Constantine Stephano, 74, of Philadelphia, a tobacco company leader who at age 31 reinvented himself as a marketing and financial adviser, died Wednesday, May 15, of complications from a stroke at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
He was the third and final generation behind Stephano Bros. Inc., the company founded in 1895 by Constantine Stephano, his immigrant grandfather of the same name, who got his start rolling cigarettes at the corner of 10th and Walnut Streets.
Business was so brisk that his grandfather opened a small production facility at 1014 Walnut St. By the time Mr. Stephano joined the company in 1966, it was based at 12 S. 12th St.
In 1967, sales skyrocketed overnight after the Federal Trade Commission reported that the firm’s Marvel cigarettes, made of light tobacco and a special filter, were the lowest in tar and nicotine of the 59 most popular brands on the market. At the time, consumers were starting to view smoking as a health hazard.
“We’re going out of our minds” trying to meet demand, he told the Wilmington Morning News in a December 1967 article. “We made Marvels a high-filtration brand about a year and a half ago. This didn’t happen by chance.”
Until the family sold the domestic arm of the company in 1970 and the overseas branch in 1975, Stephano Bros. was a driving force behind the establishment and success of the Greek community in Philadelphia, often lending money to local entrepreneurs. The family bought U.S. bonds during the Great Depression and supported the Greek government abroad.
“My father staunchly supported the company’s role in the Greek and U.S. communities,” said his son, Andre.
After the company was sold, Mr. Stephano earned a master’s degree in business administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In 1978, he founded Stephano Marketing Associates, a consulting firm that large companies turned to for help in launching new brands or bringing foreign products to the U.S. market.
The products included Perrier bottled water, Campbell’s V8 refrigerated tomato drink, Breyer’s ice cream, Light n’ Lively yogurt, and Breakstone butter.
Mr. Stephano’s next project was creating an algorithm to minimize investment risk and improve financial planning for the middle class. He believed that most Americans couldn’t manage money, making them an easy mark for unethical stockbrokers. To help them, he created a questionnaire to gauge what kind of an investor each person was. The questions also tried to measure the person’s money needs over time.
He implemented his ideas at Prudential Insurance and then PNC Bank between 1986 and 1998. “This was an idea internationally with many fathers in many companies, but Dad brought and fought for it successfully at two of the biggest market leaders,” his son said.
In 1998, he started an independent franchise for Ameriprise Financial, which he ran from offices at 233 S. Third St. He worked as a financial adviser with a partner before selling to the partner in 2017 and retiring.
Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Stephano graduated from the Lawrenceville School in 1962. He earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1966 from Penn. He served in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard from 1966 to 1970.
Mr. Stephano married Jan Carl in 1968. They settled in Society Hill, where he became the unofficial “mayor,” his son said. Starting in the 1970s, Mr. Stephano served on the Society Hill Civic Association Zoning Board, working for consistent building standards as the neighborhood was redeveloped.
A lifelong gardener, he created and maintained a large public garden at Third Street and St. James Walk. His efforts won him awards from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the civic association. The garden will go on in his honor.
Mr. Stephano was a good cook. “Not a week passed that he didn’t call friends and family and bring them pot pies and other culinary creations,” his son said. He also helped feed the homeless.
Besides his son and wife, he is survived by two granddaughters; a sister; and two nieces.
A life celebration will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, May 24, at Christ Church, 20 N. American St. Interment is private.