Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Who's Who in West Virginia Business 2007 Winner: Jack
Arnett & Foster PLLC

Story by Beth Gorczyca Ryan
Email Bio

CHARLESTON -- Jack Rossi isn't the type of business leader to spend his off-time playing golf.
As the presiding member of Arnett & Foster PLLC and chairman of the board of directors of the Charleston Area Alliance, as well as belonging to several other volunteer organizations, Rossi simply doesn't have the time.

And even if Rossi did have free time, he said he would prefer to be working to make West Virginia better than hanging out on the links trying to improve his handicap.

"I do it because West Virginia and the people in West Virginia have been really good to me," Rossi said from his office in Charleston. "If we can create jobs, if we can make West Virginia better, then everyone benefits."

That simple goal of making West Virginia a better state that can attract new residents and keep natives here sets the pace on everything Rossi does at Arnett & Foster and at the different groups he belongs to. And it's the reason he was selected as one of The State Journal's Who's Who in West Virginia Business for 2007.

"I'm just really flattered," he said of receiving the award. "I didn't expect it at all."

Rossi said he decided to go into accounting when he was a boy in Coalton, a small town in Randolph County. One of his neighbors owned the local general store, and every so often an accountant would come in and do work for the storeowner. Rossi would watch the accountant and got interested in the numbers side of business. Soon, the young man became the general store owner's bookkeeper. And he quickly fell in love with it.

"Every day is new," Rossi said, adding, "You deal with people. You can help people meet their needs."

Over the years, Rossi said he's seen the accounting industry change a lot. The industry has moved from a completely paper-dominated field to having everything done on computers. As a result, instead of having to dig through boxes full of paper containing a client's information, all Rossi now has to do is click his computer mouse a few times. And in the blink of an eye, the documents and data Rossi is searching for pop up on the two large, flat-screened monitors sitting side by side on his desk.

But the technology upgrades aren't the only way the accounting business has changed, Rossi said. Nowadays, accounting firms are under more scrutiny than ever due to the bank failures of the 1980s and 1990s, new emphasis on national security since the Sept. 11 attacks and the flurry of ethical and financial scandals at corporations such as Enron, MCI and Tyco within the past few years.

"The Enron debacle subjected accountants to additional regulations," he said.

These days, Rossi's job at Arnett & Foster focuses on working with financial institutions and manufacturers. One of his clients is Champion Industries, which is based in Huntington. Champion CEO Marshall Reynolds said he's known Rossi for between 20 and 25 years and said Rossi has a "pristine reputation and impeccable character."

The two haven't always agreed about everything, but Reynolds said Rossi has always been correct and methodical.

"He's bright and sharp, but he can be hard-headed as well," Reynolds said from his Huntington office.

Rossi said a lot of the success he enjoys now can be linked to his childhood. His father was an Italian immigrant and coal miner, who tried to instill in his 14 children the importance of working hard, helping their community and helping each other.

Rossi said his father would wake up his 14 children every day before sunrise and kept them busy until they collapsed in bed at night. By the time Rossi was 12, he was working for the neighbor who owned Coalton's general store. Rossi said his job responsibilities included planting potatoes and tending the garden. His salary was $1.

"We were taught you needed to step up to the plate," Rossi said. "Because, coming from a family with 14 children, if you didn't step up, you didn't eat."

In addition to demanding that his children helped out around the house, Rossi's father also was determined that his children, 10 of whom are still living, would all get a good education. College was a must, and for Rossi his dream college was West Virginia University.

"I grew up listening to Jerry West playing basketball," he said. "Morgantown might as well have been a million miles away from Coalton at that time. David & Elkins College was a lot closer, but I wanted to go to WVU."

But before moving to Morgantown, Rossi took classes at Potomac State College of West Virginia University in Keyser. It had smaller classes and gave Rossi a chance to adjust to college life. After a few semesters, Rossi transferred to the main campus. He loved being at WVU, but living there was a lot different than living at home. After all, some of his classes had more students than the population of Coalton.

"It was really eye-opening," he said. "But it was a great experience, and WVU was great for me."
One day, Rossi was getting ready to go into class when he saw another student on crutches walking down the hall. Rossi walked up to the other student to offer him some help. The student on crutches introduced himself to Rossi.

"He said, 'My name is Joe.' But I knew that. He was a football player and had been injured," Rossi said. "I told him my name was Jack. And we just started talking."

The injured football player's last name was Manchin. The conversation they had that day started a friendship between the two men that lasts to this day, through Joe Manchin's varied career as a salesman, business owner, state senator, secretary of state and now governor. In fact, Rossi is the treasurer for Manchin's re-election campaign.

After graduating from WVU, Rossi went into the military and spent some time overseas. When he returned to the states, he and his wife, Joy, whom he met in high school, moved to North Carolina. There he worked for a major accounting firm. But his heart was still in West Virginia.

"Every weekend we came back," he said.

So in 1974, Rossi and his wife moved back home. And they stayed.

"I have no desire to ever leave West Virginia. I don't want to retire and move away," he said.

Matthew Ballard, executive director of the Charleston Area Alliance, nominated Rossi for the Who's Who award. He said Rossi's commitment to the state and community is extraordinary. He said Rossi is completely willing to dedicate as much time as necessary to help groups and organizations thrive and succeed. He said Rossi was key in helping the Alliance form a few years ago and worked tirelessly to help the organization buy the CASCI building in downtown Charleston earlier this year.

"Someone who signs up to volunteer with an organization doesn't anticipate spending days, weeks or months working on a project like that," Ballard said. "But Jack did it willingly. He's the epitome of what a great board member and volunteer should be. When you think of Who's Who in West Virginia Business, he is on the short list. It sounds very cheesy, but it's the truth."

Rossi's volunteer work isn't limited to the Kanawha Valley, however. An avid supporter of WVU, Rossi also sits on the board of directors for the WVU Alumni Association. His love for the school is easily evident in his Charleston office, which is decorated with cutouts of football coach Rich Rodriguez and former basketball coach John Beilein. When Beilein left WVU at the end of the 2006-07 season, a cutout of new coach Bob Huggins' face was taped over Beilein's.

His office also has an old helmet worn by a member of WVU's marching band. Last year, he sent the band money for new uniforms and received the helmet, as well as a note from one of the band's members, as a thank-you gift.

"The note was very nice. It meant a lot to me," he said.

But Rossi said none of his success would be possible if not for the team of people who help him every day. The team includes his wife of 40 years, his co-workers at Arnett & Foster, other members of boards that he serves on and his friends.

"I personally can't do it alone," he said. "I've been lucky to surround myself with a great team."


At 11:04 AM, Blogger Earl D. Smith said...

Jack is very deserving of any and all accolades of achievement. I met Jack a few years ago at a social in Charleston. He makes a great and lasting first impression as a person and as one who is deeply committed to the betterment of mankind.
To Jack, I say ATTABOY!!
Earl D. Smith, ED, Mountain-heart aka The Earl of Oceana


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