By every measure of worldly success, Bob Scinto is a very successful man. He leads a commercial real estate corporation that has 52 buildings with 4.3 million square feet of office space occupied by financial institutions, corporate headquarters, medical centers and fashionable restaurants. And the centerpiece of his enterprise is a 65-acre campus on Corporate Drive in Shelton.
But Scinto uses a different standard to measure success. When he talks about his life, the discussion quickly turns to the importance of generosity, service, faith, gratitude, laughter and compassion. And without those components, he believes a man or woman can never truly be successful.
By those standards, Robert Daniel Scinto, the founder, CEO and Chairman of R.D. Scinto, Inc. is eminently successful. A lifelong Catholic, he has been active in the Diocese of Bridgeport for many years and is on the board of Foundations in Education. And he’s well known for his generosity.
On the desk of his Shelton office, there is a photo of two boys, Sebastian and Gabriel, whose family he befriended with his wife Barbara at 7:30 am Mass at St. James Church in Stratford.
Several years ago on his birthday, he received a letter from their mother, which says in part:
“Happy birthday, Mr. Scinto. Thank you for being such a wonderful part of our lives, for opening up your heart to my girls and my boys, for creating memories that we’ll never forget, like the trip to the city and then the Nutcracker ballet…. For letting us see the happiness you bring to so many others. Thank you for truly being the face of Jesus and for living the Gospel. You bring a true presence of Christ to us every Sunday. We truly thank God for you and the love you have shown to each of us.”
For Bob Scinto, concern for others is the purpose of life.
“It’s all about the kind of difference you can make in the lives of people who are less fortunate than you,” he says. “What can you do personally to help that one individual?”
The son of Daniel and Doxie Scinto, he was born into a working-class family on the West End of Bridgeport.
When he graduated from Andrew Warde High School, he was reading at the fourth-grade level because of dyslexia and a hearing impediment. He couldn’t read, so he went to work with his father, who was a plumber, and in many ways a practical philosopher who gave his son an education about the meaning of life.
Many of the lessons he learned about service and compassion, he learned during the five years he worked as a plumber in his father Daniel’s business for $93.50 a week, while attending night classes at Sacred Heart University, where he earned a degree in business administration.
Two of the greatest lessons his father taught him were to be generous and not to be prejudiced, he says. His father often told him about the time he was working in Tennessee and a black man wasn’t allowed to get on the bus that took them to the job site, so he had to walk five miles. Witnessing that racism left his father with a “pit in his stomach” that he never forgot.
When Bob was growing up on Hanover Street in Bridgeport, one of his friends in the neighborhood was an African American youth named Brother, whose family didn’t have money to pay for his membership in the YMCA, so Bob’s father did.
“My father was not perfect, but he taught me two very important things—not to be prejudiced and to be generous…My favorite quote from the Bible is “whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers, you did for me.’ I think about that all the time.”
Scinto also tells the story of going to Mrs. Monroe’s apartment on Steuben Street in Bridgeport to repair a clogged toilet. A common occurrence for a plumber, but it taught him a lesson he retained all his life.
“I still can see the image of the steps to the back door with no glass in the screen door. She had three beautiful little boys and they were crying and in their underpants because they couldn’t use the john,” he recalls. “So as I’m cleaning out the john, Mrs. Monroe was hanging onto my arm while the auger was going up and down, and she kept saying, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for sending me the plumber, thank you, Jesus, for sending me the plumber.’ And I realized that I was doing Jesus’ work there.”
That afternoon on Steuben Street planted a seed that nurtured his concept of service to others. “You could even be a plumber and still be doing Jesus’ work,” he said.
During those years with his father, he also took hundreds of photos with a single-lens reflex camera that he bought after being inspired by the book “The Family of Man,” a collection of 503 photos taken by Edward Steichen of people all over the world. To the photographer, they offered “a mirror of the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world.”
Even though Scinto couldn’t read, he was moved by the faces of ordinary people and began taking photos of individuals he met…and from them he learned a lesson about the importance of compassion for others and empathy, he says.
At this time, he got his start in real estate after doing a rehabilitation of a three-family house in Bridgeport—the first of more than 20 he did between 1971 and 1975.
