We all know Matteo as the “papa” at South Slope Pediatrics, taking care of everyone on the SSP team. Matteo is involved in all aspects of the practice – if you’re lucky he will greet you when you call and you’ll hear his charming Italian accent! He has helped South Slope Pediatrics become fully integrated into the South Slope community, while at the same time building community within the practice itself. Matteo has developed classes to help support our families, from breast feeding to CPR to children’s nutrition and more. He has become a pioneer of charitable causes, supporting both local and national charities, even launching the Love in a Safety Pin Campaign, supporting tolerance, love and kindness. He’s the Culture Director at SSP, committed to establishing and embracing core values we hold dear. Just when you think he does it all – did you know he’s also a super talented photographer and artist? He’s also a social media guru! What does Matteo NOT do? Let’s get to know the man behind the practice in this month’s interview!!!
Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood, growing up on the coast of Italy and how your journey brought you to NYC?
I was born in Bari, Italy. Bari is a small city on the coast of Puglia. I was basically born and raised on the beach, so that is the culture I have. Culture of family first. Everyone there has lunch, dinner, every single meal at the table together as a family. In my family I’m the only crazy one who at one point decided I couldn’t see myself living there. So, I decided to pursue other options. Initially in 1996 my mom and dad celebrated their 25th anniversary and they took us on a vacation to the US to celebrate. When we landed in NY I could not forget the moment I put my feet on the ground and said “Wow, this is real. This is not the movies. This is real”! As soon as I did that I realized that I felt like I was home, a completely real and unexpected feeling at 22 years old. It was incredible and weird. So, with that – that trip opened up my eyes to new possibilities. At that time I was studying marketing and management in Italy. I decided to do whatever I could to live in the US as the US would be able to offer me more opportunities than I could get in Italy. I also wanted to transition from marketing and management to photography. I fell in love with being creative as a small child. I looked into the Fashion Institute of Technology – but at that time the cost of school was impossible. $21k plus boarding and everything else. I didn’t have any of that. Our family had spent everything on our trip to the US so there was no way to do it. I had to look into a different way to make it happen. I found the University in Milan that only cost $5k a year, which I could afford, and it had an exchange program with the School of Visual Arts. The exchange program was on a scholarship basis, and only one student could be awarded that scholarship each year. By the end of 2nd year I won the scholarship and spent six months at the School of Visual Arts.
I went there for the beginning of my 3rd year, spending 6 months, and never wanting to come back. I had no money….I had just enough money for my bagel and cream cheese in the morning and Wendy’s for my lunch. That was all I could afford. My family is not wealthy, but they did an amazing with my brother and myself. Taught us that you have to go get it and make it happen! Soon, my photography would start to help pay my rent. From there I had to graduate in Milan. While on scholarship in NYC I found a sponsor that would help me come back and work as a photographer. That was back when there were no wrinkles on my face!
Not many people know that you are also a talented artist, and a very successful fashion photographer, eventually founding Matteo Trisolini Studios. Can you tell us more about this prior life of yours? I understand you even designed concepts for Grammy Award nominees!
Basically after graduating I told my mom that I’m leaving Milan and going to the US. Of course she said “you’ll be back within 3 months”. 17 years ago I arrived in the US, the year before 9/11. I was able to thrive as a photographer working for Simon and Schuster doing covers for their books, magazines and commercial advertising. It was a different NY. A NY were there were no limits on budgets, there were cash advances…the creativity was incredible. People who knew what they were doing and had culture in visual communication were still working and there was an incredible energy. When I founded Matteo Trisolini Studios, I had a studio in Chelsea, on 25th between 10th and 11th. I miss that energy. Then…I met Dr. Cao.
How did your life take the turn to healthcare, and starting the practice we have all come to love? How has becoming a parent affected this choice?
