Ask Nick Masino about the importance of human connection.
Masino – a man to whom conversation seems as natural as the next breath, who strings words together with effortless aplomb, who assembles spoken sentences and paragraphs, hands gesturing in vigorous punctuation all the while – will get to the point soon enough.
In the meantime, enjoy the ride, because Masino is a conversational force of nature. He is a tradesman at the top of his game as he locks eyes on yours. He is an artisan at work as he leans toward the listener, agreeably smiling, nodding and making each point – aligning the ideas, fleshing out the foundations and examples, until the words are all but physically manifested in the space between you.
Now, what was the question you were going to ask him? Right … the importance of human connection.
Should be easy enough for him to answer. Connection is Masino’s craft, and he is a master.
It’s a fitting skill for someone who’s been head honcho of one of the continent’s largest suburban chambers of commerce since 2019. It’s an ideal talent for someone who for 12 years was chief economic development officer for Partnership Gwinnett – overseeing business recruitment and retention efforts for the county. The current and previous posts left little room for someone who couldn’t hack it socially in any given boardroom with world-class CEOs and decisionmakers seated across the table.
Top-notch social skills are essential in Masino’s line of work, and he comes by them honest.
His father, Joe Masino, was an Anheuser-Busch executive, to whom “nobody was a stranger.”
“He would meet anybody and talk to anybody,” Masino says. “My whole life, when we’d go somewhere for dinner, he’d always talk to the manager. Like, ‘hey, let the manager know I’m here.’”
“It’s like, in my family, no one ever said, ‘don’t talk to strangers,’” Masino says, laughing. “All we did is talk to everybody.”
Today, in business dealings here in Gwinnett County, the topic of Masino’s father often comes up: “Any time I run into someone who knew my dad, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you sound and act just like him!’”
Growing up, Masino’s father was a mentor to his son. He worked in the hospitality industry, affording the younger Masino all manner of unique opportunities that would sound improbable to most other children his age.
“I went to the U.S. Open with my dad when I was 11. I went to World Series games. I’ve done all these crazy things with my dad,” Masino says, offering up an anecdote peppered in detail, as Masino often does.
“Once, I was backstage with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons at Chastain when I was in fifth grade and it was hot as hell,” Masino says. “It was Chastain in the summer, and I remember Frankie Valli coming off stage. I think this was around the same time that Mean Joe Greene had a commercial where some kid gave him a Coke and he turned around and gave the kid a jersey. So, Frankie Valli comes off stage and I actually got to give him a Coke.”
Adds Masino, now 50: “It was cool. I mean, as a kid, I was like, ‘This is so cool!”’
He recalls having little to no fear of social situations from a young age. For instance, in high school, when he’d go to prom or homecoming, he’d wind up spending most of his time chatting with the father of his date about who was gonna be the next Heisman candidate.
“I’d go on dates and meet the parents, and the parents loved me. They always loved me,” Masino says. “And now, my kids, they’re great communicators too, so I guess we emulate our dad, and my wife, she’s also very outgoing too … our kids have emulated us.”
Georgia’s youngest mayor
Seems like a good point in the conversation to ask how Masino met his wife.
Here’s the gist: He first met Suzanne in Cincinnati, where they attended high school together. A self-described “corporate brat” – akin to “military brat” – he’d moved there in eighth grade, following his father’s ascendant career from location to location around the United States (seven states by eighth grade).
He finished high school in Cincinnati, then followed his parents to Snellville, where a family member lived at the time. After being accepted to Ohio State (the same college as Suzanne), he packed his bags and went north again. He reconnected with his high school sweetheart, got engaged and married Suzanne in 1994.
They moved to the Atlanta area, starting out at an apartment near Gwinnett Place Mall, before settling on a home in Suwanee in the mid-90s.
Twenty-three years old at the time, and holding a degree in interpersonal organizational communications, Masino went to work in business development. He sold check-writing systems intended “to convince people not to buy a computer … but to use a journal,” followed by temporary staffing.
Those were the early days.
Fast forward to 2006: Masino is leading the national division of a publicly traded staffing and recruiting company.
“I had offices in three different time zones, and I remember waking up one morning, I was either in DC or Chicago, and I had to look at the area code on the hotel room phone to remember where I was,” Masino says. “At the same time, I had three little kids, all under four years old, and I’m like, ‘this is not healthy.’ Oh, and at the same time, I was mayor of the city of Suwanee.”
Wow. So, let’s back up a little. How and when did you become mayor?
“Yeah, it’s interesting,” Masino says. “I got involved with the city of Suwanee within a year of moving there. There was a rezoning in front of my neighborhood. I went to city hall, and [said] ‘hey, I’m a voter and vote against this. One of the council members came down to talk to me and some of my neighbors and they said, ‘Hey, I was going to vote for this tonight, but [because of] your public comments … I changed my mind.’
Adds Masino: I was like, ‘I cannot believe we influenced a decision like that by just showing up.’
The experience intrigued Masino, who was 25 years old at the time. His interest in the process led him to keep attending city council meetings. Six months later – and still attending city council meetings – Masino was approached by a city staff person who asked what kept him coming.
“I was just like, ‘this is interesting to me,’” Masino says.
The staff person told Masino about an opening on the planning and zoning board of appeals. He submitted a letter of interest to join the board and was soon thereafter serving the city of Suwanee in the new role.
