Cheryl Brunetti is the daughter of a single mom who started a service station at which, in time, her son and daughter both worked. It was an experience that taught young Cheryl lifelong lessons. Brunetti is now the executive chairwoman of RVM Enterprises, Inc., an e-discovery provider that has long been in the business of document and forensic data collection, processing, hosting and review. Cheryl and her husband, Vinnie Brunetti, the company’s founder, have run the shop together since 2004. The thing she’s proudest of is also related to what’s hardest about her job. She loves the fact that the company now employs over 100 people and helps sustain their families. But sometimes the company has to ask them to sacrifice in ways that she knows taxes and stresses those same families. The interview has been edited for length and style.
MCC: Tell me about your first job working for Community Options. What kind of company was it, and was it a good place to learn the ropes?
Brunetti: Yeah, it was actually a nonprofit organization that assists people with developmental disabilities, but it was really run as a for-profit. Basically, the vision was that if the company wasn’t sustainable, whether it was profit or nonprofit, it wouldn’t be able to help the people that it was intended to help, so there was a great focus on making sure the right decisions were made for the business to be able to sustain itself. It really was a great opportunity for me to learn. The company grew basically seven times in revenue during my tenure there, so I gained a lot of experience during that time in being able to adapt to a growing business.
MCC: Things must have been going pretty well for you personally, because you moved from a job as controller, which is what you were doing for the first two years, into the job as chief financial officer. What were some of the lessons you learned that helped you move from the first job to the second?
Brunetti: I think the greatest lesson I learned was that in a small, growing company, you need to be agile. You need to be really proactive and stand out and really, when you’re presented with an opportunity, take it and run with it. Don’t wait for somebody to come over and ask you to do something. Let all management know that you have the drive and the desire, and that you want to succeed.
MCC: You talked about having the drive and letting people know, but you also seem to have a great deal of confidence that you can do the job, whatever that job is. Where do you get your confidence from?
Brunetti: From my mother. I was very fortunate to have a great mentor like my mom my whole life. Single mom, raising two children, essentially on her own. She always had it in my head all the time: “You can do whatever you want to do. The opportunity is there.” She was always boosting my confidence, even when I didn’t feel confident. It almost brings tears to my eyes that I was so fortunate – and am still to this day – to have such a strong role model.
MCC: You left Community Options around the time you and your husband decided to start a family.
Brunetti: Yeah, absolutely. As you can imagine with a growing company, I was working really long hours, traveling very often. You’re always a little nervous with the first one, and I just thought it was the right thing to do – not necessarily to not work, but to not work at the level that I was working at the time.
MCC: So, you started your own consultancy …
Brunetti: My oldest daughter’s going to be 16 in a few weeks, unfortunately. Then, I have a 14-year-old, soon to be 15, and an 11-year-old, so I did have my children kind of in a short period of time. My third one was while I was at RVM. I’ll never forget going into labor with my third child – the third one’s always pretty easy, after you’ve gone through it a few times – and being connected to the office immediately thereafter. And people were saying, “What are you doing calling me? Didn’t you just have the baby yesterday?”
MCC: And before then …
Brunetti: During the time I did some consulting work, it was a variety of things, including for my former employer, who had retained me on a regular basis to continue to do some of the things that I was doing before I had children.
MCC: Now, the move to RVM Enterprises. That was one that I’m guessing you and your husband spent a good deal of time thinking about and talking about before you decided to do it. You went to work for the company that he founded and where he was the CEO. Was this something that you two had been thinking about for some time?
Brunetti: Well, quite honestly, the company had a need for somebody with my skill set. The company needed somebody to really spearhead the growth, and a lot of the skills I had either experience with or had a desire to do and felt I was strong in. Vinnie and I both come from families of entrepreneurs. There wasn’t a great deal about exactly how each of our roles was going to be structured. It was kind of more about: “Look, there’s a gap here. Let’s see what we could do together.”
