CEO’s Who Give Back: Gina Argento, CEO of Broadway Stages

“Growing up Catholic, you have two things installed in you: Guilt (haha) and the importance of giving back to the community.”

I had the pleasure to interview Gina Argento. Gina serves as the President of Broadway Stages. Broadway Stages is one of New York City’s largest full-service film & television and music video production facilities. It has been an integral part of New York City for over a quarter century. Its company and clients have employed thousands of people, and have created hundreds of local jobs. Broadway Stages is a full-service company and is equipped to handle every conceivable size, style and type of production, whether it is for film, episodic television series, television pilots, television movies and miniseries, music videos, commercials or studio photography. They are also home to the first organic rooftop farm in New York City and the first solar powered sound stage in the world.

Yitzi: What is your “backstory”?

My family started the business in ’83. Breaking into the film industry was hard back then (and still is,) so my brother Tony started his own soundstage on Broadway in Astoria, Queens, which is how we got our name. I came into the company at around 10 years old and my main job was to follow Tony around. The 80’s were a very exciting time, especially for music videos. I still remember the variety of music videos in the 80’s, which included Aretha Franklin and the late B.I.G. Between music sets, I had a traditional Catholic upbringing and I went to Catholic school. Immediately following graduation from St. John’s University, I helped my brother grow Broadway Stages full-time. Since becoming CEO, I have expanded Broadway Stages’ soundstage portfolio to over 45. The way to love what you do is to be passionate about it, and you will really love what you do if you combine multiple passions into one. Broadway Stages was established as the world’s first solar-powered soundstage. This helped spark my interest in giving back to the environment, and in 2009, I partnered with rooftop farming expert Annie Novak to create the nation’s first commercial green roof vegetable farm — the Eagle Street rooftop garden, atop our Eagle Street soundstage, and later the Kingsland Wildflowers’ green roofs on some of our other soundstages in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I believe that community is the legacy you leave behind.

Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

Because I work in the film industry, I work closely with celebrities. Even after all these years, and even though I’m CEO of a company, I still often get starstruck. I regularly work with TV actors from popular movies and television series, such as Billions, Blacklist, and Blue Bloods, among others. Whenever I see Paul Giamatti or Damian Lewis from Billions, I can’t help but feel a little taken aback.

Yitzi: Are you working on any meaningful nonprofit projects? How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Growing up Catholic, you have two things installed in you: Guilt (haha) and the importance of giving back to the community. Broadway Stages is currently working with numerous nonprofits. We have this one ongoing project of a 20,000 square foot rooftop garden, called Kingsland Wildflowers. This is in partnership with the Audubon Society, Alive Structure, and the ExxonMobil fund, among others. The project creates a community space for kids, as well as adults. It’s been so successful that we’re planning on doubling the rooftop space to 40,000 square feet next year. In addition to giving back to the environment, I also enjoy giving back to local Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island organizations, schools, and neighborhoods that are near and dear to me. I’m currently helping students in media arts in Kingsborough Community College who are involved in community service, and I also contributed to the college’s STEM Lab. I also help kids afford a Parochial school education, through contributing to Catholic Charities’ Angel program, where we directly invest in children’s education. In Staten Island, Broadway Stages collected donations from various film productions for the children’s aid society. We also contributed to the Spooktacular at the Staten Island Zoo, which was a huge success this past Halloween. Additionally, we contributed to the Historic Richmond Town for numerous events, such as events for Halloween and Christmas. We also contributed recently to the North Brooklyn Police Headquarters to help with their haunted house Halloween event, and to the Antonio Reynoso’s event at The Haunted Moore Street Market. I become a part of the organizations I care about not only through donations, but also with time, through personally volunteering at events, and also encouraging employees to come help out.

Yitzi: Wow! Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

I like to think that my work with charities and organizations has a long-lasting impact on those involved and those who benefit from the organizations I’m involved in. Broadway Stages’ rooftop gardens help local communities’ wildlife, providing a home to birds, bats, and insects, as well as providing day activities for families, and anyone looking to enjoy a day surrounded by nature. In this way, I help local communities and beyond thrive. I also hope that I’m impacting the kids in the Angel program.

Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Haha, this is a tough question, because I’ve been around the industry for as long as I can remember. Since I was about 10 years old, I’d spend all my vacation time and afternoons around the office, learning the ins and outs of the industry and the company. But after taking over as CEO 12 years ago, here are a couple things I wish I’d known first.

1. It’s not as easy as people think

I watched my father and brother run the business, and while I knew it took a lot of hard work and time to grow and be successful, I didn’t realize just how much went into everything. It’s not just the time and hard work. It’s about developing key relationships within the industry and with your community, understanding the real estate industry in addition to the film industry (I need to understand real estate to know where to buy our next soundstage,) and the overall requirements of being a CEO of such a large company.

2. Working in TV is fun, but it’s not as glamorous as you’d think

We all have celebrities we admire, look up to, and wish we could be best friends with, but the reality is, working in the industry is not all glitz and glam. There’s a lot that goes into putting together a successful show aside from putting together a good team of writers, actors, directors, producers, etc. There’s also the other behind-the-scenes work that is equally as important to the success of a show, like putting together a team of highly skilled woodworkers and lighting experts to make sets come to life. It’s this kind of detail that people don’t necessarily think about when they consider the TV industry.

3. Create a family of employees, not a team

At Broadway Stages, I don’t hire people because I think they’re going to be good at their job. I hire people that I think will be a good addition to our family. You could be the most talented person in the world, but if you don’t fit in with our culture and our organization, then it won’t work out for you here. And I really try to keep to that philosophy strictly, because it makes for a more cohesive and successful company. This started out as a family business, and I intend to keep it that way with family taking on a new meaning to include the employees here at Broadway Stages.

4. Learn how to maintain a work/life balance

Family is everything to me. I have three beautiful children and a wonderful husband, and it’s so important to me that I get to spend quality time with them, not just on weekends. But at the same time, I have a business to run, and it’s quite a large operation, which takes a lot of time and effort. It was hard in the beginning, but I’ve learned to strike a good balance between home and work life, and ensure that I’m giving each one my undivided attention at the appropriate time.

5. It’s challenging but rewarding to be a woman in business

We see articles all the time about the glass ceiling, and how women will never make it to those C-suite positions at the rate that men do, and we charge those failures to society. And while yes, it’s true that women are definitely at a disadvantage in many fields, I also find that women are each other’s worst enemies when it comes to success in the workplace. If you’re a working mom and can’t attend every PTA meeting and function or you can’t attend every single after-school activity that your children participate in, you’re a bad mom. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, you’re criticised for not helping to provide for your family and you’re lazy. Women need to stop tearing each other down, and learn to motivate and encourage each other to succeed at whatever it is they’re doing, whether it’s working a full-time job or being a full-time mom. Both take tons of hard work and are exhausting, but whichever option you choose, you should be applauded for your work and commitment to that job.

Yitzi: Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.

I’d love to have breakfast with Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. She’s a no-nonsense businesswoman, and also has a well-balanced family life. As a CEO and mother myself, I understand the importance of finding this balance.

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