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"I think our real success was our attitude," Schwam says. "We decided from the outset to really take care of our customers. We work with building managers, visual merchandisers, restaurant owners--very busy people who aren't set up to do this themselves. We say, 'Don't worry, we're going to take care of everything for you.' And we do."

Schwam's teams start planning in February for the spectacular displays (including Macy's, photo) that will grace the Big Apple during the holidays.

As the client list grew, so did the firm's need for creative talent. The lessons Schwam learned at Ithaca College, from faculty mentors like Don Eckrich in the business school and Wayne Blann in sport studies, taught him the value of a strong team. This in turn helped him assemble a staff capable of taking the company to the very top of its industry.

The recent growth of Schwam's firm has been both impressive and improbable. Despite a dismal economic climate and the calamity that befell New York City in 2001, American Christmas Decorations has doubled in size over the past three years. Its annual sales growth during the period has ranged from 25 to 47 percent. The company is currently expanding beyond metro New York, supplying holiday decorations for Banana Republic and Old Navy stores nationwide.

With the success has come a degree of celebrity. Schwam and his company have been profiled in publications as diverse as the New York Times, the New York Daily News, Inc. magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. Crain's New York Business recently named Schwam to its prestigious list of the region's 40 top executives under age 40.

Schwam's success with American Christmas Decorations is even more surprising considering he doesn't celebrate the holiday. His young family gathers around a menorah instead, at their home in Westchester County. Schwam is the first to chuckle at the irony.

"Customers always say, 'I'd love to see your Christmas tree,' and they're always surprised to hear that I light a menorah in my house," he said. "But really, the work we do isn't about religion--it's about celebration. It's about creating a festive mood, a spirit of goodwill and cheer. That's what makes this job so special."    end

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A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 5 March, 2004