In 1975, his new company R.D. Scinto built its first apartment house, a 22-unit structure on French Street in Bridgeport. The second, a 39-unit apartment house was completed in 1979. That same year, he began projects in Shelton, including a State National Bank building. Today, his company owns properties throughout Fairfield County and parts of New Haven County.
But there were serious challenges along the way, and when the market turned in the 1990s, he was confronted with $62 million in debt. He says he paid off every penny to the banks and contractors because he didn’t want to let them down.
“There are two things God doesn’t know,” he says. “What Jesuits are thinking and how I paid off that $62 million.”
There have been many milestones in his life, and one of the most meaningful is his 50-year marriage to Barbara. They celebrated their 50th anniversary on August 7 and have been blessed with four children and 12 grandchildren. All four children, Robert, Amy, Katherine and Dana work with him in R.D. Scinto.
He says there are two secrets to a loving and long marriage—laughter and tender concern.
“If you are not laughing, you are not having a good time,” he says with assurance. “The second is a practice I have. When I turn off the car, my thought is always the same thing—to ask my wife what kind of day she had, what kind of problems did she have? I know I have problems because you can’t run my business without problems. But my first thought is ‘Honey, how did you do today?’ And I always say ‘thank you’ for whatever she serves me for dinner and for breakfast.”
To celebrate their 50th anniversary, they had a quiet dinner at The Homestead Inn in Greenwich. Normally, they would go to Nantucket, but he forgot to reserve the dog sitter for their American Bulldogs, Tony and Mack, who are two prized members of the family.
For Bob Scinto, the secrets to success in business are as elementary as the secrets to success in marriage. He says his company is guided by the Golden Rule and a firm belief in never saying no to a tenant. He also makes it a habit to return every phone call and take time to meet with people who come to his office.
He was recently asked by a young African American man if he would mentor him, and he offered some basic advice about how to succeed in business—advice he regularly gives to others setting out in their careers or headed to college to study business administration.
He encourages them to read three books, which he gives them—“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey.
“Why do people do business with you personally?” he said. “It begins with because they like you.” And that basic wisdom comes from Dale Carnegie.
“In ‘The Road Less Traveled,’ the first sentence tells you everything—‘Life is difficult.’ It is a series of problems, and if you have the right difference, you can solve any problem,” he says.
Scinto has given out more than 60 sets of the books to people who come to see him, assuring them that they don’t need to read 100 different self-help books because they can get all the wisdom they require from these three. In addition, he encourages them to internalize a section from each book, and teach it to another person.
“Those books are the roadmap to success,” he says. “When I graduated from high school, I didn’t know the difference between a noun and a verb…. But during my life I learned things they don’t teach at Harvard.”
He also stresses the importance of education for young people to grow economically, which is why he is on the board of Foundations in Education, an independent non-profit initiative created to assist the Diocese of Bridgeport’s ongoing mission to support Catholic education by supporting innovation, fostering opportunities for the professional development, and providing tuition assistance to families in need.
“With a Catholic education, it doesn’t matter what color you are,” he said, “because we are there to teach you how to read and write.”
Their Catholic faith is fundamentally important to Bob and Barbara Scinto, who are members of St. Pius X Parish in Fairfield. He has high praise for the pastor, Father Samuel Kachuba, whom he describes as a “young and enthusiastic priest.”
“His sermons are good and the people are great,” he says. “They have a daily Mass, and my wife likes to go to Mass every day.” He often accompanies her and later they get coffee before he goes to work.
Over the years, he has made enduring friendships with people he has met in church, from St. James to St. Anthony of Padua, where he had great admiration for the late pastor Father John Baran, who he says “was in another league.”
He recalls getting to know a woman who worked at Stop & Shop and another who needed help paying her heating oil bill, which he did for 15 years until she died, because she didn’t have enough money for that and her medication.
“Those are the kinds of special relationships you make in church,” he says. “They are everyday people who work hard and go to church.” And Scinto places a premium on them.
Looking back on his life, he says, “I’m not an intellectual. I was a plumber. I dealt with people on the street. You know, I dealt with rooming house owners…. And I learned things that they don’t teach you at Harvard.”
When asked what the meaning of life is, he promptly responds: “It’s all about what kind of difference you can make in the lives of people who are less fortunate. It’s about what you can personally do for them.”