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Building His Brand - Dedication to Physical Therapy pays dividends for Tenuta

At 26, Carmelo Tenuta, BSPT ’87, prepared for whatever might come next.

“After spending five years getting my name out there, I felt ready to open my own physical therapy practice,” he recalls. “My responsibilities were to my career. I had no children, a great degree, and I could start over if it didn’t work out.”

But it did, and by 2011―the year his practice was acquired by Chicago-based Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers―Sports Physical Therapy and Rehab Specialists had grown to 16 clinics throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Today, Tenuta is vice president at Accelerated Rehab, which means frequent trips to the Windy City. And although his role has expanded, Tenuta continues to help run the practice he founded in 1992.

“My responsibilities as a CEO have always been to help lead my staff and to create an environment for them to succeed,” he says. “Maybe in the beginning I felt that I had to have my hands in everything, but over the years I have learned to hire people who share the same core values and who are the right fit.”

Arriving at Northwestern

If from the minute Tenuta arrived on the Chicago campus he was focused, the second he graduated 15 months later, he was determined.

“I think it was a great foundation,” Tenuta says, of the accelerated physical therapy program he was a part of at Northwestern. “It was grueling, but you learned a lot about yourself; I think it was a realization that life isn’t easy, but if you have the perseverance and will, you can accomplish anything.”

The oldest physical therapy program in the nation, Northwestern has been consistently ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News & World Report. Sally Edelsberg, MS, an associate professor emeritus since her retirement in 2003, helped build the framework for what became the Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences in 2000.

“I’ll never forget Sally Edelsberg,” Tenuta says, of the woman who led the medical school’s Programs in Physical Therapy for 27 years. “I also remember the camaraderie. I don’t think it was easy for anyone, but she was always there, willing to help.”

Tenuta oversees 250 employees in Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

After graduation, Tenuta began establishing himself in Kenosha, Wis., a city of 100,000 people nestled along the shore of Lake Michigan. He started working as a staff member at a local hospital, an ad-hoc professor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, a physical therapist at a home health agency in the evenings, and an on-site rehabilitation specialist at various manufacturing sites in his free time.

“Most factories had three shifts at that time, so I could work first shift, and then cover a later shift after my day job at the hospital,” Tenuta says. “I did this for five years, at which time I felt I had made enough of a name for myself, especially at the university and within the local industrial community, to move forward with my career.”

Accomplishing a goal he set early in his medical education, Tenuta opened his first two practices in Kenosha County, just north of the Illinois border. In the nearly 20 years that followed, he built a corporate office, 14 other locations, and a business with nearly 250 employees.

A Familiar Name

In southeastern Wisconsin, the Tenuta name is as recognizable as homemade tiramisu. But for Carmelo, the oldest of five brothers, his attention quickly turned from the family restaurant business to physical therapy.

“My parents always encouraged me to put college first and develop a business of my own,” Tenuta says.

With two of his brothers still operating Italian restaurants in Racine, Kenosha, and Milwaukee, Carmelo has added to the family’s notoriety.

His many roles within the community have included work on various boards at UW-Parkside, involvement with charitable organizations, including his church, and as a youth basketball coach. Tenuta’s intertwining passion for his family and athletics has given him the opportunity to coach each of his children.

In the middle of his nearly 20 years in private practice, he also launched OccuPro Systems and Solutions, which today provides software used by physical therapists to help determine objectively when a patient is capable of going back to work.

Today, Tenuta also runs LivingWell, a Kenosha-based medical supply company that specializes in mobility aids and medical supplies for homebound patients, as well Sports 24, an always open, Kenosha fitness center.

“I stay very busy, and my day-to-day role with Accelerated Rehab has me much more involved with business development, leadership training, and customer service, rather than treating patients,” Tenuta says. “I figured out fairly early in my career that outstanding service is absolutely key. As a vice president, I have a great opportunity to affect the future of care throughout the Midwest.”