I met Dr. Cao when he had just started working as an attending doctor at Methodist Hospital. He was done with residency. That is a big deal, as during residency you do not have time for a social life and cannot settle down. So he was done with that and had been working for a year and half as an attending doctor at Methodist. We actually met because we lived in the same building in Battery Park. We both had gotten into this building because of the grants after 9/11. We were both able to live in this beautiful landmark building. We were also coincidentally playing volleyball in a gay volleyball league. We didn’t know this until one time we saw each other in the building as we were on our way to volleyball. We didn’t know we lived in the same building. We didn’t know we played in the same league until that morning. That morning in this big grand hall with big arches – he looked at me and because of what i was wearing and my mohawk….he asked if I was going to play volleyball in the league. That was the beginning.
From there, we were married and had Isabella. That’s when I transitioned. When I had her I realized I had to make a choice. I could still be a photographer in the fashion industry. In order to be successful in that industry you have to have a big ego. That also means not a lot of family time, and having to go to parties, travel here and there, working weekends and surrounded by a certain type of people. I made a decision to put on the brakes until Isabella was about 16 months. When I was ready to go back to work, I decided that I wanted to be behind the scenes instead of at the front. Still working in the photography industry but as a producer. With this in mind, I was putting my resume together when Hai said that he always wanted to open his own practice. He said “If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. Do you want to do this together”? I said OK! I had zero experience in healthcare but did have experience creating a business from the ground up, and running a business marketing wise. I knew what he wanted to be seen as – not a big doctor with a big fancy office and five thousand locations…but a small town doctor. That is what we first told everybody. You will always have a chance to see your doctor. It’s nice to see people and know their names and remember their names. The fact that they know that I’m married to him and this is our family business. It’s very unique. From the very beginning our motto was “Family First” and when people try to take us down, we said: let’s put our heads down, think about what we want to accomplish and what we want to give our patients. Let’s focus on all the good we can give to anyone we interact with, one patient at a time. This is still a rule that applies today. We have a lot more patients and attention that we used to have – but the message is still here. Think about what good things you are accomplishing every day with our patients, and always giving them the greatest experience of their day. That’s our goal. Always go above and beyond to help and give them the most pleasant experience of their day.
Having Isabella helped me understand being successful in the arts wasn’t so important to me, because that was all about me. When you have a child you exist but it’s not all about you anymore. This venture was more about making it about me AND my family. Having a family and staying in the fashion/commercial photography industry didn’t work together for me. Family comes first, then everything else. I learned that when having Isabella.
We all love South Slope Pediatrics for many reasons. It has that old-school “small town” doctor feel. Parents develop real and trusting relationships with the doctors. How do you maintain this close-knit environment in a fast paced city like Brooklyn?
We invest so much time and energy on this. This is why company culture, which is something we work on every day, is really important. We have to walk the walk. We are not interested in opening many locations nationwide. This is not who we are. We opened this office in 2012 because Dr. Cao wanted to focus on building relationships. Still to this day building relationships is the most important thing. Relationships are not only between the doctor and patient. It’s between anyone on this team and anyone else. It is between two SSP members. Between any SSP member and a patient – whether face to face, on the phone, on email or on social media. With any encounter we focus on that relationship. We promise that we are here to listen and we promise to always be kind to you. We promise that we will always be helpful and we will always strive to go above and beyond what is expected and required. Patients know that when they call they don’t need to scream at anyone. They know they can count on us listening to them and helping them. That is very important.
The trick is that we ask each individual on any media to reciprocate that behavior. To be kind, to be helpful, to listen and be humble so we can establish that relationship with them. When you have a baby you go to the pediatrician in the 1st few years a lot. When you come here, you should feel like we are your extended family and you are home. We are here to help you.
The close relationship with the practice is not only experienced at doctor appointments. You offer ongoing support for the parents, offering free courses in the office and sharing helpful and engaging articles and posts on social media. Why do you think this is so important?
