Former Panther defensive end Brian Guzek enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh in 1999. For four years, he balanced the demands of college football with the rigorous course load of a mechanical engineering major. Not many Division I football players earn such a difficult degree, let alone do so with honors, like Guzek. He was a student-athlete destined for success.
So, it should come as no surprise to see the 37-year-old managing a distinguished career, family and community involvement fifteen years later.
In August of 2017, Brian accepted the role of Chief Procurement Officer and Director of Supply Chain at Duquesne Light Company, a leading electric energy provider that services areas within Allegheny and Beaver counties. As the CPO and Director of Supply Chain, he is responsible for strategic sourcing, material services, materials management, logistics and collaborations with all business units at Duquesne Light. Not only is this a lofty position at one of the region’s premier companies, it is also a position for which Guzek is most passionate.
“I really love the forward thinking of Duquesne Light – how we volunteer in the community, and how important that is, and how that’s a key piece of what we do,” said Guzek. “[I love] providing safe, reliable power at a reasonable cost to our customers. It’s been great. I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s a lot more complex industry than some may think, and so learning that and having my skillset from procurement has just been an awesome opportunity.”
Guzek’s ascension to CPO and Director of Supply Chain at Duquesne Light is many years in the making. Immediately after receiving his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Guzek furthered his education at Pitt by earning a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering. At the same time, he also began his career at US Steel, serving as a management associate responsible for safety and production.
For over fourteen years, Brian climbed the corporate ladder at US Steel. He held numerous influential positions, including Director of Global Procurement, Director of Corporate Strategy and Director of Transformation. From November 2010 to March 2012, Brian and his family even relocated to Belgrade, Serbia, where he served as the General Manager of Procurement for US Steel’s Belgrade facility. He gave the company his best effort over the years, and they rewarded his work in return.
But when a former colleague at US Steel approached Brian about a move to Duquesne Light, he saw a professional and “philosophical” challenge worth exploring. After a dinner with the Chief Financial Officer and the Vice President of Human Resources at Duquesne Light, Guzek knew that it was time to part ways with his long time employer.
“It was a real hard decision,” he recalls. “I made a lot of friends and close colleagues, and I poured my heart [into the company]. I moved my family across the world … There’s always going to be a piece of me that truly thinks about US Steel and wants that organization to do well.”
At Duquesne Light, Guzek considers himself “blessed” with his current position and is not seeking further promotions at this time. However, do not expect him to embrace complacency or career stagnation. Brian will continue to enter each day with the competitive edge of an athlete, working towards the betterment of Duquesne Light one metaphorical game at a time. “Forward-thinking” will dictate his approach as he strives to top the previous day’s accomplishments. And most of all, he will lead others to better themselves and their company, and build many meaningful relationships along the way.
“My ultimate goal is to be that trusted and valued business partner,” said Guzek. “It’s hard to build trust, and it’s really hard to keep the value. I like being the one that changes an organization, that changes the way people think. My wife works at Children’s Hospital and she impacts lives every day. The things that she does – I can’t even begin to try to compete with that. But [I] can impact peoples’ lives and what they come to work for. They get excited for what they’re doing.”
Brian currently resides in his hometown of South Park, Pennsylvania. In May of 2006, he married his college sweetheart, Liz, and together they have two 8-year-old boys, Jake and Lucas. As a family, Liz, Jake and Lucas provide Brian with as much inspiration as any job could ever offer. Liz, a Physician Assistant at UPMC Children’s Hospital, rehabilitates kids who have spent time in the facility’s Intensive Care Unit. Her devoted service to children compels Brian to operate with compassion at his own workplace. Meanwhile, Jake and Lucas keep Brian on top of his game as a father, and even led him to his contributing role within the South Park community as a youth wrestling coach.
Brian may have pursued football at Pitt, but some of his greatest athletic achievements came as a wrestler at South Park High School. He competed in the heavyweight division, placing sixth at PIAA State Championships as a junior and third as a senior. Using the knowledge and experience gained as a high school wrestler, Guzek is now the head coach of the South Park Little Eagles, a youth wrestling club for children ages four through twelve in the South Park area.
“A few years ago when my kids were four, I reached out to Walt Karrenbauer, who is the former high school coach [at South Park], and asked if they still did the youth program, and if the kids could be four years old and wrestle,” said Guzek. “He said, ‘If you coach, they can be four years old and wrestle.’ So I kind of got into it four years ago.”
Serving on a volunteer basis, Brian holds the typical duties of a head coach: overall supervision of the team, teaching techniques, setting up and running practices, setting up for matches and attending match meetings. His priority and ultimate goal as head coach, though, is to help youth wrestlers grow into young adults through the sport they love.
“You want to keep the kids safe. You want to teach them the sportsmanship in the sport. And you want them to have fun. If you just stay on that, kids will embrace it, they’ll know you’re genuine about it, and they’ll continue to love and do it. We have a lot of kids that love the sport.
“And it’s a hard sport; it’s not an easy sport. … There’s someone who wins and loses at the end of every match, and that’s hard for some kids. It teaches them how to win with respect and lose with dignity, and learn from a loss. As long as you give it all that you can and you lose, you know you have to work on some things.”
As the Little Eagles’ head coach, Brian is also charged with growing the overall club. When he assumed the position four years ago, only thirteen children competed for the Little Eagles. Under his direction, the number of participants has grown exponentially. Last season, the club featured 46 wrestlers.
