With Liz Corso Joachim, what you see is what you get.
Despite an office brimming with awards, certificates and commendations, the head of Corso, Inc., is more likely to compliment someone else than vice versa. Staying humble and transparent, in fact, is a hallmark of her leadership style.
“You’ve got to not think about yourself. You’ve got to think about what can you do to help others,” says Joachim, leader of the family owned-and-operated company located on Caillavet Street in Biloxi. “And that’s what my philosophy has been. I never meet a stranger.”
As a boss, Joachim embodies the same can-do spirit that her father displayed when he founded the business in 1924. Frank P. Corso immigrated to the United States from Italy, and with a third-grade education and limited English skills, he made a living transporting and selling candy bars via his bicycle.
His venture grew into a successful wholesale operation, which distributed everything from cigars and candies to paper bags and castor oil. As Corso marks its 100th anniversary this year, the company’s future appears secure in the hands of Joachim’s three children and grandson. However, she is not one to take success or loyalty for granted.
“Never put yourself so high or so above any of the employees or customers,” Joachim says, citing the most important lesson the job has taught her. “And always treat everybody as you would want to be treated.”
When Joachim inherited the company upon the death of her parents and two brothers, she was reluctant to return. At the time, she hadn’t been involved in the family business since getting married, and she loved running a gift shop she’d opened down the road from Mary Mahoney’s.
Soon after taking over, she faced her first challenge when a couple of her main employees quit because they refused to work for a woman.
“I just told myself that, ‘OK, you’re coming into this business, and you’re going to have to be just like everybody here; you’re not above them,’” Joachim says. “You want them to respect you as the owner of this business, but you want them to realize that you’re not afraid of getting your hands dirty to help them. I loaded trucks. I delivered. I did everything when I came back. I never had a snooty nose — never believed in that.”
No task was too menial, and the company’s workforce soon saw that their leader put service above self. She also was determined to learn about the products and be known to Corso’s clientele.
“But one thing, though — we never lost any customers when I came back in,” Joachim says. “I think that was a blessing for the employees to see too, that the customers didn’t care who ran it; they just wanted their products.”
Joachim’s leadership wasn’t confined to Corso’s walls, as evidenced by the dozens of plaques and trophies she’s accumulated. Some of the distinctions she’s earned include Biloxi Outstanding Citizen, First Lady of Biloxi, Biloxi Mother of the Year, the Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce’s Pat Santucci Sprit of the Gulf Coast Award, American Red Cross’s Humanitarian of the Year award and the MGCCC Sam Owen Award.
She also served as the first-ever female commodore of the Biloxi Yacht Club and as president of the Biloxi Chamber, Biloxi Rotary Club, Mississippi Wholesale Distributors Association, the National Conference of State Housing Boards and several other organizations. The Salvation Army, Peoples Bank Board, Merit Health Biloxi, Biloxi First, the Gulf Coast Carnival Association, the Ohr O’Keefe Museum and the March of Dimes are just some of the organizations that have benefited from her time and talents.
“It was just, you know, shocking to me and flattering — very flattering,” Joachim says of her many accolades. “And what’s been interesting, I think, (is) that just about every board that I’ve served on, from state boards to local boards, I’ve ended up not only just being on the board, but being elected chairman. I always feel like there’s got to be other people more deserving.”
A GENERATIONAL LEGACY
Whenever Joachim decides to throttle back, which doesn’t appear likely anytime soon, her family members realize they have large shoes to fill.
“She is a ball of energy; she never stops,” says Joachim’s daughter, Elisa Radich, who works alongside her at Corso. “Even in her 80s, she could outrun you, or me or probably any of us here. She’s fun, she’s loving, but she’s intense — and she gets stuff done.”
Although all three of Joachim’s children are now involved in the business, Radich says that for a while, her mom was making it work with just herself and one of her sons. According to the proud daughter, the reputation and relationships Joachim built over the years have reinforced the good name her grandfather established.
“She just shines and sparkles,” Radich says of her mom. “She doesn’t really love attention, but she appreciates it.”
Joachim’s grandson, John Jack Joachim IV, grew up working in the business and is eager to carry forward his family’s legacy. While staying focused on the customer base is important to the budding leader, he also wants to follow in his grandmother’s charitable footsteps.
“She’s been very philanthropic throughout my life,” he says, and the way she gives back to community has always been very admirable to me.”
Corso has come a long way since its beginnings, now servicing from state line to state line and as far north as Columbus, Mississippi. Nonetheless, Joachim’s grandson sees plenty of potential for expansion and innovation.
“I hope we continue to grow for another 100 years,” he says. “That’d be really cool, especially under my tenure, to see how far I can grow it and push it.”
In the meantime, he couldn’t ask for a better mentor than his grandmother, who has set an example of selfless dedication. While not always pleasant or easy, she says, the journey is always worthwhile.
“You just have to have a goal in mind of what you want to do with your life, what you want to be, and then you don’t walk over anybody or hurt anybody to get that position that you would like,” Joachim says. “Just be yourself, and always think of others. I think that’s how you get to be successful.”