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Antonette Paliotta Featured

9:45am EDT July 22, 2002

You likely would find as many paths to business success as the number of successful businesses. Increasingly, these tales are told with a generous peppering of modern acronyms such as IPO, MBA and URL.

Other stories — such as that of Antonette Paliotta — are told in warmer, more traditional terms such as family, perseverance, tradition and apprenticeship. Hers is the American dream story that one rarely encounters in today’s success-obsessed culture.

If you saw Paliotta, 44, dashing around the South Hills dealing with dozens of business details, getting her three young children to and from school and tending to family matters, you wouldn’t think of asking her to demolish your railroad pier or build your retaining wall. But as president of Speria Construction Inc., she’s just the person for the job.

Speria Construction, named after a relative in Paliotta’s native Italy, is a traditional small business based in Library, near the Allegheny-Washington county line. Paliotta is the boss — in charge of operations, developing business, bidding on jobs, personnel and equipment and other matters.

Speria employs 18, but doesn’t own a garage full of equipment. Instead, Paliotta assembles teams of workers and equipment under innovative financing arrangements depending on the job. Day-to-day details are handled by a foreman in the field.

Recently, Speria, which specializes in demolition and structural construction work, removed some formidable bridge piers of The Monongahela Connecting Railroad Co. on Pittsburgh’s Southside as part of a riverside development project. Another specialty is the construction and refurbishing of small bridges — thousands of which carry traffic and pedestrians over the valleys and ravines of southwestern Pennsylvania.

From Ellis Island to East Liberty

Paliotta’s story would make an excellent Sunday night movie. She was a young woman of 12 living in a small village in Italy when her mother and brother sailed with her to the United States in 1968. Her father had arrived earlier and was working as a landscaper in Pittsburgh.

When his family cleared U.S. Customs in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, they settled in East Liberty. Paliotta became a seamstress.

She later married Carmen Paliotta, who owned and operated Carmen Paliotta Contracting Company, and worked for him without pay. Her seamstressing diminished and her contracting responsibilities grew as her husband’s company prospered.

“Speria Construction was established in February 1997,” Paliotta explains, “after my husband decided he wanted a break after 25 years of nonstop business. He held an auction in December 1996, and scaled back his business dramatically.

“At that point, I’d been in the business for 20 years, slowly, gradually learning every aspect of it. I decided it was time I had something for myself — so I could use everything I’d learned and actually run a business. It was my time.”

Learning by doing

Paliotta remembers no single defining moment in her ascension to ownership of a construction company. Rather, she says, “Any success I have is a matter of hanging in there, always learning, paying attention and doing whatever was needed.”

Asked if she considers herself an entrepreneur in the modern mold — with, for example — a college degree in engineering or business administration, she laughs.

“No, I have no formal education like that. I learned everything the hard way — by doing it. When you think about it, that makes the tuition pretty expensive.”

Business hasn’t been entirely smooth for Speria as the company recently marked its third year. One of its major projects, the replacement and exact replication of a historic covered bridge in Indiana County, went well, Paliotta says, and came in three months ahead of schedule. Still, she faced payment issues with state and county governments, and had to go to arbitration to get paid.

Nonetheless, she continues to press onward. Asked if her goal is to build a business which she can turn over to her children, she pauses.

“Gee, that’s a little premature,” she says. “The twins are only 9 1/2 and my youngest just turned 7. Ask me again in a few years.”

How to reach: Speria Construction Inc., (724) 348-0611

William McCloskey is a free-lance writer living in Pittsburgh.

About this series... The SBN/PNC Women in Business Series is a monthly series, sponsored by PNC Bank, showcasing the achievements of some of the region’s top women business owners and the obstacles they have overcome.

PNC Bank continues to expand its commitment to women business owners. In its latest initiative, the PNC Bank Foundation offered a $250,000 grant to Seton Hill College’s National Education Center for Women in Business to create a Web site resource for women business owners. Its Web address is www.e-magnify.com.