The Great Gaspari
Rich Gaspari may have the muscles, but it’s wife Liz Gaspari’s drive to succeed that has helped power the brand to all the corners of the world.
By Jill Schildhouse
Her resume headline would read something like this: “Bulldog in the boardroom uses her brains and beauty to transform the face of business on a global scale.” Except, she’s already got her dream job serving as vice president and international sales director of Gaspari Nutrition.
In fact, Liz Gaspari — wife of former Mr. Universe, Mr. America and Professional Mr. World Rich the “Dragon Slayer” Gaspari — proudly admits to a constant and insatiable drive to succeed that stems from her culture and upbringing. And while entrenched in the male-dominated sports-nutrition supplement industry, she’s doing her part to break gender barriers one country at a time.
Gaspari, 37, sat down with Muscle & Performance to shed some light on what drove her to become one of the most powerful women in the sports-supplement industry.
Q. When did you first discover your knack for business?
A. At the age of 16, I opened up a single specialty kiosk. By the time I was 19, I owned six profitable kiosks, then sold the business. This was the beginning of my pursuit to succeed in business. I just loved it right from the start. From ages 21 to 25, I sold textiles overseas and purchased a burnt-down dry-cleaning business. I got the dry cleaner up and running and sold it a year or two later for an incredible return. I always loved taking nothing, putting my entire soul into it and making it into something special. Then, a few years later after I sold the dry-cleaning business, I started an upscale custom-cabinetry company.
Q. How did you develop such a strong drive at such a young age?
A. Sales is in my blood. My family is from Kabul, Afghanistan. My family owns most of the industry in Afghanistan, and I inherited their business sense. Luckily, I was born in the U.S. in Pennsylvania and didn’t grow up in a culture that suppressed women.
Q. How did you meet your husband?
A. I met Rich in 2002, as a favor to a personal-trainer friend of mine who wanted to introduce us. I stalled for six months before finally agreeing to go. I quickly realized how smart Rich was and what an incredibly passionate man he was. He caught my eye because I saw in him an equal who reflected my own drive for success — him in his drive to improve the lives of others and me to help bring it to as many people as possible. At the time, I was attending Rutgers, [The State University of New Jersey], majoring in business and economics, but I turned my attention to Rich. It was hard not to see the incredible potential in this man, so I took a gamble. I started working as a shipper in the garage of his home office. And in 2005, Rich and I got married.
Q. How has your career with Gaspari evolved over the years?
A. When we moved to our first location in Neptune, N.J., I was in charge of domestic sales. The Vitamin Shoppe was the first distribution that I landed. It is one of my most esteemed accomplishments, and I’m happy to say they’re still with us today. But the world was calling, so I turned to international sales. We are one of the top global supplement companies in the industry. We initially started off in eight countries and are now selling to more than 80 and growing, including Australia, New Zealand, England, Poland, South Africa, Egypt and Thailand. The rapid evolvement of my position was due to two factors: Rich supported me completely and allowed me to grow without limitations, and when people anywhere around the world use a Gaspari product, they know and trust that the products will work.
Q. With all Gaspari’s growth and success, how has its mission changed?
A. It hasn’t. Rich’s philosophy to make the absolute best products on the market, to educate and to give athletes the tools necessary to be their absolute best is who we are. We’ve both worked hard to make sure what he started doesn’t stray from its original focus: to stay within reach of our customers and athletes and stay innovative with products that are effective and taste great. We gauge the scope of our success on how we affect people’s lives. Every day, people put their faith, trust and health in our products, and that is something that we don’t take for granted.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge while working for Gaspari?
A. Fighting preconceived notions of women’s role in this industry — especially overseas. It’s hard to get noticed and gain respect. I’ve had to forge my own path in an industry constructed by males. I find it especially evident when dealing with customers in the Middle East. The Arab businessmen go into culture shock because first, I’m a woman, and second, I can communicate in their language: Farsi. Believe me, making a name for yourself when you’re married to a public figure like Rich presents a great deal more obstacles than benefits, which is why I find my role in this company very satisfying. My drive, my ethic and my business sense are what carved my own path to success.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. My family. I’m proud of the business and what we’ve created, but I’m head over heels in love with my husband and our children— Sofia is 3 and Matthew is 9. I’m trying to convince Rich that we should have more kids. The want is there for a larger family. I would love to populate the world with my husband!
Q. What are some tips you can offer the busy working mom who is trying to balance her work and home life without sacrificing herself in the process?
A. OK, these are my trade secrets. First, I love our MyoFusion protein blend. I’m very picky about taste, but I love the chocolate. Second, I live a healthy lifestyle — I don’t sit and eat candy and watch TV. I go to the gym, where I do cardio and lift free weights. Third, I live on our multivitamin, Anavite. It keeps my energy up and helps me get through my day and workouts with relative ease. I admit I’m a workaholic — I answer e-mails on the treadmill and have many sleepless nights talking to clients across the globe at 2 a.m. I do 500 things every day, but I’ve been fortunate that I understand that balance and what works for my family.