Building a Network
Strong Relationships Steer Steady Growth for the Fortunato
If he wasn’t so successful as founder and Chief Executive Officer of Fortunato Construction Group, Vince Fortunato could give lectures on the value of relationships. His education, experience and business acumen have all helped Fortunato Construction Group succeed, but it’s the relationships he brought with him into the business and those he’s forged since that have made the firm’s accomplishments possible.
“You don’t have a relationship with a business, you have a relationship with people,” Vince says. “If you have those good relationships, as people move from job to job your relationships expand. It’s really a long-term investment in treating people right.
“A few years ago, I looked at my existing network,” he says. “Just as a mental exercise, I connected each client to someone I knew before them. It was a reverse pyramid, with many clients all traced back to just a few relationships.”
Steady as She Goes
Vince founded Fortunato Construction Group almost 30 years ago and, like his network of relationships, he has shepherded his firm through careful and steady growth. During his first year in business, his revenues were under $1 million, but they’ve climbed steadily over the years.
“If you drew our revenues like a stock market graph, you’d see a nice pattern of 5 to 10 percent growth per year,” Vince says. “I never wanted to grow as fast as possible. I always wanted consistent and sustainable growth. Looking back to 15 to 20 years ago, we went over $10 million. In the last year or two, we’ve reached around $40 million. This year, we’re looking to hit $50 million. On the next upswing we’re looking at $60 million,” he says. “I look at the long-term trend. I look at the head count. We’ve grown by one or two people a year. If you manage it right, even downturns can be an opportunity to improve your company. A slow, moderate growth philosophy translates well into growing your company.”
Vince’s education includes a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Fairfield University, a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Hartford’s Barney School of Business. He spent years in the field of construction before launching his own company, culminating in the position of Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Design and Construction Division at The Simon Konover Company in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Despite this impressive career path, Vince wanted an opportunity to run his own company, and in 1989, the Fortunato Construction Group was born. Vince, a licensed professional engineer, arbitration consultant and expert witness with 40 years of experience, hasn’t looked back.
“He went from a huge company, where he’d worked his way up through the ranks, to working for himself,” says Lindsey Fortunato, Vince’s daughter and Director of Planning and Strategy for the Fortunato Construction Group. She’s been officially part of the company for four and a half years, though, of course, she grew up in the business. “He went from a corner office to a home office. A few months after he started, his younger brother, Rich, joined the company. Now, almost 30 years later, we’ve grown a lot.”
Calling on a Network
The transition from working for a company to owning your own business is often a rocky one, but for Vince, the movement went smoothly.
“I had a large network of contacts in the contracting community,” Vince says. “And I was aware of other opportunities coming up. When I decided to leave to start my own firm, I gave my employer a very generous notice. During course of that time, I let people know I was going out on my own. When I got my business started, I had some customers waiting for me.”
Vince’s first contract was unusual. It entailed building a small retail center on a piece of land situated on a steep hill. The project called for a shopping center on one side of the hill and a dinosaur-themed miniature golf park on the other. The unique nature of the project generated a lot of local attention, which led to more business for the fledgling company.
“It was a lot to manage at first,” Vince says. “With contracts coming and no staff, I was doing everything. But I still managed time to network with other people. I was very fortunate—other opportunities came my way, I got some help and the rest is history.”
That history is best told in terms of restaurants and retail venues, new schools and office spaces.
“When I started out, I was focusing on retail,” Vince says. “The company I worked for previously was in retail, so that was the low-hanging fruit. …The sister to retail is restaurants. Once they know you can build a restaurant, they come to you. We found a strong niche with restaurants 22 years ago. We built an Outback Steakhouse and they asked us to bid on more. We’ve done many more since, and others in their restaurant family.”
Find What You Do Best
Although he’s open to any kind of project, Vince believes that finding a niche in the market and proving you know how to do it right is the best way to earn business.
“If you just go bid on everything, you don’t differentiate yourself,” Vince says. “You need to show you know what you’re doing and can do it well. That will shrink the competition a lot.”
Fortunato Construction Group’s top client, in both volume and longevity, is ALDI US. For the past 12 years, Fortunato has worked with the chain throughout the Northeast, building 56 new grocery stores. When ALDI announced an upgrade campaign throughout their stories, they turned again to Fortunato as general contractor for the work. Between new builds and remodels, Vince estimates his firm has worked on more than 100 ALDI store remodels.
Another major client is Bob’s Discount Furniture, a New England-based company with stores reaching as far south as Virginia. Fortunato Construction Group is a preferred vendor for this retail chain and has touched at least 75 different stores—with roles ranging from constructing new facilities to renovating existing stores.
A third primary client is DaVita, a kidney care and dialysis provider for whom Fortunato has built between 15 and 20 facilities.
Other niches in which Vince has proven his company’s worth include automobile dealerships and private schools. “Schools share information,” he says. “If you do a good job for one, others want to talk to you about doing their work.”
Matching People to Projects
Vince has maintained his network of relationships by understanding that business is done person to person more than company to company.
According to Lindsey, providing construction services for ALDI during its growth has been challenging because Fortunato Construction had to make sure it could commit to completing a number of projects for ALDI while balancing work with other clients. “People want to work with the same teams they’ve worked with before,” she says. “We’ve gone above and beyond to keep together teams that have already worked with a client because that trust and that relationship are already there.”
For Vince, putting together the right team means hiring the best employees, the best people, to help represent his company in the marketplace. As part of his philosophy of slow, moderate growth, he takes the time to only bring in the best candidates rather than hiring quickly to fill needs that come from expanding at too fast a pace. He’s particularly determined to find employees who share his ideas about maintaining a productive relationship with customers.
“I really can’t say enough about the quality and caliber of people in our company,” Vince says. “They really take the client’s interest to heart. That’s clear in everything we do. I’m proud to have some very high caliber people working for me. The big secret is how to keep them. You have to give them challenges, independence, flexibility and compensation. You have to be sure they’re comfortable coming to you with any problem. What really resonates with me is when I go to a job site with multiple general contractors…the people I meet aren’t nearly the caliber of people I have on my jobs.”
Of course, his employees aren’t the only source of pride for Vince. After nearly 30 years of hard work and success, Fortunato Construction Group has left its mark on the community, the state and the region.
“I’m proud of all we’ve built,” Vince says. “There’s a strip of highway near our office. I guess there’s one like it in just about every city—it’s got every major retailer and restaurant lined up on it. I can drive 3 or 4 miles down that highway, pointing to building after building, saying ‘I built that one, and I built that, and that one.’ ”