Thursday, May 15, 2008
From Wall Street to Byhalia
By SUE WATSON
John LoPreto of Byhalia believes he is a lucky man to be living in the South after living a riches to rags life in the world of big finances.
It was a bankruptcy in which he lost his house, his car, and all his savings, and a mysterious piece of mail in his mailbox afterward that brought him to Mississippi.
Born a Yankee in Brooklyn, N.Y., LoPreto landed his first job on Wall Street after college with Domino Sugar offices at 120 Wall Street where he started out as a statistical clerk before technology changed the business world.
After eight years with Domino, LoPreto took a job with Hess Oil.
“Hess was the fourth largest oil company in the United States and he owned the New York Jets,” LoPreto said.
It was at Hess Oil that LoPreto got is first understanding about business.
“He’s the guy who came into my office and asked ‘what does it do for me?’ ” LoPreto said. “The light bulb went off. I learned technology is not for technology; it’s about the business.”
LoPreto was promoted to management and spent four months in England building a data center for Amerada Hess of the U.K., Ltd.
After returning to the States he built the computer help desk system at Hess, working about seven years there.
The next two years, LoPreto worked as a consultant for Educational Testing Services building a data system that provided quick recruiting information to colleges.
Then he joined Merrill Lynch the day of the stock market slump - Monday, October 19, 1987.
“By Tuesday, my staff of 31 was down to 11 and I was surprised they kept me,” LoPreto said.
At Merrill Lynch, he provided IT services to the chief market technical analyst. There he rebuilt the domestic and international database of securities (stocks).
LoPreto was recruited by Bessemer Group, a company for overseeing the installation of new accounts for wealthy people who have money to invest. He served as vice president of technology.
Then the chief information officer he worked with at Bessemer moved to AIG and brought LoPreto along with him.
“I was back on Wall Street as divisional vice-president handling Workers Compensation,” he said, “with 105 employees under me and a $26 million annual budget for my department. We were building a new worker compensation for all the AIG companies - a $3 billion a year line of business just in worker compensation premiums.”
LoPreto was living in Princeton, N.J., with a two-hour morning and two-hour evening commute back and forth to Wall Street.
“An interesting time,” he said. “You ride the same train with the same people every morning and talk to the same people.
“I met an investment banker who was working with an unhappy man who owned an insurance company in North Carolina. So he invited me to go down to work as chief information officer. It was there where I came back to Christ.”
LoPreto said he was hired basically to fire a lot of people and everyone knew why he was there.
“I was supposed to fire this guy, Jim (last name witheld for privacy), in IT, if I didn’t like him,” he said. “He looked at me and said, ‘I understand why you are here. I want you to know I have five children and I would appreciate it if you would give me as much notice as possible. But, by the way, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?’ ”
“Understand, in New York, it’s an antiseptic environment. You don’t talk about God, politics or sex. That’s just a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
LoPreto was raised in the Dutch Reform Church.
“I always felt a connection to the Lord, but it was never an integrated part of my life,” he said. “Church wasn’t about God, it was where you sat, what you wore and what you drove.”
LoPreto was impressed by Jim’s devotion.
“We started an hour early every morning and he would just preach to me all about the Bible,” LoPreto said of the man he was expected to fire.
“I also found out he was very good at his job. The president of the company turned out to be the problem and was using Jim as the fall guy. This went on for six months.”
The ray of light touched LoPreto as he was driving his Mercedes with the sunroof open soon thereafter.
“The finger of God landed on my shoulder,” he said of the light episode. “I just felt with that sunlight on me, it was time to go to church.”
Jim served as a deacon and a Sunday school teacher and was waiting on LoPreto at the door of the church. LoPreto arrived with his wife and daughter.
The youth minister gave the sermon that Sunday on the question - Do you believe and what do you believe?
“You understand, my wife Trudi was Jewish and her background in Judaism was less than mine in the Dutch Reform Church. I had the hardest time keeping her from jumping out of her seat, she was so moved. So, I asked for the pastor to come to the house.”
