Taking on Challenging Projects with a Personal Touch
Ontario Cutting & Coring Limited
Ontario Cutting & Coring Limited (OCC) is a progressive, innovative, Mississauga, Ontario-based leader in the field of concrete cutting. Its trusted team of talented contractors specializes in concrete cutting as well as wall, slab and wire sawing, scanning and imaging, curb cutting, and core drilling.
The family-owned business was founded in 1973 by President Tony Zapparoli, who quickly made a name for himself in the industry by taking on even the most challenging jobs with a personal touch. Under Tony’s guidance, his son Mark Zapparoli manages the business along with his stepson Chris Volpe.
“We set ourselves apart from a lot of the other companies because we have expertise in what we do. Tony, Mark and I are hands-on and involved in every single major job,” remarks Vice President Chris Volpe. “Other companies will just send people out, while we are in front of the customer, on the job, making sure the job is getting done safely, properly and cost-effectively. Many of the jobs are still done on a handshake.”
One of OCC’s specialties is bridge demolition. This skilled capability is invaluable in the construction sector. “We have specialized equipment, and more importantly very experienced staff. Very often, demolition companies only have one night to demolish a bridge. We have to be prepared to mobilize people and equipment, and strategically cut bridge sections ‘hand-in-hand’ with their demolition operations. Many companies such as Delsan Aim, Priestly Demolition, EllisDon, PCL Construction, Verdi Alliance, and Crosslinx often come to OCC to develop a demolition plan,” shares Founder and President Tony Zapparoli.
“We work very closely with a lot of demolition companies. When it comes to bridge demolition, there is a very strict time constraint because usually you are working over a highway. There are not too many companies out there who do the work in the time that it needs to get done,” explains Volpe.
After almost 50 years in business, there has never been a situation where a road or highway hasn’t been opened within its scheduled timeframe or less.
With the help of major industry contractors, OCC has grown beyond simple concrete cutting to outperform any other cutting and coring company in the business. It is now frequently called upon during pre-t meetings to help major industry players with their bids and find more cost-effective ways to do the job, giving these clients a competitive edge.
“We always try to think outside of the box – try to find new and innovative ways to do the work. We are ahead of everybody else with regard to new equipment and investigating what else is out there,” adds Volpe. In fact, the highly regarded company was the first in Eastern Canada to employ the use of the revolutionary wire saw.
Some of the many major businesses that OCC has grown alongside are Priestly Demolition (bridges, sensitive landmarks, Union Station, Royal York Fairmount Hotel), Delsan-Aim (Ontario Power Generation’s 650-foot coal stacks, Bruce Nuclear Plant), and EllisDon (Union Station, Eaton Centre and Massey Hall). OCC’s last major project with EllisDon was for the Toronto Transit Commission, working on the city’s famous Union Station.
“We worked with EllisDon on removing approximately a thousand feet of subway wall, with a live subway running continuously behind that wall. There was no shutdown or interruption to that major hub in the city,” Volpe explains.
Conducting such critical work in the heart of Toronto, with thousands of passengers rushing past you every few minutes, is enough to make most people feel a bit squeamish, but such challenges are where OCC excels. “It can be intimidating at times,” Volpe admits, “but we are known for doing the difficult jobs that no one else wants to do, or that they say cannot be done. It’s what drives us. The harder the job, the better.”
Tackling such challenging projects, safety is a number-one concern at OCC. At the moment, OCC is striving toward COR™ certification. The Certificate of Recognition (COR™) is nationally trademarked and endorsed certification, awarded by the Canadian Federation of Construction Safety Associations (CFCSA). OCC staff have achieved Federal clearances to work in high security facilities such as the Bruce Nuclear Facility, Nanticoke Generating Plant, and Public Works Facility like Arthur Meighan Building.
“We do safety talks all the time, continually train through internal rigorous courses through the union, and stay up-to-date on all safety requirements. We always say to our people, ‘we need to get the job done on schedule,’ but first we always need to look at our situation, make sure the job is safe, and if there is a situation where they don’t feel that it is safe or where there is potential for something to happen, stop. Do not proceed with the work unless you are comfortable, and always follow the strict engineered procedures that are in place,” describes Volpe.
Over the years, Tony Zapparoli has grown his business from a company of one through hiring family and friends. He believes that running a company based on family values leads to greater commitment from employees. After all, at the end of the day, you are only as good as the team behind you.
“We are able to go and get all the work in the world, but if you don’t have dedicated employees behind you, it means nothing,” he says. “A lot of our work is repeat business, because we’ve proven to our customers that we are reliable and we get the job done on time, safely, within budget. If there are issues on the job and things are going sideways, they know they can pick up the phone and we will be on the job to address their concerns, help out and make sure we get things back on track.” OCC’s upper management is always a phone call away, so customers know that once a decision is made, it is final.
When hiring, OCC looks for other hardworking, ready-to-learn, safety-oriented individuals who will fit well within its family culture. “We want people who want to be here long-term. We are a family-based business. We treat our people as if they are our family,” Volpe mentions.
This family-oriented philosophy that Tony has instilled in the company was one-of-a-kind during the time of the company’s founding. Indeed, Tony Zapparoli founded his business after being denied time off after the tragic loss of his father. “He started erecting pre-casts, and while he was erecting pre-casts there was an opportunity to drill plumbing holes in the suites that were built in this townhouse complex,” Volpe recalls.
Mr. Zapparoli bought himself a used, $2,000 Datsun and began drilling holes. From there, the rest was history. Today, OCC operates under a business model of dedication and loyalty. “Hard, dedicated work gets rewarded. I don’t know of any other companies who give their unionized employees a bonus. We have employees that have been with us for over 25 years. We are very loyal to our employees,” says Zapparoli.
Although Tony is currently not in the field as much as he used to be, clients are still always asking about him, and often request specific staff on their projects. OCC has built a reputation for safe, high-quality work and a reliable, personal level of service, and takes pride in securing repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals. “We don’t do much advertising. We built our business based on strong relationships,” says Volpe.
As OCC prepares for its transition into its second generation of leadership, it plans for controlled growth so Tony, Mark, and Chris can keep a level of personal involvement in its projects. It has grown a niche for completing large, complicated projects, working with engineers to determine the safest, strategic and most economical approach to demolishing/removing concrete. But as it grows, OCC never wants to be seen as a ‘big corporation.’
“Our services are in high demand, but like a lot of the construction industry, there is a shortage of qualified workers, especially concrete cutters. We have strategically grown our company by bringing staff on board where they have an opportunity to train under one of our senior crew members,” says Zapparoli.
Even though OCC has still managed to keep its company culture more like that of a small business, the company of about 50 team members has continued to grow along with its reputation, working as far as Newfoundland on the east coast and Vancouver in the west.
“Although we had no plans to work outside the province, we have also recently been awarded a major cutting project at a heritage building in Prince Edward Island. With our experience in building cutting, we were asked to be personally involved in the cutting work in the restoration of this historic government building,” divulges Zapparoli.
“We don’t want to grow too fast, because by growing too quickly, you sacrifice quality and most importantly, your safety. Hopefully in the next five to ten years we could double our capacity, with the right control,” shares Volpe.
New leaders in the company, such as Chris Volpe and Mark Zapparoli, will strive to maintain the reputation Tony has been building for over almost 50 years, and will expand in a way that honours his vision. No matter the echelons of growth that OCC achieves in the future, it will continue to deliver its high-demand services safely, efficiently, and with the utmost quality.