When Art Leiby was one week old, his mother dropped him on a hot stove in their home. She suffered from an inner ear disability that severely impacted her walking ability, while Art’s father struggled with alcoholism. It quickly became apparent to the family living below Art that the pair could not safely care for their infant son. There was never a formal adoption process, but one-week-old Art became the youngest of six children in his new adoptive family. This was just the beginning of an unusual childhood. “My biological parents were probably in my parents’ home every day,” Art says. “It was strange the way I grew up.”
Art grew up poor in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. A pale scar reminds him of when, as an eight-year-old, he almost lost his thumb after sawing firewood to throw in the family’s basement stove that warmed the house. There was no hot running water until he was a teenager, and the family bathroom was an outhouse. “It was very backward,” Art says. His family didn’t have much, but that didn’t matter to him. What did matter was their time, but even that was out of reach.
Art was a scholar-athlete in high school, but his parents never came to a single game or sporting event, except for one senior-night school tradition when his mother—and all mothers of soon-to-be graduating athletes— received a mum. “It used to hurt that when we had basketball games, football games or end-of-the-season parties, everyone’s families were there, but my parents never were,” Art remembers. “They were just never involved in my life in that way. I couldn’t tell if it was because they were old-fashioned or because I was adopted. I know my parents loved me, but it was different.”
Where his parents let him down, his community stepped up. They drove him to basketball games, took him to academic camps and even gave him part-time jobs. “I think the community saw who I was and wanted to help me succeed,” Art says. “Many of my friends and acquaintances became my family.”
But it was at a sleepaway camp where he worked for five summers during college that he learned the power of genuinely appreciating people, particularly in business. The camp’s founder, Mike, was a mentor and father figure to Art, and he went to great lengths to treat people like gold. He took campers to movies and amusement parks; he treated counselors and camp leaders to dinners and trips as a token of his appreciation. “He would have helicopters come in and drop hamburgers from the sky – kids are scurrying everywhere to pick up these hamburgers falling from the sky,” Art recalls. Some of Mike’s methods were arguably unorthodox, but nonetheless, “you learn to appreciate people, because it had an impact on you emotionally, financially and in every different way,” Art says.
He never forgot that lesson, and when he graduated college, he carried it with him into his career in the IT industry, which wasn’t known for its “personal touch.” Art planned to change that when he founded the Lerepco IT Group in 2014.
Treat People Like Gold, And They’ll Keep Coming Back
Before starting Lerepco, Art wrote custom code for large companies like AT&T. Later, he co-founded a company that supported more than 300 newspapers across the US and Canada. But working with large clients was impersonal, and the long weeks impacted his ability to be the dad he wanted to be. “I knew I wanted to be a part of my children’s lives,” he says. “I wanted to do more for them than had been done for me growing up.” Art began working with a friend’s IT company, an early MSP-type outfit that served large companies like Lucent with 12,000 technicians in the field they supported. This is where he met Bob Puphal, who would eventually become his business partner.
Fifteen years later, the industry began to shift. Laptop sales outgrew desktops, and large companies brought their IT in-house. Art and Bob’s employer decided it was a good time to retire and close up shop, but a handful of small clients still couldn’t afford to bring IT in-house. Art and Bob weren’t about to leave them high and dry, so in 2014, they founded the Lerepco IT Group. However, shifting from doing complicated custom coding for companies like Verizon and Lucent, with thousands of remote workers, to working with small and midsize companies was a culture change.
“I went from working with very large workforces – where we sent them CDs in the mail, not talking to them every day and getting to know them individually – to the SMB market, where we gain much more familiarity and intimacy with businesses and end users. That was very different for me at the time,” Art says. “But I loved doing it.” This was their chance to step away from large corporations and focus on relationships. By building genuine relationships, they actively contributed to the growth of their clients’ businesses. As a result of their clients’ achievements, Lerepco has also thrived.
Over the last eight years, many of Lerepco’s clients have expanded their offices to multiple locations. Today, working with businesses with a number of offices is Lerepco’s sweet spot, but keeping clients connected across many offices and locations is complex, which is why relationships are crucial. “Businesses with several locations or offices need to have that special connectivity; they need to be able to get to the same data and run the same applications,” Art explains. “If you have someone in there who’s not familiar with tying the office’s communication together, things can be very slow, very inefficient or not working at all. Then the end users get frustrated because they’re not going to be productive, and they feel like stepchildren.”
Despite being raised by adoptive parents, Art often struggled to feel fully accepted and recognized within his family; in some ways, he felt he was a stepchild himself. This formative experience instilled in Art a commitment to making each and every one of his clients feel important, seen, and heard, and he works tirelessly to create a supportive environment for them to thrive in. “I speak to them frequently, so I know their business and struggles. I still know a lot of the end users and talk to them; when I walk by their desk, they’ll recognize my name and voice,” he says. “I treat every one of my clients as if they were my only client. As I say to the staff here, our clients are our most important thing. We treat them as gold – we don’t take them for granted.”
Relationships cultivate trust, and as the cyber security and compliance side of his work has grown to be a large portion of his business, that trust is increasingly important. “With us, it’s so much about relationships. It’s about delivering that service; it’s about being there when they call because they can’t afford to be down,” he says. “They already have enough business stress. With our support and monitoring, they can go to sleep at night without worrying about whether their business or systems are safe.”
While Art isn’t dropping hamburgers from the sky, he still refers to notes from his camp days and goes the extra mile to let clients know he genuinely cares about them. “It’s thinking of them around the holidays and sending big baskets to share with their staff,” he says. “It’s bringing on new clients and giving them some kind of gift, letting them know we appreciate them.” Whether he’s dropping by with donut breakfasts or pizza lunches, Art’s goal is to give his clients one thing – peace of mind. “If they have that,” he says, “I know I am doing it right, and I am doing it well.”
The industry clearly agrees that Art is doing something right. Art and Lerepco have received multiple awards, including Executive of the Year in 2016, Best of Biz Award in 2021, Executive of the Year in 2020 from South Jersey Biz magazine and April 2023 Marketing Genius of the Month from Technology Marketing Toolkit. In true Art fashion, he recognizes his clients’ role in his accomplishments. “Our success is a byproduct of helping companies grow and being part of their success,” he says.
Life Has Come Full Circle, And Art Is Paying It Forward
Years after those cherished summers at camp, Art met his former mentor, Mike, for dinner in Las Vegas. “The greatest thing was that I paid for our dinner in Las Vegas because he had done that repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly for me,” he says. He felt his lessons had come full circle. “It’s one of those scenarios where I thought, okay, I’ve come into my own, where I was the one buying us dinner.”
Art is also paying it forward to multiple nonprofits in his community, including Jersey Cares coat drives, historic PAWS Farm and Girl Scouts of Southern Jersey, and he goes out of his way to support his clients’ causes too. In a way, he’s paying homage to the childhood community that supported him in a way his parents never could.
Today, Art is proud of the career and life he’s built, including being very active in his kids’ lives. He remembers coaching their sports teams and pulling wagons to deliver Scout cookies, and he still has the SpongeBob rods they used on family fishing trips. Their kids are in their twenties now, but Art and his wife see them most weekends at sporting events, eating at Benihana or going to movies together. Because Art was often disappointed that his parents were never involved in his life, he is motivated to ensure that the people he cares about most – family, friends and clients – always come first. For Art, “it’s the most rewarding feeling I can have.”
For more information on The Lerepco IT Group, visit https://www.lerepco.com/.