Ghilotti Construction Co.

Ghilotti Ghilotti Construction Co. values its ability to build relationships and support its communities.

By Tim O’Connor

Richard Ghilotti was born into a construction family and learned early on that the industry was built on relationships. He had an opportunity to form those relationships early in his career while attending Santa Clara University where he made connections with many future owners and contractors. “It’s amazing how many people I went to college with who are in construction today,” Ghilotti says. “It helps to know some of the owners of the companies and have the ability to bid on their work.”

Those relationships led to Ghilotti’s company, Ghilotti Construction Co., being chosen to complete site preparation work for projects such as Sonoma Raceway and Skywalker Ranch, the workplace of “Star Wars” creator George Lucas. 

Ghilotti believes the company is successful because it learned to be a partner when it’s in the running for a job. “We try to understand what the schedule is for their job and the difficulties with the job,” he explains. At the beginning of the project, Ghilotti’s team meets with the owner and general contractor face-to-face to discuss pricing and scheduling.

Those meetings continue throughout Ghilotti’s involvement with the project to ensure a smooth process. Establishing that close communication and collaborative style helps to resolve issues before they become contentious challenges. “There’s always a problem every day in our business,” Ghilotti says. The key to success is finding a solution quickly.” Ghilotti box

Ghilotti’s grandfather James Ghilotti traveled from Italy to the United States in 1903 and established GCC in 1914. The company today specializes in total site preparation and retaining walls for bridges and infrastructure. GCC is one of the largest contractors in the Bay Area and has been named a top contractor by the North Bay Business Journal and a top 400 contractor by Engineering News-Record. The company’s range of services for site preparation includes grading and excavating, paving, site and structure concrete, underground utilities installation and soil stabilization.

GCC works throughout the 11 counties surrounding San Francisco’s Bay Area. The company utilizes a two-part operational structure to serve its customers. One department focuses on the public  market and includes projects such as highways, bridges, walls and underground sewer and water infrastructure. That group participates in the public bidding process for city, county and state contracts. The other side of the company deals with privately developed projects such as shopping centers, subdivisions, wineries, warehouses, hotels, industrial buildings and offices.

Other notable projects in GCC’s portfolio include the site preparation for Levi’s Stadium, George Lucas’s Big Rock Ranch and the $1.5 billion Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park, Calif.

The key to GCC’s ability to survive for more than 100 years is its diversification. The company strives to keep its revenue balanced between the private and public sectors so that if one market crashes – like private did during the Great Recession – GCC can fall back on the other area.

Although the concern of an economic crash always lingers, the Bay Area is in the midst of a major building boom that is creating plenty of opportunities for companies such as GCC. Sixty years ago, Santa Clara County was a rural community and today it is the hotbed of Silicon Valley and the tech industry. The influx of tech employees and the high housing prices in the region create huge demand for new living and working facilities. “It’s just a big economic driver,” Ghilotti says of the tech industry.

Strengthening Reputation

GCC is able to secure those projects because of its century-old reputation for reliability and delivering quality. When it comes to public works projects, the company is often prequalified for bidding due to its bonding and safety record. Ghilotti says his company’s ability to meet bonding requirements and manage cash flow means that it has never had an issue where it had to walk away from a job because of financial performance.

On the private side, owners want to work with a strong contractor with a proven track record of finishing jobs. GCC prefers to be involved in a project early on so that it can help with budgeting decisions and perform value-engineering services.

It’s not enough for Ghilotti to simply complete a job. The company wants to ensure it is taking care of its employees and the communities it works in. Ghilotti is known for contributing to charitable causes and supporting organizations such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Marin Abused Women’s Services, Speedway Children’s Charities and Redwood Empire Food Bank with donations and in-kind site work. The company also sponsors events such as the Sausalito Art Festival and the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Many of the company’s charitable efforts revolve around the arts. It’s one way that Ghilotti honors the memory of his son, Dino, who was killed in a car accident in 2013. Dino Ghilotti was a recent University of Miami graduate and ceramic artist who spent his summers working for his family’s company.

Dino’s sudden death devastated the family. Ghilotti took a break from the company for a year and left the daily operations to his team. “Our senior managers stepped in and we had our best years the last three years,” he says. The family honored Dino’s memory by creating a scholarship in his name at the University of Miami that goes to a student from California.

The company also donated site preparation work for the modernization of the sports complex at Dino’s high school, Marin Catholic High School in Kentfield. Marin Catholic later named the new sports complex after Dino, who was a member of the school’s basketball and football teams.

The family is carrying on Dino’s legacy through the dg Foundation, an organization that raises money for youths to attend San Domencio School, Marin Catholic and the University of Miami. When Ghilotti’s wife, Nancy, passed away in 2015 the foundation added her as an honorary.

Investing in Capabilities

Since the height of the recession in 2008, Ghilotti has doubled the size of the company in terms of revenue and employees. That rebound is enabling the company to continue to invest in its capabilities.

California has strict air quality regulations and some jobs require contractors to use clean engines that meet the EPA’s Tier 4 standards, which call for reducing emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides by 90 percent. GCC has invested $2 million annually in cleaner engines for the past eight years to stay ahead of those requirements.

The Silicon Valley area remains a hotbed of construction activity and GCC has opened new branches in locations where work is the strongest. Its most recent addition was an office in Sunnyvale, Calif., one of the largest cities within Silicon Valley. “We chase where the work is,” Ghilotti says.

As the company strengthens its footprint within the Bay Area market, it is also investing in its employees. In February 2016, GCC held an extensive, three-day managers academy in the conference center at Big Rock Ranch. Consulting company FMI Corp. facilitated the session for GCC’s salespeople, project managers, operations staff and finance personnel. “We wanted to get everybody on the same page as to how to start a job and build a job,” Ghilotti explains. “How do you do a good job for a customer throughout the project and then collect the money when it’s due?”

The session taught employees how to improve the company’s operations, procedures for daily work on the job site, how to manage challenges, how to keep abreast of changes in the field and how to collect money to maintain a consistent cash flow. “It energized our whole management team,” Ghilotti says.

One goal was to develop a set of standard procedures for the company. Many of GCC’s employees have worked at other construction firms and all learned different ways to accomplish the same goals. Ghilotti envisions an operation where everyone uses similar processes. “We want to get all the procedures down to be more structured,” he says. “We call it ‘The Ghilotti Way’ now.”

FMI covered many possible ways to implement those standard procedures during the training, but the company is focusing on its pre-job startup and change-order processes to start. Ghilotti says it will move on to other areas for improvement at a later time. 

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