Brian Aiello, a Lafayette resident since he was a seventh-grader tossing baseballs and strummin' on an old banjo, calls the community in which he lives and works "talented, committed, energetic."
On the flip side, the city of Lafayette calls Aiello often -- and at a dinner toast-and-roast on Feb. 1 at the Lafayette Park Hotel & Spa, he'll be formally recognized as the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce's 2014 "Business Person of the Year."
The owner/operator of Pinnacle Apparel & Promotions and father of two -- 18-year-old Brooke, a freshman nursing student at San Diego State University, and Brady, 16, an Acalanes High School junior -- has been married to his wife and business partner Jennifer since 1994.
"It makes me feel good when my family's happy," Aiello said, settling into the home office from which he directs his branded merchandising company. Pinnacle grew from a sign manufacturing company he and his brother owned.
It's a good bet the first person he told about his honor was Jennifer. "Family man" is the name of the suit he wears most comfortably, despite this recent public nod to his entrepreneurial bent.
Aiello attended Acalanes High, taking the mound as starting pitcher for his last two years with The Dons before traveling the Far East with the United States Navy for four years. Eight work/study years later, he had a college degree from UC Davis and a loan from his mother, enabling him to go halfsies with his brother and purchase the sign manufacturing company, Fastsigns.
In 2000, he sold his 50 percent in that venture and set off, once again, on his own. Yet he wasn't alone, Aiello said; Jennifer soon joined Pinnacle and today, he said, "This award should go to her. Without Jen, there'd be none of this."
"This," he said, is far more than just business -- it's a family tradition.
"My mom was the original nonconformist. She made decisions that would benefit her family. She invested and took a chance on us when the bank wasn't willing to. 'Course, we paid her back, with interest."
Aiello alternates between bursts of pride -- taken mostly in the actions of others -- and swell-guy humility. Asked about his role as entertainment chair since 2003 for the annual Lafayette Art & Wine Festival, he said, "Yeah, impresario ... I'm thinking of changing my title." Moments later, he's talking about a tree he planted in a public space nearby and how "giving of yourself provides a connection and you feel better."
Recently, the resurgence of Lafayette Plaza development has attracted his attention. "It's a jewel," he said, "and a great group of people are giving their time to make it better. It's a push, but it's phenomenal."
Maintaining a balance between providing for their family and engaging in civic activism is no small task for the Aiellos. After years of coaching his kids in soccer, baseball, volleyball and basketball, Aiello said sports are merely structured ways to teach organization and teamwork.
"It's the relationships that gave me the most joy," he said.
Marketing isn't brain surgery, he insists -- it's simply getting a company's logo into the public eye. "It's not selling something, it's being a good and trustworthy person," he said. "That, more than anything, has been the reason for any success I've had."
Then, suddenly aware he might be putting himself on a pedestal, he dives off, laughing at himself and saying, "I have a home office. I'm not a giant of business. I can't believe I'm getting this award."
Aiello said learning of the award was fun. Arriving home at 10:30 p.m. from a family dinner with his mother, he found three messages from Lafayette Chamber of Commerce President Leila Douglah. Aiello designs T-shirts for her company, Douglah Designs, so he thought, "Three messages! What is it, a T-shirt emergency?" He decided a return call could wait for the next morning. "I went from T-shirt emergency to this award, when I did speak to her. I thought she was joking," he recalls.
The jokes will indeed be on him at the annual dinner, to which Aiello's friends and family members will come to "roast" him.