Steven Massaro has never seen a construction boom like this — even after 30 years in the family business his father started in 1967.
“You can grow in this market,” says Massaro, president of Massaro Corp. “You could grow to be bigger; it’s that kind of market. The question would be, do you want to grow? If the answer is yes, then how much do you want to grow? It doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to happen, but it’s achievable.”
While it’s exciting to operate in this economy, he and his siblings don’t want to grow the company too quickly. They don’t want to upset their thoughtful approach to planning or a company culture they’re proud of.
“We’re in a pretty good spot right now, because of the people that we have working at Massaro,” he says.
Massaro spent the first 25 years of his career in sales, where only a handful of people reported to him. When he stepped into larger leadership roles, he had to change his mindset from constantly pursuing to declining certain opportunities when the resources weren’t available. He also recognized the gift of constructive feedback and how much impact a leader has on people at work.
“When you become president, you realize that the culture is your responsibility. The culture is set by the leaders of the company, by the family,” he says.
That larger responsibility helps guide how you conduct yourself on a daily basis, says Massaro, who remembers when the company was just his father, himself and two others. Now, the Massaro Construction Group has approximately 225 people, including his brothers, Joseph and David.
Massaro Corp., a general contractor, is the biggest piece by far. However, the company — under the overall direction of President and CEO Joseph Massaro — includes three other groups. Massaro Construction Management Services manages public building construction. Massaro Restoration Services responds 24/7 to commercial customers that have wind, fire, smoke, water or structural damage. Massaro Properties, run by President David Massaro, is a real estate arm that owns, leases and manages properties for the other Massaro businesses, as well as third-party development and real estate brokerage services.
With growth comes the need to add efficiencies through defined, consistent processes.
“We’re trying to make our people as efficient as possible, to make their lives better by minimizing the risk of the things that create poor performance,” Massaro says.
About 10 years ago, the business began following the Baldrige criteria for performance excellence. The concepts are simple but require hard work. For example, a company can’t say it’s good at scheduling unless it measures results that support that.
While each project is different, Massaro Corp. can measure certain steps every time, such as pre-construction services, estimating, scheduling, site logistics, customer check-ins and the close-out process.
“Our basic learning from that was the variability you could have — meaning people do it the way they want to do it or that they’re most comfortable with, and it’s not consistent throughout the company,” Massaro says.
By identifying your key processes, a company can develop the best method and train employees to apply it. Massaro Corp. has increasingly taken a lean construction approach with its constructability reviews, pull planning meetings and weekly work plans, which all help control costs and maintain the schedule.
“The constructability review could mean 10 different things to 10 different people. We took it as an opportunity to say, ‘This is what it means to Massaro. This is what it means for a lean integrated project approach,’” he says.
Essentially, the company added communication and collaboration.
With constructability reviews, rather than just reviewing drawings to estimate costs, Massaro Corp. invites input from architects and engineers to clarify concerns, gather necessary information upfront and eliminate the blame game. Then, a kick-off lunch meeting helps get everyone on the same page.
Through pull planning meetings with subcontractors, the company develops the pull plan, which starts with the end date and pulls the schedule back from there. Weekly work plans at each site provide a visual tool that helps keep everything on track.
It might seem like common sense, but Massaro says a lean integrated project delivery needs to be intentional. It’s also critical to include the foreman or superintendent. By treating subcontractors like partners, Massaro Corp. cuts down on the number of requests for information and change orders.
“We want that person here, too. They’re the ones who will implement the work. They’re the ones that will work with our superintendent, so we want to start that collaboration before we mobilize and start construction,” he says.
While not every project needs this kind of planning, without it, a lot of things have to go right. You need good drawings, good subcontractors, a good general contracting team and a good owner, Massaro says. It’s better to be proactive, even if an error is another entity’s responsibility.
“You try to do something about things that you typically don’t have control over,” Massaro says.
Showing the value
As with any change, it takes time to gain buy-in.
“People in construction, like any other industry, are used to doing it one way. They become numb to higher-level thinking, where you think, ‘It doesn’t have to be this way,’” Massaro says.