Jim, the pastor, LoPreto, Trudi and daughter Nancy had a head-on collision with Jesus at the LoPreto home.
“At the end of it, we just accepted it,” he said. “There was a strange light in the house and it was like a chill going through my body. The room lit up.
“The minister said, ‘I am retiring next month. You are my final gift from God.’ He preached that Sunday on the Prodigal Son. We went up and I said, ‘I am the Prodigal Son.’ My wife, daughter and I were baptized together in the baptistry as a family. It was the third baptism for me. I was sprinkled as an infant and again at confirmation.”
The total body immersion took place at Grove Park Baptist Church in Burlington, North Carolina. Jim gave LoPreto his Sunday school class to teach.
Then the world came crashing down on the LoPreto family.
“Unfortunately, the next six months my daughter was in three wrecks, two of them critical, my wife had medical problems and I started having chest pains.”
LoPreto decided his chest pains were caused by the new company president wanting him to lie and cheat on contracts.
“I lost my job because I refused to do it,” he said. “Here I go from boo-koo bucks, and a big house to nothing.”
The LoPretos debated if the sudden series of coincidences were the devil striking back or a test of faith from God.
“Money, power and prestige were my gods before that,” he said. “These were God’s problems. He came into my life when I was going to need Him.”
The LoPretos lived on savings for the next year and a half as they watched everything being taken away.
“Anything I thought was mine, was taken away,” he said.
He found a job in Michigan as a manager of IT at a credit union company. But that job went away when the credit union was bought out by a big Canadian conglomerate.
“So, I was unemployed again after three years,” LoPreto said. “They (the Canadians) dumped the American management team.”
LoPreto fell back on old contacts he made along the way and invested his savings with Genesis Information Software Technology. Then in 1993, when the .com bubble burst, LoPreto and his partners lost their financial backing.
“I lost my company, my house, my car and my savings,” he said. “I was at bottom again. I managed to stay afloat for a couple of years but I knew the end was coming. God was not there in the North where it’s who you work for, what your title is, and all these materially driven things.”
“We prayed for God to guide us,” he said.
The next day an unsolicited brochure arrived in the mail, ostensibly out of nowhere. There was no return address. Printed across the face of the brochure were the words, ‘Come to Mississippi.’
“So, we did,” LoPreto said. “I did some research and praying and visited the area. We met some people in Walls who we had been on a cruise with and we shared another vacation. We decided, yes, this is where God is leading us and ended up in Byhalia.”
The LoPretos visited First Baptist Church in Byhalia.
“The sermon the first day was the Prodigal Son, being preached from the angle of the ‘good’ son who stayed home. They needed a Sunday school teacher.”
On December 23, 2005, the LoPreto family started over totally in Byhalia.
His wife, who had worked for a state senator and part-time for Bristol Myers but spent most of her time raising their daughter, found a job listed in the Pigeon Roost News.
“She found she could do something and enjoyed doing it,” LoPreto said.
He started a business on June 29, after giving himself until June 30 to find a job, by studying and becoming certified with The Institute for Independent Business.
The Institute lets its accredited associates use its data base to help small and mid-sized businesses - those with from one to 40 employees.
He works on-site with the company that needs business solutions.
“I become the coach, the trusted advisor, and the de facto board of directors, to help them with the business part of the business to help the bottom line,” LoPreto said.
He said typical small businesses have a good product but never enough time or money for planning.
“Any business in America was started as a small business,” he said. “Structure, organization and planning can make a difference, if you have the right product.”
He helps with the business plan, the budget and with regular reviews of how the plan is working.
LoPreto’s company is Solomon Strategic Advisors. He said he shares his testimony with his clients in a climate - the South - where businesses can do business the Christian way.
“When I pray, I remember what Jim taught me: ‘Don’t tell God what to do for you; ask what He wants you to do.’ It’s made a huge difference in my life. I am so much happier. I have less but enjoy life more.”
Jim continued his employment in North Carolina with the insurance company and is now retired.
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