When Victor DiGeronimo Jr.’s grandfather, father and uncles started Independence Excavating Inc. in 1956, they didn’t realize they were building a foundation deeper than the basements they were digging. Back then, his grandfather couldn’t find a reliable contractor to excavate sites for the homes he built, so he co-signed a loan for his sons to buy the equipment to do it for him.
They quickly realized they needed more work than their father provided to pay off the loan, so they took on other, larger jobs — like the Cleveland Justice Center in 1972. For the first few decades, their growth “wasn’t even that intentional,” DiGeronimo says. “They were just trying to make a living and provide for their families.”
In 1977, 12-year-old Vic spent the summer working on a sewer crew for the family business while all his buddies were playing baseball. At age 18, he joined the company full-time.
“I never really thought about doing anything else,” says DiGeronimo, now CEO. “I always looked at it as a huge opportunity.”
As the DiGeronimo family grew through the generations, so did the business — gradually spreading throughout Northeast Ohio, then expanding across the country as they diversified into new markets and other lines of business. Today, the DiGeronimo Companies consist of eight firms serving specific services from demolition and environmental remediation to construction and full-scale development. As third-generation CEO, DiGeronimo continues to honor the strong work ethic and innovative thinking instilled by his grandfather, father and uncles before him.
“They laid the groundwork for us and left their whole net worth for us to guard and hopefully grow,” DiGeronimo says. “They placed all the emphasis and value on their employees, and that’s still the case today. It’s always been the people and the culture that really sets us apart.”
Growing a legacy
When DiGeronimo officially joined the family business 40 years ago, the company was generating about $10 million in revenue. Fifteen years ago, the revenue had multiplied to about $125 million. This year, DiGeronimosays, “if we don’t hit a billion dollars, it will be surprising.”
Through the decades, that growth has been driven by constant innovation as the DiGeronimo family continues creating new businesses and expanding into new services and geographies as they identify needs in the marketplace.
“My grandfather, dad and uncles were all big innovators. They wanted to do things better and faster,” DiGeronimo says. “My grandfather made all of these different contraptions to try to make things better for us, and my dad followed suit. There wasn’t a day that went by that my dad wouldn’t send me a magazine article saying, ‘We should try this,’ or ‘Why don’t you look into that?’”
In the late ’70s, for example, the excavation crews would dump broken concrete into holes on jobsites and cover them with dirt. But two years later, one of their clients wanted to build a new project on the dumpsite, “and it was a disaster,” Vic says. “So, my dad innovated and opened the first concrete recycling plant in the area. Now, we perform concrete recycling all over the country. We’re either the first or second largest concrete recycler in the country, depending on the year.”
Then, around 1985, the company similarly expanded into demolition services and, later, environmental remediation to meet customer demand.
“The demolition business has just exploded in the last 10 to 15 years because of all the power plants being decommissioned,” Vic explains. “We do that all over the country now. Wherever there’s a big job, that’s where we go.”
DiGeronimo’s recent growth spurt started around 2005, with an expansion into Pennsylvania — a market that now contributes about 25 percent of the entire company revenue. About five years later, they expanded again into the mid-Atlantic, adding another 15-20 percent to their revenue.
Around that time, in 2010, the company was working on a project for Bernie Moreno, who wanted to demolish an old house on a piece of property in Akron and build a new car dealership. He asked DiGeronimo to partner with him beyond demolition and manage the construction process, too, saving him the hassle of coordinating multiple contractors.
DiGeronimo already had experience managing subcontractors for demolition and excavation work, so Vic wondered, “what’s the difference between managing a drywall sub or an asphalt sub?” The company jumped at the chance to dive into vertical construction. They handled the entire project — removing the asbestos and demolishing the house, doing the heavy civil work, building the new dealership, and exceeding Moreno’s expectations.
“There aren’t that many people who can start with contaminated ground and eventually turn over a set of keys,” DiGeronimo says. “No one ever built another dealership for him after that; we did every one. That really got us kicked off into construction management.”
DiGeronimo’s entry into construction birthed a new company, called Independence Construction, and unlocked more growth opportunities through acquisitions around the country. In July 2019, Independence Construction acquired Bear Construction in Pittsburgh — the same firm that built Independence Excavating’s office and heavy shop in Pittsburgh several years earlier, before DiGeronimo developed its construction capabilities. With similar core values and no succession plan in place, Bear became the perfect opportunity to expand the firm’s reach.