As a result, you need to start slowly, because when people get busy or stressed, they can fall back into their usual habits.
“Don’t try to take too much on. That was a lesson we had,” Massaro says. “Take baby steps. Find something that has an opportunity for improvement. Develop a process for it. Communicate it. Train to it. Measure it and begin to show people that it not only helps our company’s bottom line, it also helps make your life easier.”
In the case of pull planning meetings, at first people hesitated to speak up, he says. Subcontractors’ comfort zone is the job site, not sitting in offices, so they needed to learn Massaro Corp. was trying to help them do their job better.
With constructability reviews, architects or engineers could get defensive if the discussion is framed the wrong way because the owner is their customer, too. So Massaro Corp. positions these reviews as a matter of the architect-contractor team working together on drawings to minimize the risk for inefficiencies. And ultimately, if architects and engineers get fewer questions during the course of construction, they spend less time on the project, which is good for them.
Today, Massaro Corp. is seeing evidence that its lean integrated project delivery is working. Not only are drawings clearer upfront, but employees have developed checklists to help avoid past problems. Subcontractors are saying, “I wasn’t sure about this when I came in because it was different, but I’m glad I came.” The company is seeing better results on customer surveys, which it evaluates in lessons-learned meetings. Two years ago, scores were very choppy, Massaro says. Last year, the average customer satisfaction score was 8.76 out of 10.
At the same time, while challenges still crop up, the workplace environment is lighter.
“You tend to hear the things you like to hear around an office environment: a lot more talking, a lot more joking, a lot more laughing. That’s how you get happy and engaged employees,” Massaro says.
An intentional culture
It’s important to the Massaro family to set a culture that is innovative and enjoyable, where people want to hang out even outside of work.
“That’s the type of culture that we have. And that’s not just luck; it’s intentional. It’s thought through, and we have different ways of creating it,” he says. “It’s not just a fun environment, but also an environment where people are learning things and bettering themselves in their career.”
For example, the Massaros recently bought an organic grass-fed cow from Washington County. The meat will be used to reward employees — if they go above and beyond, they can take a few steaks from the freezer home to their families.
Communication also needs to remain strong, and it’s better for meetings to run long because people are engaged, rather than have them be too quiet.
“If you get the arms folded and everyone is just sitting back, checking their phones, checking their emails, hoping the meeting ends sooner, you’re missing the mark,” Massaro says.
His brother, Joseph, also helps make sure the company doesn’t hit meeting fatigue, where people spend too much time improving their job instead of doing their job. This is even more important in today’s environment, when the industry is so busy.
“It’s like math. If you’re not on top of your trigonometry by the middle of the semester, you’re going to have a tough time catching up,” Massaro says. “It’s no different here. So if you’re putting people into too many meetings and the project begins to fall behind or have problems, it takes a lot of effort to get it back on track.”
- Variable processes increase risk and stress.
- Share how efficiencies improve each individual’s job.
- Setting the right culture isn’t luck; it’s intentional.
Name: Steven Massaro
Company: Massaro Corp.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing, The Catholic University of America
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it? I worked in a warehouse. My dad’s big thing was, get up, pack your lunch and go to work. He wanted all of us to start working in a warehouse or as a laborer to understand the value of work. There’s no substitute for that.
What’s it like working with your brothers? It can be very enjoyable, and it can be very stressful. You always need to put the business performance first. But largely it’s a positive thing because there are several of you who have a vested interest in the performance of the company.
Have you thought about succession? We’ve thought about it. We’re all early to mid-50s, so it’s becoming real. My dad passed in December 2015 and my mom passed in December 2018. We’re still adjusting. A good succession plan will need to become a higher priority over the next couple of years.
Where might someone find you on the weekend? I got married later in life, so I still have small kids — a son and two daughters. So I might be coaching my son’s basketball team or somewhere with my wife and kids at an event.
Up until Dec. 27th, you could find my family and I every Sunday at my mom’s; we’re trying to figure out what Sundays are like going forward.