Rebuilding Boston, One Project at a Time
Boston’s family-owned G.V.W. Incorporated construction company specializes in public and private sector construction in the state of Massachusetts. Among its diverse projects are ground-up contracts that range from seven-story buildings to schools and public facilities. It is also one of the state’s largest window installers and performs big and small interior renovation fit-outs for existing buildings. The company prides itself on its ability to keep up with its market’s needs. George Wattendorf, company president and son of its founder, shared the scope and history of the company with us.
“My father instilled in me never to corner myself in one market,” says George, and he has taken this advice to heart. The company recently acquired a five-story private hospital building in Boston dating from the 1940s and converted it into forty residential units. The rental income from these units allows this general contractor to produce an alternative revenue stream from the real estate industry. The conversion included adding another two floors, while the original shell was changed into high-end apartments. It was a very big challenge throughout, but it was successful, and Parker Hill is now the crown jewel in the G.V.W. property portfolio.
In a sense, this massive conversion project brought G.V.W. Incorporated full circle, as George’s father started the company with renovations in 1986. He was working in life insurance at the peak of the U.S. private residential boom of the mid-eighties when he had an offer from a financier who agreed to back renovations if he would do the work. He accomplished the company’s first official job with a few guys on a brownstone house in Boston.
He did that for about three years until 1989, when the market crashed. Then, starting small, he got into public construction, building schools and even jails and police stations. In this way, the business grew. Four years ago, his son took over the reins.
The younger Wattendorf was well-equipped when he took on the position of president. First, he had earned a degree in civil engineering and went straight into working in the field with the family firm. Like his father, George has construction in his veins. His dad’s spirit and resolution are what he admires most, as he weathered many storms during his lifetime.
In 1986, George’s father was bold enough to make a life-changing career decision. When the private sector crashed in 1989, he changed course to keep the company going. It took a lot of nerve and financing to stay in construction. Then, in the recession of 2008, G.V.W. went from about fifty employees to fifteen, but his father managed to build the number back up to about seventy-five.
“Adapting to economic ebbs and flows takes incredible resilience and courage. One of our biggest virtues is that we are adaptable,” says George.
George believes that life is not a dress rehearsal. “As a leader, you just have to put your boots on every day and make the most of it. You’re not only supporting your own family, but you’re also supporting the families of the other seventy-five people who work for you,” he says.
G.V.W. Incorporated takes family seriously. George’s own family helps him cope with the stresses of the high-pressure environment in which he works. He attributes part of his success to the fact that when he does need advice, his father is a phone call away. “I also have a wonderful wife and son who are always there for me. So, overall, it’s not just me, I have great people surrounding me,” he says.
When it comes to his team, George is equally dedicated. He believes in treating employees like he would like to be treated, and he is passionate about encouraging his workforce to get any licenses they may be trying to attain, whether it is a supervisor’s license, a hoisting license or a hazmat license – a hazardous materials endorsement. The firm also pays for workers’ schooling and the cost of exams.
George feels that it is important for his people to know that he cares about them. “I want to help our team to improve their lives by continuing their education. To do more than just show up at work every day and go home,” he says. It follows that most of the company’s employees have mostly been there for a very long time. After the unfortunate downtime in 2008, when people had to be laid off, many were rehired when things improved. Ten years later, they are all still here.
G.V.W. Incorporated’s longest standing employee, Mike Finnegan, has been with the company since it began thirty-one years ago. “Besides my father, he is my construction industry mentor. I’ve worked very closely with him since I started fifteen years ago,” says George.
George invests in macro-management. The company’s professionals have the power and the tools to succeed on their own, while he keeps in daily touch with a few key management members. As long as the firm is flying, he is happy. He prefers to look at the overall result, rather than each task and has certainly picked the fruits of this approach. Last year, the company celebrated its most lucrative year in history.
His management philosophy does not mean that he is not hands-on, however. Large projects are managed by a team of five, including a project manager and assistant, a project executive and a site supervisor with an assistant. In addition, George oversees each project personally. For smaller projects, a project manager, site supervisor, and assistant are assigned, and George still oversees. Clients have direct access to management at all times, ensuring smooth and transparent processes. With ten to twenty projects running at any given time, there is more than enough management support to go round.
Of course, with sleek business management comes great contracts and achievements. Parker Hill, the company’s forty-unit apartment block is definitely its most recent victory. It has also just finished building a college in Haverhill for the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM), which was its biggest job in five years. G.V.W. greatly values its longstanding relationship with the department and looks forward to improving it even further.
The company has also just completed a big project at two Boston public schools, with $8,000,000 worth of renovation work that needed to be completed in three months. It gave the company the opportunity to cement its already good working relationship with the city. The work was finished on time, and this is now officially the biggest job it has done for the city in its history.
One of this general contractor’s greatest assets is that its strong management team keeps subcontracting to a minimum. In this way, it eliminates many subcontracting markups and overhead costs. This means that clients get the same quality result for significantly less money.
Another great plus of doing most of its work itself is that it can genuinely call itself an industry leader. It has also set the bar for smaller general contractors that now try to emulate its style. The way George sees it, being copied is a wonderful compliment because it means that the company is giving customers what they want. “Not many people in the industry can handle the workload of self-performing with seventy-five employees, of whom sixty work in the field on a daily basis.”
He is proud that the company has withstood the pressure and achieved great heights while keeping high standards and living up to its certifications. Amongst its accreditations, it holds a LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – accreditation that comes with a very large responsibility to uphold.
With all its hard work and high pressure comes great prosperity, and G.V.W. Incorporated believes in sharing. It particularly supports the Judge Baker Children’s Center in Boston, which focuses on children’s mental health. It also donates to the Thomas E. Smith Foundation, which searches for paralysis cures. Apart from these two big charities, it also has a few other favored causes that it supports.
In terms of future developments, the company’s sights are set on increasing its job sizes and public works in 2018. It would also like to expand its property portfolio by developing a new building every two years, and George is ready to steer the family business towards property management. If history is anything to go by, G.V.W. Incorporated is once again set to come out on top this year.