Family Comes First for Century-Old Ghilotti Construction Company
Willie Ghilotti appreciates what the three generations of his family accomplished to build Ghilotti Construction Company, which is why he comes to work every day determined to continue the legacy and build on 100 years of history.
"I'm thankful for all the hard work they put in, and that's why I give 150 percent every day," said Ghilotti, who started working at Ghilotti Construction when he was 12 and today is a shareholder and Facilities Manager for the Santa Rosa, California- headquartered firm. "I'll do whatever I possibly can to make sure it goes another 100 years and beyond."
That "can do" attitude has been as much a part of the Ghilotti family history as the skills the generations have used to construct some of the largest and most high-profile projects in the San Francisco-Oakland metro and Marin County areas. Recent projects include more than $10 million of site preparation, earthwork, paving and utility installation for the new San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara. The company did $16 million in similar work for the Graton Rancheria Casino in Rohnert Park.
"The stadium was a municipal project and the casino was commercial development. We're comfortable working in both markets, as well as in state, county and residential sectors," said Ghilotti. "We provide a long list of services that include full site work, paving, demolition, utilities, soil stabilization, bridge building and concrete, among others. We also rent equipment. There isn't much we can't handle ourselves."
A Rich History
Ghilotti Construction Company has a two-part operational structure. One specializes in heavy construction and public works, and the other in commercial and private projects. Both are overseen by Willie's cousin Brian Ongaro, Senior Vice President of Operations and a shareholder in the company. Other key personnel include Willie's father, Richard, who is Owner and President; Bill Dutra, shareholder and member of the Board of Directors; Al Yazdi, General Manager and Vice President; Stacy Magill, CFO; Brad Simpkins, Vice President of Private and Commercial Construction; and Board Member John Barella.
The Ghilotti family believes that part of the reason their company has survived for a century is because of their employees, who are dedicated to providing excellent service and customer satisfaction. "We have a core group of about 80 full-time people with a wealth of experience that allows us to tackle practically anything. We augment the staff during peak construction season by employing an additional 300-plus people."
Just the 80 full-time employees is huge compared to the Ghilotti family business 100 years ago, when James Ghilotti founded the business in San Rafael. An Italian immigrant and a mason by trade, James heard that work for masons was plentiful in the San Francisco area following the devastating earthquake of 1906. He came, worked for a bit, then returned to Italy where he met his wife, Amalia, then returned to northern California with her and their son Willy, who was born in 1913.
A year later, he founded James Ghilotti, Contractor, Stone and Concrete Work in San Rafael, which was the forerunner to what is today Ghilotti Construction Company. During its earliest days, James transported stones by horse and cart to build walls, chimneys, fireplaces and gates. He also specialized in paving with blue rock and constructed sidewalks and patios.
The Boys Take Over
As time went on, Willy, along with brothers Dino, Mario and Henry "Babe," all became part of the company. On its 25th anniversary in 1939, the name was changed to James Ghilotti and Sons. The brothers learned construction techniques and used that knowledge to expand the business into new areas, including highway and bridge construction, paving, grading and concrete. They bought earthmoving equipment to do the work, and the Ghilottis acquired parcels of land in Marin County and located houses next to the new roads. As the company approached its 40th year in business, James retired, sold the business outright to his sons and the name changed again, to Ghilotti Brothers.
During the years, the structure has changed with the passing of some family members and others moving on to form or join other businesses. Dino's son Richard joined the business in 1969, around the time it expanded into what is now Ghilotti Construction's headquarters in Santa Rosa. It also has offices in San Rafael, American Canyon, Livermore and Sunnyvale. Richard and his uncle Mario ran Ghilotti Brothers after Dino retired in 1985. Mario eventually left the business and Richard and his cousin Jim turned it into Ghilotti Construction Company in 1990. Jim passed away in 2001, leaving Richard as sole owner and President.
Varying Sizes of Excavators
With the changing times came major upgrades in machinery. Equipment Manager Jeremy Miles oversees a fleet of about 135 pieces of off-road equipment that Ghilotti Construction owns and supplements with rentals as needed. During the past three years, he's turned to Road Machinery LLC and Territory Manager Jason Ketchum to purchase and rent Komatsu excavators, dozers and wheel loaders.
"Our first Komatsu was a PC88 tight-tail-swing excavator, which gives us great versatility," said Miles. "We use it for breaking out concrete and removing sidewalks, digging for putting in utilities, working in a lane of traffic or fine grading in planter and landscape areas. We like that it doesn't have the larger counterweight, which allows us to get into tight places without the worry of hitting something when it swings. It has good power to handle those situations, and it works well in open areas too.
"We added the PC360 this year, and it's become a main-line digger for putting in pipe," he added. "It's strong and fast. The first job we put it on called for digging 16 feet in wet, heavy material to install 42-inch welded steel pipe. It proved right away it could handle those conditions without an issue."
Miles tracks both excavators with KOMTRAX, specifically looking for items such as operating mode and idle time. "Both can have an adverse effect on fuel usage," he said. "KOMTRAX lets me see if an operator is in Power mode when Economy mode would be better, and it also lets me see if an operator is idling too much. It gives me a chance to address those things quickly and show our operators how to save fuel, which equates to costs savings.
"Less idling also reduces maintenance, which we typically handle ourselves with parts from Road Machinery," Miles added. "Anytime we've needed something, whether it's service or a rental, Jason and Road Machinery have always been helpful. With the Tier 4 machines, their technicians perform the scheduled maintenance complimentary under the Komatsu CARE program, which is an added value."
Still Focused on Customer Satisfaction
The number of projects Ghilotti Construction and its forerunners have completed during the past century numbers well into the thousands. Willie estimates the company has about 50 projects going at any one time, and last year was the company's biggest year in terms of dollar value, with more than $200 million of work.
"Our mission statement is to provide superior-quality general engineering construction services that are contracted, scheduled, engineered and managed to create maximum value for our customers, owners, employees and the community," said Willie. "We consistently deliver, and that's why on non-governmental bid work we have a long list of customers we work with on a repeat basis. They know we'll get the job done.
"That's always been a big part of our history," he added. "Our practices and equipment have changed throughout the years with new technology, such as using GPS grading and hydraulic equipment. But, what remains from the time my great-grandfather started the business to today is our commitment to providing quality work and the satisfaction we bring to every customer on every job. That won't change no matter how long we're here."