MCC: Was there any hesitation on the part of either one of you, as far as the possibility that this would put pressure on your marriage in a way that would be uncomfortable?
Brunetti: We always say to one another, “You really need to be focused on what’s best for the company.” Even though you may have different ways of getting somewhere, you’re on the same page when it comes to the goals.
MCC: Did things go smoothly from the very beginning, or was there some kind of learning curve to really get comfortable with this new operation for you?
Brunetti: Well, I think that as with anything, there was certainly a learning curve. I had not really been exposed to the industry specific to which RVM is in, so there was certainly a tremendous amount of industry knowledge that needed to be acquired. And, in fact, since the industry is changing on a daily basis, that never stops. But running a business you have the ability to acquire the experts. You’ve got to acquire people who are smarter than you in those particular areas.
MCC: What were some of the big challenges you faced at RVM as chief financial officer when you started that were new and different from your earlier experience working for the nonprofit?
Brunetti: Yeah, I think that goes back to the industry being very different. But also the revenue model being a little bit different as well. Litigation has its peaks and valleys, and the lack of predictability of revenue presents a challenge.
MCC: How did you and your company respond to that challenge? How did you find ways to smooth out those rough patches?
Brunetti: Well, I think a couple of things. First of all, getting a lot more visibility into the sales cycles and the pipelines. Also, a heavy focus on customer service. Making sure that the clients’ needs are met continuously and that they feel comfortable that we’re responsive to them. I mean, our client focus is our number one company priority, always. Also, keeping a tight pulse on the spend. You know, it’s kind of a balance of all those things and just really very carefully managing the growth. RVM isn’t backed by any pool of investors. It’s backed by me and my husband personally.
MCC: How has it grown over the years since you started there in 2004?
Brunetti: Geez, it’s about six to seven times since I’ve been here.
MCC: What challenges has that presented?
Brunetti: I honestly think the hardest part is hiring the right people and keeping the right people. In a small business, you not only need to have people that have a very well-rounded skill set. Not that they’re great at one thing, but they’re great at multiple things and also have the ability to be comfortable in a culture that has a lot of change.
MCC: How has your personal role at the company changed over the past 13 years?
Brunetti: When I started, my focus was on my hard skills. My accounting, my HR, my legal skills that I had gained in the past. But the reality is that when you’re running a business, you have to be adaptable, and wherever there’s a need, that’s where you need to be. You always have to keep your mind on the big picture, and that can be hard.
MCC: Is that the hardest part of your job?
Brunetti: That’s one of them. But I honestly think the most challenging thing for me is making decisions that impact people’s lives. Often there’s business demands in this industry that require your people to work around the clock. And things come up Friday night, you know, when everybody wants to head home for the weekend. You don’t want them to have to work from Friday night to Monday morning. You want to keep them happy, and you want to retain them. But at the same time, the work needs to get done. It presents challenges when the demand for our service can be so unpredictable.
MCC: What’s been your most rewarding accomplishment at RVM so far?
Brunetti: We are employing over 100 people and families that are being supported in some way as a result of the company’s efforts. I should really say our team’s efforts.
MCC: What can others take away from your story – especially other women?
Brunetti: The biggest challenge is managing family and work, whether it be your own business or being successful in another career. You just need to move to whatever needs you the most. But being there for your children at their special events, whether it be, in my case, a dance competition, or a graduation, or a back-to-school night or whatever, needs to always remain a priority. You can make up a meeting at work, but you can never make up that time with your child. Ever.
MCC: That’s a hard one, isn’t it?
Brunetti: It is. I always say, “Who needs me most?”
MCC: Turning back to your professional life, what remains to be done? What do you still hope to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
Brunetti: Well, you know, I’ve got to be honest. You’re never done. There’s always opportunities for improvement, developing efficiencies within your company. There’s always opportunities for growth, whether it be growth within your core services or perhaps synergistic opportunities, synergistic services. And how do they fit? Is it an opportunity for you to bring in another service line perhaps? Especially in a technology-related business, you’re never done.