FACE TO FACE

Volvo chief got many lessons from sports

Tony Nicolosi
Title: Acting CEO, Volvo Cars of North America Age: 53 Graduated: West Chester University, Pennsylvania Career: Joined Volvo in April 1987 after 3 years as a CPA Family: Married to Linda; a daughter, 19, and 2 sons, 16 and 13 Home: Stony Point, N.Y. Born: Astoria, Queens; grew up in Fairlawn, N.J.
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Like a lot of top auto execs, Tony Nicolosi has a sports background and an appreciation for the leadership qualities that athletics can instill.

The Acting CEO of Volvo Cars of North America played college football. He was a strong safety at West Chester University near Philadelphia.

Nicolosi, 53, isn't the first ex-gridder to head Volvo in the United States. His former boss Mark LaNeve, Volvo's top U.S. executive from 1991 to 2001, was a linebacker at the University of Virginia.

Q: How do you start your day?

A: I hit the gym in my home. I have every piece of equipment -- it is about a 500-square-foot gym. I get to work at about 7:00. We work with Sweden, and they are six hours ahead.

What was your first job in the auto industry?

I started as a CPA, and my clients were car dealerships. I had spent 31/2 years as a CPA when a headhunter called. I liked cars, so I went to Volvo North America. I started in internal audit.

Back then, Volvo North America had cars, trucks and buses. When they took away the holding company, I went over to the car company as national car manager in 1990.

What did you do in that job?

Basically, all the financial -- looking at sales agreements and where you put dealers. It was network development.

What was your first big break?

Leaving headquarters and becoming responsible for the New Jersey market. We were the most successful market.

What do you do to relax?

Sports with my kids, shooting baskets in the driveway and playing football.

So you're still playing football?

I have lots of energy. My wife will say I have to sit still but I can't. I don't mind doing the laundry, I just have to keep moving. I have to have physical activity.

Where do you vacation?

Sanibel Island, Florida, off Fort Meyers. We have gone there every year for the past 22 years. We probably missed it once. We just love it.

What do you do there?

Relax. You can ride bikes and walk. The beach relaxes me. My life is so busy between work and running kids around that I love to go somewhere and do nothing. My biggest plan is what I'm going to eat or where to go for dinner.

Do you have a weakness?

I expect things too fast, although I am sensitive to people -- that's actually another weakness that I think is really a strength. I will take as much time as necessary to listen to people. When I was younger I would listen to people, but in my mind I wasn't listening to them at all. I would think, "Get out of my office." I learned that you can't do that. Take whatever time it takes.

What are you reading now?

I just finished a book by John Wooden on leadership. He was the legendary basketball coach at UCLA. I like reading leadership books, and usually it is sports.

What about business books?

My book shelves have every business book you can think of. I think I have read every how-to.

What are your favorite movies?

Field of Dreams, The Natural, and I love Gladiator.

Sports are really important to you.

I grew up playing sports, football in college, and I believe that gave me good leadership qualities. You have to work as a team for a common goal. We have to build pride and want to win.

Do you have an idol?

Wooden. He believed in team and that spiritual strength is important. Everyone has good qualities, and I can learn from everybody. Learning is infinite.

How about a pet peeve?

Laziness. You have to work hard to get something. I say that to my kids. If you have the talent and the skills, do not let them go to waste.

What are you addicted to?

Fitness. If I do not work out, I get mad.

You can reach Diana T. Kurylko at dkurylko@crain.com. -- Follow Diana on Twitter


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