Pettinaro Inc. is a family affair (from left): Cindy Pettinaro Wilkinson, Vicky Pettinaro Martelli, Midge, Verino, Tracy Pettinaro Crowley and Greg.
Verino Pettinaro says he’s not in the construction business as much as he’s in the resurrection business. His company has built new construction all over Delaware, but Pettinaro takes more pride in the number of run-down or unwanted properties that he has rejuvenated. He points to projects like Greenville Place in Greenville and The Paladin Club in Edgemoor, where he turned depressed properties into desired properties.
“I take things nobody else wants,’’ he says, “and then I make them good.’’ There is no better example of that than the Wilmington Riverfront, which used to be a wasteland of weeds, rust and rats. But Pettinaro saw something else along the Christina River: potential. So, in 1986, he paid $1.2 million for 65 acres and that was the genesis of the riverfront’s revival in the 1990s.
According to Delaware Business Times, riverfront development has brought more than 1,400 residents and 6,000 jobs to the area. A study by the University of Delaware Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research says the city, county and state have also profited. In 1996, gross riverfront activities added $3 million in public revenue. In 2012, that figure was $32 million.
By any measure, the turnaround has been amazing. Verino Pettinaro got the ball rolling. “I think I have a pretty good perspective on whose contributions really count,’’ Purzycki says. “And from my perspective, we wouldn’t have any of this without Verino.’’
That doesn’t mean that Purzycki hasn’t butted heads with Pettinaro on occasion. They disagree at times, and sometimes those disagreements can be animated. But, Purzycki says, they’re never antagonistic.
“He’s never an easy negotiator, but he’s a fair negotiator,’’ Purzycki says. “People in that business tend to have massive egos, and sometimes that kind of trumps their humanity. But the great thing about Verino is that no matter how tough the negotiation, you know you’re dealing with a good person. He’s just fundamentally decent, and you can count on that.’’
Pettinaro Inc. has also earned the respect of its competitors in the contracting business, people who admire its success and its approach.
“Verino has always been able to see things that others don’t see, and he’s willing to invest in his vision,’’ says Lorri Grayson, vice president of GG+A Construction in Middletown and chairwoman of the Delaware chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. “It’s almost like a gut feeling he has about things. He has that vision. He also takes great pride in his work, and he’s passed that down to his children.’’
Grayson praises the restoration job Pettinaro Inc. did on the old county courthouse building on Rodney Square in 2012, which took the run-down, 96-year-old edifice and turned it into state-of-the-art office space.
“When you see the detail and the trouble they took to get it right, it’s very inspiring,’’ Grayson says. “They kept a lot of the original details and incorporated them into the new design. They didn’t have to do that, but that’s just the way that company operates. They look at more than the bottom line.’’
Greg Pettinaro said that has always been the company’s philosophy as it competes in the rough-and-tumble world of contracting and construction. “We go after things hard, and we’re tough,’’ he says. “That may make it sound like we’re bullies, but it’s really about never saying never, and never giving up if you really believe in the project.”
“So if we see something that we know will work, we’ll keep fighting for it,’’ Verino Pettinaro says, laughing. “And eventually everyone else will wear down.’’
Greg and Verino Pettinaro.
Verino Pettinaro still pops by the office and work sites, but he’s also taking time to enjoy life with Midge, to whom he gives most of the credit for his success.
“More than any [construction] project, the thing I’m most proud of are my kids,’’ he says. “And she gets 100 percent of the credit for that. I worked all the time, and she raised them and made them into the people they are today. She did it all.’’
Not only has their family grown, their business has also changed over the years, evolving from a construction company into a complete management firm with a large portfolio. “From where it started to where we are now, it’s such a different company,’’ Greg Pettinaro says. “It’s just miles apart.’’
Grayson says the transition to the next generation has been a smooth one because son and daughters have followed their father’s footsteps while making their own. She points to the biggest deal the Pettinaros have been involved with, their recent purchase of high-end property in Greenville that they bought from the Stoltz organization for $100 million.
“You’ve got to give Greg credit for that, because it happened under his watch,’’ Grayson says. “That was obviously a huge deal, and really typical of something Verino would have done, and not just for the money involved. I’m glad they own that property instead of Stoltz, because they’re a local company that cares about the community and being a good neighbor.’’
But the Pettinaros also know that family businesses can lead to family feuds. Even close bonds can be broken by money, and when that money is counted in the millions, the pressure is even stronger. Verino Pettinaro made sure his children knew they were part of something special and that the firm and the family need each other.
“I took my business and made my kids my partners,’’ he says. “Now they’re not just workers—they’re partners.’’ Greg was promoted to CEO in 2006. His sisters are equal partners. And Greg Pettinaro says his father’s philosophies have been taken to heart, which was evident when he was asked to describe his father with one word. He thought for a few seconds before answering: “tenacious.’’
“He’s all about perseverance and never taking no for an answer,’’ Greg Pettinaro says. “He’s all about coming up with a solution instead of focusing on the negatives. And that’s something he’s passed down to us: Don’t give up until you solve the problem, and don’t be afraid of doing things the hard way.’’
Greg Pettinaro understands the family-business dynamic, so he created new leadership positions so people outside of the family can be involved in decision-making. The company that started with one man in a garage now employs more than 200 people and has eight different departments, each with its own head.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen down the road,’’ Greg Pettinaro says. “But our parents established real family values, and I’d like to believe that we all share the same philosophy, that family is more important than business.
“I’ve read case studies, and it can get nasty, which is why we have safeguards in place,’’ he says. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to not talk to my sister again over $100,000. I’ll get rid of the job before I get rid of my relationship with my siblings.’’
Purzycki says Pettinaro Inc. is in good hands now, and that bodes well as the next generation puts its stamp on the 50-year-old business.
“There’s a difference, just because there could never be two Verinos,’’ Purzycki says. “But Greg has many of the same good traits as Verino. You can’t expect him to be exactly like him, because Verino has had so many more life experiences. But when you deal with Greg, you get a sense that you’re dealing with somebody who has been trained by the master.”