A Perfect Balance
Dan and Danea Ross complement each other at Ross Contracting, Inc.
Ask Danea Ross and her husband, Dan Ross to explain their working relationship, and both say precisely the same thing: She’s the conservative one, and he’s the risk-taker.
“We complement each other very well,” says Dan, the 48-year-old President of Ross Contracting, Inc., a Mount Airy, Md.-based company that specializes in site development, excavation, land clearing and utilities. “She’s just as important to this company as I am—probably more important at this point.”
“We make a great team,” says Danea, the 47-year-old Vice President who handles the financial side of the business. “We can celebrate the accomplishments and victories together because we both know how big they are. We’re also there for each other when there is a problem—we both know when it’s stressful.”
The Rosses certainly aren’t unique in being partners in both business and marriage. But their roots go back farther than that of most husband-and-wife business duos. They met as teenagers working for Vipic, Inc., a Maryland construction company owned by Danea’s late father, Victor Piccolomini.
“My dad was a very hard worker who always said, ‘Work smarter, not harder,’ ” Danea says. “He had a very strong work ethic—start early, work all day, do what it takes—and that’s the same way Dan is.”
Dan and Danea got married in 1989, and launched Ross Contracting in 1994. From the start, Dan says, he’s tried to think outside the box. In the mid-‘90s, he was one of the first construction company owners in the area to buy a quick coupler for an excavator, a device that is almost standard equipment on most new machines. It allows for rapid changing of buckets and attachments from machines.
“I think I’m sort of an innovator when it comes to equipment,” Dan says. “I’ve always believed in buying the best equipment and unique equipment and attachments to be more productive and save time. We also rely heavily on our trucking fleet so we can respond quickly to any situation.”
Quick responses are essential for Ross Contracting, which does a lot of emergency work for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and other clients. In 2008 on Christmas Eve, Dan and his workers had to shift rapidly into high gear when a 66-inch water main broke in Montgomery County, sending 150,000 gallons of water per minute rushing down River Road in Potomac, Md., trapping motorists and ripping up a major thoroughfare.
Ross Contracting worked around the clock for eight days until the team had rebuilt the road. The water break and repair made national news, and as a result, Dan’s crew appeared briefly on a History Channel program about aging infrastructure.
“We love responding to emergencies and last-minute situations,” Dan says. “Our people thrive on it.”
Over 22 years, Ross Contracting has grown from a tiny operation into a booming business with a staff of 150—a size Dan says he’s perfectly content with.
“We expanded a while back and experienced a lot of growing pains in the process ... it became no fun anymore during that time,” he says. “I’m comfortable with the way the business is running right now. We’ve gotten back to our core group and we’re just trying to hone our skills and get more efficient at what we do.”
Variety is the Key
Ross Contracting’s path to efficiency runs side by side with offering a variety of services. While the company started out doing mostly water and sewer work, it’s expanded over the years into excavating, grading, land clearing, demolition, paving and other jobs. Its work includes multiple school districts and municipalities in the Washington metro area.
“We’re very diversified in what we can do, and that allows us to stand apart from companies that only specialize in one thing,” says Danea. “We have a large fleet of equipment, but the backbone of everything is having experienced employees who are great, loyal people.”
“Anybody can buy equipment, but you can’t buy people,” says Dan. “Our people are the best of the best and the key to our success, and we take care of them. We treat them with respect and give them a family atmosphere so they enjoy going to work. It’s not a company that’s run like a bureaucracy.”
The Next Generation
As Ross Contracting continues to evolve, Dan and Danea wonder about future generations of construction professionals.
They’ve already noticed some interest in the construction business from their children, teenagers Madison and Conrad and 11-year-old Natalia. Dan says the industry needs to do more to convince the students of today to become the construction workers of tomorrow.
“Parents encourage their kids to be doctors or lawyers … and construction is looked down upon,” he says. “Fewer and fewer young people are coming into the trade. Finding good help is probably the biggest challenge in construction.”
“Maybe construction companies should collaborate to educate kids at school and let them know construction is a good career choice and that this is the kind of money you can expect to make if you work diligently and move forward in your career. You can be whatever you want to be in a company, or you start your own company,” Dan says. “There’s good money in construction just as there is in any other career. In my opinion, it’s one of the best careers you can pursue. It is rewarding and fulfilling and makes you feel good to see what you built each day and at the end of the job.”