Western Pennsylvania is widely considered to be one of the most fertile regions in the entire country when it comes to producing wrestling talent. South Park has contributed to the local talent pool in recent years despite fielding a small roster, and if he can continue to recruit youth wrestlers, Brain will supply the high school with even more talent in the years to come.
“We don’t have big numbers, but we have phenomenal wrestlers. You have Greg Bulsak (of Clarion University), who actually made it to the NCAA tournament this year. He was a two-time state champ. You have Jake Wentzel, who is at Pitt – Hail to Pitt! He was a two-time state champ and competed very well this year. I mean, the talent base is rich … We try to feed it, feed the high school program, and keep kids engaged and loving the sport.”
The Little Eagles compete in the South Hills Youth Wrestling League, comprised of teams in the South Hills area like Bethel Park, Mount Lebanon and Chartiers Valley. Guzek, who also serves as Vice President on the South Hills Youth Wrestling Board, has a direct hand in the operations of the league. Not only is he cultivating the youth wrestling scene in South Park, he is facilitating development across the entire area.
With Jake and Lucas on the team, Brian must manage the “emotions of a coach with the emotions of a dad” on a regular basis. He isn’t the first Guzek with this responsibility, though. When Brian was in middle school, he wrestled for his own father, who coached the South Park Middle School team at the time. And like his father before him, Brian witnesses the development of each kid on his roster, but his most detailed observations come when watching his own children.
“It’s been a great experience, especially for my kids. I can see it. They get it. They don’t like to lose. Trust me, they’re like me; they’re pretty competitive kids. But they understand: ‘It’s ok. I can get this. I can get better. I want to try to win the next time.’”
To understand how Brian effectively tackles so many responsibilities, one can return to a post-practice quote he issued heading into his senior year at Pitt: “Before a game, I need silence. I picture myself doing my job. I try to picture everything done perfectly.”
“I was telling somebody that, and I tell my kids that all the time,” Brian said, when reflecting on his quote from fifteen years ago. “It’s always worked well for me. I can remember being in high school, closing my eyes the night before the game, laying there, seeing the holes open up, seeing myself move. And professionally, it’s the same way.
“I’ll send inspirational quotes out to my team on Wednesdays, and I try to scatter it so they don’t just expect it. There’s a quote … ‘If you strive for perfection, sometimes you’ll snag excellence.’ So you envision it going well. You’re going to have to course correct, and not everything’s going to go exactly how you have it planned. But you have to see it, you’ve got to envision it, you’ve got to go and lay it out and execute it.”
This approach served Brian well over his four seasons wearing the Blue and Gold. A PIAA All-State performer as a senior at South Park High School, Guzek was thrust into action midway through his freshman season at Pitt due to injuries sustained by teammates. Then, in just his second game, he too was stricken by injury and forced to the sidelines for the remainder of the season. It was far from an ideal beginning to his Pitt career, but in adversity Brian found opportunity for learning and growth.
“It taught me selflessness. I burned my redshirt. I came in the eighth game of the year against Virginia Tech on October 30th. It was a Thursday night game. Old Pitt Stadium was just packed with people. It was kind of the end of the game, but I had to call the fronts. There was no one else there. [I remember] jogging out there and just feeling the excitement.
“And then game playing against Miami, I played against (tight end) Bubba Franks, hands up on him a lot of the time. I ended up blowing out my PCL and playing the whole game not realizing it. A lot of it was adrenaline, and I played with knee braces on. I woke up the next morning and the back of my calf was black. I couldn’t put any pressure on it. I was the first one to the stadium that morning, and hey, your freshman year is gone. It was hard to swallow and rationalize.”
Thanks to a successful surgery performed by esteemed University of Pittsburgh surgeon, Doctor Freddie Fu, and expert knee rehabilitation led by former Pitt strength and conditioning coach, Buddy Morris, Guzek recovered from his injury by the start of his sophomore season. Despite being denied a medical redshirt by the NCAA, Brian entered his second year with vigor. Now twenty pounds heavier and lining up at defensive end, he started multiple games as a sophomore. As a junior, he became the starter midway through the season, and as a senior, he started every game for a 9-4 Pitt squad that ended the year with a victory over Oregon State in the Insight Bowl.
To this day, Brian remains an avid Panther fan. Aside from his time in Serbia, he has attended practically every home game since hanging up the pads. Sitting in the same seats his parents purchased while he played for Pitt, Brian has closely monitored the program’s progress under Head Coach Pat Narduzzi, and he envisions a bright future for his former team.
“I’m really impressed with Coach Narduzzi and what he’s doing for the program. He’s got the right attitude. He’s getting the right people. He’s recruiting with character. All that stuff – I’m really excited about the program … He’s definitely doing the right things to build a program. He’s not looking for one year; he’s looking to bring the tradition back to where it belongs.”
Just as Brian approves of the current state of Pitt football, he has a similar appreciation for his own past, present and future.
“I can’t say anything other than I am blessed,” said Guzek. “My parents are fantastic; they made me who I am today. My wife, my kids. You are who your experiences make you. I’ve had a great experience.”
Indeed, the experience has been great. And if in another fifteen years Panther fans check back in on Brian Guzek, it will still be no surprise to see the same guy, with the same unyielding work ethic, balancing multiple responsibilities in a way few others can.