Then, in October 2020, Independence Construction acquired the construction management business from Donley’s, a construction company in Cleveland that they had worked with for over 40 years. The management teams already knew each other well, DiGeronimo says, “so we didn’t have a lot of diligence to do.” This addition created one of the largest construction management firms in Northeast Ohio, enabling Independence Construction to pursue even larger projects and partnerships with its integrated approach.
In December 2022, Independence Construction expanded into the southeast with its acquisition of Atlanta-based Winter Construction and Winter Environmental, collectively known as The Winter Companies. They had similarly worked together with Winter on several projects over the last few years, revealing the cultural fit and operational compatibility between the companies.
While these acquisitions have increased the company’s overall revenue by at least 25 percent, most of the growth has been organic as the firm follows customers into new territories.
“We just go where the job is,” DiGeronimo says. “The job is the opportunity, and we’re always looking for opportunity.”
The key to maintaining this rapid growth, DiGeronimo says, is “just trying to stay close enough to it.”
That requires close contact with the team as the company expands across the country, with current projects in 17 states. Although every job represents a growth opportunity, he says that the firm’s 1,600 employees are the key ingredient behind every bid.
“We need the people so that we can get the work,” he says. “We always make sure we have the right people to manage the work before we bid, so that’s been our success. The hardest part is maintaining that culture as we grow, but we do our very best to keep it intact.”
Of course, there are plenty of meetings, both virtual and in-person, to keep the team connected. But the secret, DiGeronimo says, is keeping the DiGeronimo family closely engaged in every project and decision. “There’s always a DiGeronimo presence or some DiGeronimo relation involved,” he says.
Between the second, third, and fourth generations, there are 25 members of the DiGeronimo family involved in the business today — up to 35 including part-time summer workers. As the oldest member of the third generation, DiGeronimo, 58, runs the business with his cousins Rob, 48, who’s president of the civil group, and Kevin, 38, who runs the vertical construction group.
“I don’t do anything without them knowing or buying in. None of us do because we have the highest respect for each other,” DiGeronimo says. “That doesn’t mean we don’t disagree or argue, but when we’re done, it’s over and we move on. We never let egos get in the middle of trying to make a good decision.”
As a result of this close-knit collaboration and shared vision, “we’re very nimble,” DiGeronimo says. “It doesn’t take multiple board meetings to make decisions. We can react as quick as anybody, and a lot of times, that sets you apart.”
This closeness also keeps the family aligned with future succession planning. The leadership team meets quarterly with the eight full-time fourth-generation employees, known as “G4,” to discuss their expectations for the future of the company.
“It’s more than just work. It’s a true family deal,” DiGeronimo says. “And if we can continue that with G4, if we can push that same kind of respect for each other, then I can’t imagine how we don’t succeed.”
As a result of this recent growth, the company quickly outgrew its headquarters in Independence, where it had been based since 1972. The vertical construction, excavation, civil, demolition, and environmental crews were previously all housed in the same office, DiGeronimo says, “but we just got too big.”
Even after several additions and relocating the vertical construction group to another nearby property, the space was “super inefficient,” he says. “The key to our success is collaboration between all these different disciplines. We want to be together, and we couldn’t do it where we were.”
Fortunately, the company was already building a new development called Valor Acres that provided the perfect solution for the new headquarters. The development, located on a former Veterans Administration site spanning 103 acres in Brecksville, is slated to include 160,000 square feet of office space, 200 luxury apartments and condominiums, an upscale 120-room hotel, and 150,000 square feet of retail and entertainment. Sherwin-Williams Co. is also building a 500,000 square foot research and development facility anchoring the site.
“We’re going to have restaurants, gyms, salons, and grocery stores,” Vic says. “How could that be any better for our employees than to have all those amenities where they go to work? That’s really what it’s all about: being together and trying to keep our employees happy.”
Since the groundbreaking in mid-July, “everybody’s really excited to get going,” DiGeronimo says, noting that the company plans to relocate in December 2024, with plenty of room to accommodate future growth.
With plenty of new growth opportunities on the horizon, the DiGeronimo Companies continue to expand into new markets and services around the country.
“There are huge opportunities that we’re chasing every day,” DiGeronimo says. “If a job brings us to an area we like, we’ll just stay; that’s what brought us to Pittsburgh and Florida, and that’s just how we work. If we see the ability for growth and we have the right people in place, we can do anything.” ●
- Expand into new markets and services through innovation.
- Stay close and connected to your team as you grow.
- Keep looking for new opportunities to serve customers.