When I had isabella in 2010 I was a first time parent. Dr. Cao went back to work right away. I was home with Isabella, and as you might know – that can be both the most fantastic and also the most isolating thing that can happen to you, especially true if you don’t have family around and your close friends are working. It was wintertime, and it was a hard winter. I didn’t go out, and I didn’t have a network. I’m hoping today it’s different but at that time there weren’t any daddy groups, only mommy groups. It’s very hard to make connections and do something social. By the time my husband was home at night, I wanted him to take the baby. “Let me sleep”! I would say. Social interaction was so difficult to find. When we opened the office we thought it would be great to help bring our families together. Maybe we can help them go get a coffee together, start new friendships. Two main goals of the classes we offer are to provide tools to new parents that they wouldn’t necessarily acquire during the doctor visit (CPR for example), and the 2nd goal is to get people together with the same age children and understand they are not alone, and what they are experiencing is normal. You can go crazy when your 2 month old is screaming at you. Then you see that mom or that dad is going through the same thing! We offer the skill and let them get to know each other, building community in a small but important way.
As for social media, that is today’s hangout. It’s the new park or where you go with your stroller. It’s where we meet together. You want to provide a service to your patients in any way you can. It’s a new way to reach out. It’s not a place to answer medical questions, but we can offer tools, advice or stories where we can all connect.
Another reason we love SSP is how the practice goes BEYOND just being a doctor’s office. You are fully committed to the South Slope community, from ongoing fundraising for Jonah’s Just Begun to supporting our local schools. Can you please tell us more about what SSP does here in the Slope?
First of all, we would like to do more than what we do. With a small office, it’s not always easy to coordinate and to deliver. Its most important that you pick what you do well and do that thing well. We want to do it the right way. There are some organizations that we work with, like Jonah’s Just Begun, which is close to our hearts. Jonah has been a patient of Dr. Cao’s since he was just one year old. Dr. Cao helped in diagnosing him, and we want to always continue to support him in any way we can. The schools are important as that helps our children have more tools in their hands. There are other projects that I’d like to tackle and local organizations that help kids who aren’t as lucky as our kids. I hope that we are able to get involved with more projects soon. We are here to create community, it all goes back to the fact that we are part of the community and want to help it grow.
Your email signature says “Father and Culture Revolutionary“. Can you please explain what “culture revolutionary” means to you?
Everyone here on the SSP team has in their email signature who they are (mother or father for example). Most of us are parents. We always say who we are first. Then, the second part is what we are passionate about. For me, it’s being a culture revolutionary. I’m interested in culture. I am a revolutionary because I understand there is a need to express who you are and what you believe in as an individual and as a company. Company culture is a relatively new concept. Let me give you an example. At SSP we come together as a team and share core values. We have a set of 10 values that we share, being humble being one of them. It’s something we all believe in and can relate to. We follow this every day, being on the phone scheduling appointments or helping someone who wants to transfer with an insurance we are not contracted with. We help them find a new doctor within their insurance. I’ve always been interested in investing in the people that make SSP. Everyone who works here understands that no one works FOR someone, but that we all work WITH someone. It’s important that our team members are happy. You can’t deliver a great experience if your team members are not having a great experience. It’s something everyone here understands and appreciates. It’s how we are able to go above and beyond in our day to day. I pushed myself to save money and attend the @Zappos culture camp last year. When I sat in that room for those 3 days I felt at home. They spoke my language. They helped give me the tools for what I needed to accomplish. I’ve been incorporating what I’ve learned here. We have a culture team at SSP that makes sure our culture is clear to everyone who works here, our patients who come here, and anyone who is interested in joining our family.
I think the great love and compassion you show the South Slope Pediatrics families starts with the love you have at home with Dr. Cao and your beautiful daughter. Any words of advice to all of us, trying to be as hopeful and positive as we can when looking at the new year?
We know that we might be looking at difficult times ahead but we also need to focus on the good that we do every day, one person at a time. That’s how you continue, not listening to the noise around you. Focus on the good that you do, one person at a time, every day – then you don’t lose the focus.