Story and photograph by Leif Skodnick
You might say Barnum Financial Group managing director Paul Blanco got his fashion sense from the ball field.
As a kid growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Blanco didn’t wear suits. So when the son of a construction worker graduated college, he looked toward the field for clues on how to look sharp.
“Playing football and baseball, you always made sure your uniform looked a certain way,” Blanco says with a smile in his Shelton office. “As a football player growing up, I always wore number 34 – (Chicago Bears running back) Walter Payton. And if you look at Walter Payton, how he had his socks, how he had a towel, how he had his wristbands, his headband and all the accents – it’s the same thing.”
Sitting across a table in a leather-backed chair, Blanco is engaged, leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees. Silver cufflinks with the Roman numeral XII hold the French cuffs of his purple checked shirt together. Just the right amount of cuff extends from the sleeves of his jacket.
“When I came into corporate America and had to start getting dressed up, you had to try to keep the balance of looking conservative but fashionable,” Blanco says. He noted that his look involves crisp colors. On this day, a conservatively patterned purple tie complemented his shirt.
He doesn’t wear spread collars, because it’s more difficult to make his tie knot look exactly right, and Blanco never has the collar of his shirt unbuttoned or his tie loosened.
“I like my tie to look nice,” he says. “It’s either off or all the way on.”
Blanco isn’t just meticulous about his clothing. He works as hard out of the office as he does in it.
On a normal day, he is up around 5 a.m. and headed to the gym by 5:30, protein shake in hand. After 45 minutes of cardio, he’ll hit the weights for 45 minutes with a few co-workers. He’ll drive a short mile or so to the Barnum Financial Group office on Corporate Drive and grab a quick shower in his office bathroom, then put on a suit and tie. He’ll reach his desk, fully dressed, by 8:15 a.m.
“And then I basically start with meetings at 8:30,” Blanco said. “I’m meeting with one of the 35 managers that run departments, our sales managers that run the sales advisers. I speak a lot in the industry and I manage a lot of the strategy and vision.”
As careful as he is about what he puts on his body, Blanco is as measured about what he puts in his body. Each day, he takes three small meals in his office, always at the same time.
“If I’m here past 5, I’ll go into the bathroom and come out wearing Under Armour shorts and an Under Armour T-shirt,” Blanco says. “I walk in like that in the morning and I walk out like that.”
As soon as he gets home, between 6 and 8 p.m., he lays out his clothes – workout gear, suit, shirt, tie and shoes – for the next day, depending on his schedule.
Besides being an executive, Blanco is also a philanthropist. He and his wife, Mindee, started Foundation for Life, in which Barnum Financial Group’s employees raise money to support charities in their local communities.
“A few years back, we said, ‘We’re helping make people financially secure, but also, how do we make the communities we’re in better places to live?’ We decided at that point to do more charitable work and that’s where our foundation started from.”
Blanco and Foundation for Life have provided bicycles and backpacks for underprivileged children, helped fund playground construction in three Connecticut communities and held an essay contest that offers children the chance to earn college scholarships.
“We really focus on children and giving back and helping the younger population,” says Blanco, who is a father of three. “We’ll give away 500 bikes in our Bikes for Kids program. We probably support 50 to 60 different charities and most of the money is raised by employees here through events that we do.
“It’s all part of being a role model. The kids learn by what you do,” Blanco says of the importance of giving back. In five or six years, Blanco hopes Foundation for Life will have more than $1 million to help other charities.
“Organized and efficient,” Blanco says when asked what his clothes say about his leadership. “Comfortable but not flashy, confident and fun. And that’s our culture here and it starts at the top.”