The September 2012 Bulls Eye Feature: Anthony DiFabio

If you find the idea of the Robins’ Nest palpably intense CEO Anthony DiFabio with shoulder length hair a little counter-intuitive, join the crowd.

But the DiFabio locks were, apparently a reality—at least up until the day he completed his doctoral internship. In fact, DiFabio recalls with his seemingly ever-present self-deprecating sense of humor that he was given a t-shirt at the time which read “Too bad my hair isn't here to celebrate.”

A youthful-looking 40 (and with a modest amount of facial hair), DiFabio has been President and CEO of Robin’s Nest for the past five years.

The son of Antonio DiFabio, a small business owner who repairs industrial equipment and Alberta Montano DiFabio, a drug and alcohol therapist who works with sexual abuse victims, DiFabio was the fourth of five children.  He met his wife Alicia (aka “Dr. Mom”) at Loyola-Maryland where both were enrolled in the Doctor of Psychology program.

As DiFabio explains it, “my wife and I were best friends for five years before I finally asked her out on a date...not surprisingly we were engaged within six months and married within a year.

“As I recall, when I finally asked her out I said something like ‘Do you want to go on a date…and maybe get married?’ ”

Well, they’ve now been married for nine years and have four daughters—Carlie Burke, 17 and a student at Bankbridge Development Center (Alicia’s daughter by her first marriage); Sophia, 8, and a 3rd grader; Madelena, 6, and a 1st grader; and Ariella, 4, a preschooler.

Before getting his Doctor of Psychology from Loyola in 2002), DiFabio earned his Masters of Arts in Clinical Psychology in 1997 from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and his BA in Psychology from Vanderbilt, where he captained the soccer team, in 1994.

His first real job was as an outpatient therapist and consultant at a private practice that he opened with a partner in Northern New Jersey. While continuing to maintain his practice, he took on a position running a crisis program and moonlighting at a local Emergency Room Screening Center.

Career advancement opportunities “presented themselves very quickly” and culminated with an offer to work at Robins’ Nest. After a little over a year at Robins’ Nest, he was offered the CEO position and, as he glibly notes, “the rest is history...”

In addition to working as a forklift operator for a beer distributor, DiFabio put in summers and school vacations as both a dishwasher and busboy in local restaurants in his native North Jersey.

At Robin’s Nest, DiFabio manages an operating budget of approximately $14 million and a staff of 225.

Founded in 1968, Robins’ Nest is a private, nonprofit 501(C) (3), children's services organization accredited by the Council of Accreditation of Services for Families and Children and by Healthy Families America. The organization’s mission is protecting children, strengthening families, and empowering our communities through innovative, life-enhancing services.

One of New Jersey’s most successful children’s service agencies, Robins’ Nest provides more than 40 programs, maintains a fleet of 79 vehicles, and operates 13 properties across New Jersey’s southern seven counties.

The best part of his job, DiFabio says is that, “I thrive off of the interface between business and mission. My contention is that you need to develop mastery in both of these areas to be truly successful in business and fulfilled in life.”

His business philosophy is borrowed from author Jim Collins, who wrote “The vast majority of organizations never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good-and that is the main problem.”

For DiFabio, that means that “true success can only be obtained if you dare to not simply run with the pack and instead aspire to lead it.”

His personal motto is that “Life is too short, goes too fast, and is too uncertain for you to not do what you love and love what you do.”

And he measures success “by the sense of satisfaction you achieve in all of the areas of your life that you feel are important.”

As for a goal yet to be achieved, it would be to partner with the local universities to create a Center for Excellence that bridges the divide between research and practice.”

DiFabio’s toughest decision was “moving away from my family to come to South Jersey and his greatest fear is “not being able to protect my children.”

When asked about the dumbest thing he ever did, all he would admit to was that “without getting into the particulars, it involved alcohol, climbing a tree, and an ex-girlfriend.”

DiFabio’s first choice for a new career would be as President of a foundation and his most important lesson learned is that “anyone can look good during times of comfort, true leadership is best seen through our actions when times are tumultuous and uncertain.”

If DiFabio had a chance for a “do-over,” he would decline. “I don’t believe in do-overs,” he says. “No one is perfect and a properly executed mistake can be a great learning experience as long as you are willing to hold yourself accountable, learn, grow, and move on!”

He describes the event that created the most significant emotional reaction on his part in the past year this way. “Although Robins’ Nest has achieved many remarkable successes in the past year that elicited feelings of tremendous joy and satisfaction, my most emotional experience was without question when I had to sit down with 19 staff and inform them that the funding for their program had been cut and that as a result we were going to have to close down the program and eliminate their positions.”

“In business as in life we are often required to make difficult decisions. In this case, it was particularly upsetting in that the decision was made outside of the agency and had nothing to do with the performance of this remarkable team of individuals.”

If he could do one thing to change South Jersey, it would be develop “a more robust mass transit system.”

And, finally, his epitaph (as he would like it to be written): “Caring husband and loving father and family man who lived every moment life offered and helped make the lives of those around him better.”

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Pictured: Anthony DiFabio