience, he managed to hang onto his wealth for about 15 months.”
 
Cicchitelli stressed that he thinks Feroce is a gentleman. He likes him. He wishes him the best.
 
Feroce acknowledges his failures.
 
“Do those failures make me a more or less experienced candidate?” Feroce asked rhetorically.
 

Will That Putrid RI Gene Doom Feroce?

Matt Allen, a talk show host from 630 WPRO, has infamously mused about what he calls “That Putrid Rhode Island Gene”.
 
Basically, it’s a cynical attitude that embodies pessimism and a lack of faith in oneself to improve. That lack of faith leaves most Rhode Islanders mired in mediocrity. That’s because they never develop the courage to try and achieve anything.
 
When that Putrid Rhode Island Gene infects someone, they don’t want to see others succeed. It reminds them of their perceived mediocrity and cowardice. If you don’t try, you cannot fail. But those sentiments cause resentment when others achieve great success.
 
Therefore, when someone who did achieve great things (like Feroce) falls from grace, it causes a sense of schadenfreude (pleasure derived from another’s pain).
 
Feroce undeniably has some level of support out there. Is it high enough to win a GOP Primary.
Why would someone with the Putrid Rhode Island Gene want to escalate Feroce? Why would they vault him back to greatness?
 
The question is, how many people feel that way?
 
Without doubt, Feroce has his critics. But then there are his supporters too. Whenever he posts anything on social media, gets scores of supportive comments.
 
Feroce, for his part, embraces the title of The Celebrity CEO.
 
“Why do you think I’m asked to be on a panel in Silicon Valley. Why am I on a tv show with Naomi Campbell? Or why do you think I’m at…the Grammy’s?
 
He’s dismissive of Providence Journal Reporter Amanda Milkovits. Feroce saw her article as a hit piece.
 
“She doesn’t appreciate that someone can actually do it. And that’s a sad statement. We have to understand that you can do anything you set your mind to,” he said.

 

Giovanni Feroce
Feroce is prolific on social media. He hasn’t shied away from statements considered controversial.
 
“I know what I’m writing…the beauty is that…I love when they repeat my messages. Because I know it’s hitting the real, everyday Rhode Islander. And that everyday Rhode Islander is joining my team. Because people think like I do,” said Feroce. “They just do. I’m a normal guy.”
 
“My experiences, good or bad, make me, I think, the most experienced person to run for this office.”
Russell Moore
Russell J. Moore is the publisher and founder of rirelevant.com. He’s been writing about Rhode Island since 2005. You should definitely follow him on twitter @russmoore713. If you want to send him email, you can send it to russmoore713@gmail.com
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