Building blocks Featured

6:05am EDT March 23, 2005
Like his grandfather and father before him, L. Jack Ruscilli is transitioning the leadership of Ruscilli Construction Co. to a new generation -- his son, Lou Ruscilli, and nephew, Tony Ruscilli.

This next generation has been promoted to vice president in charge of operations (Lou) and vice president of finance, sales and marketing (Tony). The senior Ruscilli says he's confidant in their abilities to manage the day-to-day operations of the company and, when the time is right, to take it to the next level.

"The leadership of the company is for Lou and Tony now," says Jack Ruscilli. "They will make the major decisions from this day forward."

Ruscilli seems almost eager to relinquish control of his company to the fourth generation. That's quite different from his experience when he took the reins. In 1971, when Ruscilli was handed the job of general manager, his father was a little skeptical of some of Jack's ideas.

Among them, Ruscilli incorporated the design-build service into the company's service offering.

"Back then, we saw a need for a single-source responsibility because budget and schedule overruns were becoming common in the industry," Ruscilli says. "Owners wanted a streamlined process between design and construction that created a single source responsibility, where they could shift the risk of cost, scope and schedule overruns to someone else who could control the process."

Prior to design-build services, the client hired an architect, who put out the bid for the contractors.

"There were a lot of change orders," he says. "And it wasn't a close relationship."

The design-build service saved clients money and proved successful for the company. More important, 34 years later, it continues to be a profit center for Ruscilli Construction.

"Today, design-build and construction management services represent 80 percent of our volume," Ruscilli says. "Approximately one-half of that (is) repeat business."

Ruscilli also believed that in order for the company to grow, it was time to allow employees outside the family to manage projects. That was in stark contrast with his father, who feared that nonfamily members might not take the same ownership of projects and would let quality slip.

But Ruscilli was persistent. Finally, after years of success, Ruscillli says his father admitted it had been a good decision.

"He was never convinced it would work until several years after he retired," says Ruscilli.

Despite the changes, Ruscilli never changed his father's commitment to the personal touch. He says that because of the design-build service, clients never felt that touch lacking.

"What it did was that, at first, we were bidding all kinds of different projects," Ruscilli says. "With design-build, we were focusing on working with clients and crafting relationships. It was a much more personal touch, and we were more involved. We wanted clients to feel that we were as much invested in the success of the project as they were."

Ruscilli's changes paid off, as the company's volume doubled each year during the first 10 years he ran the business.

A new generation

Like Jack Ruscilli, both Lou Ruscilli and Tony Ruscilli have strong opinions about the future of the 100-employee company.

Both say that no big changes are forthcoming. Instead, the fourth-generation leaders plan to leverage the company's greatest strengths to broaden its market share. All three Ruscillis agree on what those strengths are -- the company's associates and its self-performance services.

"By far, our greatest strength is our associates," says Tony Ruscilli. "Over the past several years, we have been able to attract some of the most talented people in the industry. In addition, our parents and grandparents built a company that is now almost 60 years old based on hard work, quality and honesty. We plan to continue that tradition because that reputation is also a great strength.

"We continue to expand our self-performance group to include additional trade capabilities, as well as renovation and maintenance work for our clients."

Lou Ruscilli says that the biggest challenge is overcoming the perception that the company is only interested in or can be competitive in larger projects. Looking outside that market will lead to small and mid-sized projects that the Ruscillis says the company is well-equipped to handle.

"The public views us as specializing in larger projects," says Lou Ruscilli. "But the majority of our projects are smaller."

Lou says that project could be something as small as an office renovation.

"We are often told how surprised clients are that we are so competitive on these smaller projects, especially when we use our own resources," he says. "And we give the same quality. In fact, we have made that [smaller projects] a priority."

But both generations agree that remaining a regional player -- rather than trying to leverage the company's strengths and broaden its market reach -- is the best strategic decision for today.

"We're new to our roles," Lou says. "So first we want to focus on the company as it is -- improve processes and find ways to add value. But in the future, who's to say?"

Jack Ruscilli agrees.

"When we've successfully built for a client and that carries you to a different city where there are value-added opportunities, then we look at that," he says.

One block at a time

Despite his confidence in the next generation, Jack Ruscilli is not quite ready to turn over total control of his company.

"I'm still president and CEO," he says. "But in not too many years to come, I want to be working on the business instead of in it. I am challenged with allowing them [Lou Ruscilli and Tony Ruscilli] to make major decisions within the company while sharing the benefits of my personal experience."

And like Ruscilli, the younger family members are confident that their ideas will work and believe the transition will be seamless for the company's employees.

"My father grew the company exponentially," Lou Ruscilli says. "Our desire is to get more into the self-performance method, which will require us to build more crews of experienced, talented, efficient tradesmen, which, in turn, will give us more opportunities."

Jack Ruscilli says the employees have already embraced these ideas, as they are part of a shared vision. "Talk about energizing the employees," he says. "Tony and Lou are already part of our management team and are already adding energy to the team. They are already making things happen and will do more as the transition moves on."

The vision might be a common one, says Lou Ruscilli, but ideas of how to make that vision a reality are different.

"It is a shared vision," he says. "But maybe at this point in time, Tony and I are willing to take things further. We are more insistent on pushing for change."

The senior Ruscilli says this is exactly what he wants.

"I want to give them the opportunity to do some things differently, as I did from my father," he says. "And I know they are on the right track. We are all in agreement where the company needs to go. It's just a matter of the steps it takes to get there that may be different."

And Ruscilli is not afraid of mistakes -- his or theirs. He knows through experience that not every idea pans out.

"Throughout the years, we started new companies such as Ruscilli Roofing Co., Ruscilli Real Estate Services and Ruscilli Development Co.," he says.

While the real estate and development companies are still going strong, the roofing company was phased out.

"Although initially successful, the reroofing business became a commodity that was eventually imitated by many companies, so we elected not to operate it as a separate company," says Ruscilli. "Today, we offer these services on a select basis within our self-performance team."

And coming full circle, Lou Ruscilli and Tony Ruscilli plan to be personally involved in some way, with every project.

"In the past, there were other individuals involved and not necessarily a Ruscilli," says Tony.

And the senior Ruscilli is taking it all in stride.

"I'm happy," he says.

How to reach: Ruscilli Construction Co., (614) 876-9484