He held a post on the planning and zoning board for several years. The mayor approached him one today and, according to Masino, said, ‘I’m not running again; you should run for council.’
Masino says the mayor and council had been paying attention to him and thought Masino a good listener with fresh ideas and lots of energy. Turns out, none of the current members wanted to run for mayor for the upcoming term.
They told him, “‘none of us want to run, but we think you should,’” according to Masino. “I’m like, ‘Why do you want me to run?’”
Masino talked to his wife and prayed about it. He decided to run and soon became mayor of Suwanee at the age of 29, which, at the time, made him the youngest mayor in the whole state.
He served as Suwanee mayor for eight years, retiring from elected office to take a role in economic development leadership in 2007.
‘At 5 o’clock on Friday, I’m done’
Let’s talk about that. How did you get involved in economic development leadership?
“I remember going to a [Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce] luncheon in November of 2006 and I saw the chamber president … Jim Maran, who was a great guy,” Masino says. “And I said, ‘Jim, If you know of an opportunity, new company moving to town, somebody expanding, somebody that maybe leads a sales team or an operation, I’d be interested in something where I’m not traveling as much or regularly.’”
Adds Masino: “I mean, I was in two different cities a week [for my job].”
Maran – who passed away earlier this year – called Masino in January 2007 and asked him to meet him and another high-ranking chamber staff member for breakfast.
They met with Masino, telling him they wanted him to run “a world class economic development organization … raise $2 million a year and staff it with 12 to 15 people.”
The group came to an agreement on salary, and, like with many of the decisions in his life, Masino went home, prayed about it and talked it out with his wife, Suzanne.
He started the position of Gwinnett Chamber and Partnership Gwinnett’s Chief Economic Development Officer in February 2007. In this capacity, he worked with public and private leadership to commission economic development studies in 2011 and 2016 and spearheaded the implementation efforts of the initial plan in 2007 – which has since brought about 290 company expansions or relocations; more than 28,000 new jobs; more than 9 million square feet of space filled; and more than $2.1 billion in investment for Gwinnett.
For their work together in this role, Masino talks of Maran with much reverence.
“[Maran] had experience as an international executive, and I really was almost just coming to work for him,” Masino says. “He was hard-charging … and awesome. I loved working for him. I appreciate everything that I learned from him.”
Little did Masino know that 12 years later he himself would be chamber president.
After taking the job in 2019, Masino has since been named to the 2019: Most Influential Atlantans list by Atlanta Business Chronicle and been numbered among Georgia Trend’s 100 Most Influential Georgians in 2019 and again in 2020.
In addition to being chamber president and CEO, he serves on the Regional Business Coalition of Metro Atlanta; Explore Gwinnett; Council for Quality Growth; Mitsubishi Classic Foundation; the 1818 Club; Georgia Chamber; Georgia’s Innovation Corridor Joint Development Authority; the Water Tower Global Innovation Hub @ Gwinnett; Partnership Gwinnett; Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation Fund; and Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation (Northside Hospital).
Andrew Carnes, vice president of economic development with Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, says Masino is “one of those leaders people are drawn to … and he’s down to earth as well. Another thing about Nick – you can always count on him to have your back … through thick and thin.”
Carnes adds that in his time working Nick – about six years now – it’s clear Masino puts a premium on time with the family above all else.
It’s true, Nick says. Family first.
And, while we’re on the subject, don’t go texting or calling him about business after 5 p.m. on a Friday.
“Yeah, so everybody knows I sometimes get invited to things on the weekend,” Masino says. “At 5 o’clock on Friday, I’m done. I’ll see you at 8 Monday morning. I’m out; that’s family time.
‘People will always come together’
For years now, Masino has guarded his precious family time on weekends so that he could be his daughter’s soccer coach; so that he could be his son’s wrestling coach; so that he could run the Peachtree Road Race with his youngest daughter; but most of all, just so he can be “a completely engaged parent” in the midst of all he does Monday through Friday.
The kids aren’t kids anymore, but the time with them isn’t any less important to Masino. In fact, Anna, 21, Vincent, 19, and Julia, 17 still take regular vacations with their mom and dad (as you can see from all the pictures).
“We like to travel. We love the outdoors. We’ve done a ton of great national parks. [Our daughters and son] actually want to do college spring break with us,” Masino says. “And so instead of the whole, ‘let’s go to Florida and get crazy,’ they’re like, ‘can I go to Switzerland with you and mom?’”
Nick’s wife says the family vacation has been one of the joys of parenting.
“They love to travel. We love to travel,” Suzanne says, adding that having a son and daughters their age who still enjoy spend time with them is “the ultimate win in parenting.”
They’ve skated and skied together in Switzerland. They’ve seen the sights in Germany. They’ve toured Milan in Italy.
Speaking of Italy, there was one question we never did get back to – the answer to which happens to involve the southern European country.
Tell me about the importance of human connection.
Masino ponders for a moment before smiling, locking eyes on the listener and going to work in his trade of master communicator, wielding the power of spoken word:
“This is completely the way humans are designed biologically, genetically. We were gatherers together. Have you ever been to Italy, for instance? Every village in Italy is at the top of a mountain … the residents are all crammed together, people stay together. They gather. It’s human nature. People will always come together.”
Adds Masino: “How do you connect and grow if you’re not connecting and communicating? My entire career, it’s never proven me wrong that if you get people together, and you focus on what you agree on, you can accomplish great things together.”