In The Beginning:
Although Aquadro & Cerutti was incorporated March 31, 1926, and founded in Northampton, Massachusetts, it can trace its roots to Piedmont, Italy, which is where the co-founder’s parents and grandparents immigrated from in the late 1800’s.
Mario C. Aquadro was one of eight children, and attended local schools until the eighth grade, which was common for the time. After leaving school he became a carpenter’s apprentice with a local building contractor, and at the end of his apprenticeship in 1922, he started his own business; building houses. Mario Aquadro’s son Bob suggests that he had little support from the community in the beginning by saying “Italians, at the time, were looked down upon.”
Mario was an industrious man, and his business grew despite any initial difficulties. As a result of his success he hired a finance manager, Oscar Cerruti, who was his nephew. The two worked well together, and in 1926 formed a partnership – Aquadro & Cerruti was born.
Despite their compatibility, Oscar and Mario had their differences. Oscar enjoyed traveling, and did so around the world several times. Mario, known affectionately to everyone who worked for him as “Pop,” never took vacations, preferring to work instead. Regardless of their individuality, both of them were hardworking and intelligent, and the business prospered under their direction.
Mario’s sons, Robert A. (Bob) and Richard C. (Dick), joined the firm in the 1950’s. Both sons were graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s civil engineering department and certified Professional Engineers, and each brought with them experience from working with larger Boston area construction firms. Bob and Dick planned to work for the family business, but wanted to gain the experience needed to make it something bigger.
Along with strong educations and experience, the brothers brought the ingenuity that enabled Aquadro & Cerruti to grow from a house building company to a leading contracting and engineering firm. An example of this took place at Smith College, in 1978.
The college announced plans for a three-stage addition to the Neilson Library, which was challenging due to the amount of clay in the soil and the delicacy of the work required. The job had to be conducted without interrupting the daily operation of the library.
As Bob reviewed Smith College’s plans, he determined that the job could be completed more cost effectively. Smith officials were not so sure, so they consulted a soils expert at the University of Massachusetts. The expert agreed with Bob, but according to him, not before the expert learned a few things. Smith College used Bob’s design, which in the end saved them $1 million.
Another example of the brothers' ingenuity came from Dick in 1996. The Cooley Dickinson Hospital announced a very large building project, where A&C found themselves bidding against national contractors. To stay competitive at this level, Dick Aquadro had the idea to form a joint venture with local electrical and mechanical subcontractors. This way, he thought, the company could compete effectively, while providing the personal attention that smaller local firms can offer.
Expanding the Family Business:
In 1960 a young man with an engineering degree from Duke University showed up at their door looking for work. This man, Dick Manuel, was hired on a temporary basis so that he could be evaluated. Manuel's hiring is an old joke among the Aquadros. When asked what he did with the company he quips, "I was a temporary worker."
He was, of course much more. He became an honorary Aquadro, directly involved with the management of the company, and eventually vice president and treasurer, helping to make this company what it is today. Among his responsibilities were the business educations of the next generations of Aquadros, who now run the business.
Manuel felt privileged to work at Aquadro & Cerruti because of the respect the firm receives from its competitors, its community and especially its employees. "The bottom line is I had a great 40 years associated with the Aquadros as a member of the firm," says Manuel.
Respect for and from employees is a theme heard over and over at Aquadro & Cerruti. Larry Rideout, a master carpenter who was a project manager for the company, speculated that the Aquadros inherited an extraordinary concern for trades people from Mario, who was a carpenter himself. "The respect that trade people get in this company is extraordinary," says Rideout, who has worked for several competitors in his career. "In other companies, management comes from the top down."
Rideout is only one of a number of employees who have a long history with the company. The others, who say the Aquadros listen to them, value their idea, and give them opportunities they wouldn't receive elsewhere, echo his theme.That reputation is what has kept George Hanson, a foreman, with the company since 1976. Hanson started as a laborer steward for the unions. His job, among other things, was to make sure Aquadro & Cerruti didn't perform work that union men were supposed to do. Though Dick Aquadro saw Hanson as a thorn to his side at times, he also recognized Hanson's potential and gave him the opportunity to realize it. "Dad saw within him the ability to be a good foreman," says company President Richard D. (Rick) Aquadro.
Hanson acquired many engineering skills with Aquadro & Cerruti though he had no engineering degree. Unlike other companies he had worked for, Aquadro & Cerruti has been a learning experience, constantly presenting him with new intellectual challenges. "It's made my life a lot more interesting," says Hanson.
Field Supervisor Dana Newell sums it up this way: "Other places hire your body and not your head-it's frustrating not to be listened to." Newall has been with the company for nearly twenty years, starting as a carpenter. At Aquadro & Cerruti, he feels like "part of the family," and that the company has always respected his opinion.
Field Supervisor Pierre Lucas has been with Aquadro & Cerruti for over 30 years. He has spent most of his professional life with the Aquadros, starting as an apprentice carpenter and "hanging on for the whole tour." Lucas stayed with Aquadro & Cerruti because of the support they give to workers who want to deliver a quality product to its customer. Where other firms might "leave you to the wolves," Aquadro & Cerruti backs up its workers. "It is easy to keep the quality of work up when you know the company is behind that," says Lucas.
Current President Rick Aquadro says it is this combination-of excellence and respect for people-that has made Aquadro & Cerruti successful. It is what he is most proud of in his family's business. "The company represents everything my family stands for: quality, fairness and hard work," he says. "We have a tradition of strong values that has been passed down, just as the company itself was passed down. People in the community see our name, and they know that," he adds.
Rick runs the company along with his cousin Francis J (Frank) Aquadro. Frank, whose father is another of Mario's sons, is vice president, and together they are the third generation of a business that now employs an average of 50 and up to 150 people at a time-brining in $20 to $30 million per year.
The office is no longer in Mario Aquadro's house, it is still in Northampton-on Texas Road-in an office building built by the Aquadro's in 1960. Moving out of Northampton would be unthinkable. As the site of so many Aquadro & Cerruti buildings, the city is part of their lives and histories: it holds the schools they attended and later renovated; the church they built and then worshipped in; and the parks they played in as children and expanded as adults.
Rick Aquadro gets particular pleasure passing the E. John Gare III parking garage in the city's downtown, a building which ameliorated the city's nagging parking problem and for which their architects won an award for design.
Three other Aquadro & Cerruti projects in Northampton were also recently honored: Northampton High School addition and renovations; Rogers Hall at Clarke School for the Deaf; and improvements to the People's Institute each received the city Historic Commission's Preservation Awards in May, honoring their enhancement of the city's architecture. In addition, in 1993, the Western Massachusetts chapter of the American Institute of Architects gave Aquadro & Cerruti its Built Environment Award recognizing its contribution to the construction industry for quality, responsible building.
For this reason, the present generation, as well the previous ones, have made the community an important part of their lives, serving on boards and committees to better the city and contributing money to community organizations. Dick Aquadro has been chairman of the board for the Northampton Cooperative Bank for about 30 years, and served for the Williston-Northampton School for a number of years in the 1960s. Bob Aquadro served on the boards of directors of several banks, including Shawmut Bank, from the late 1950's to the late 1980's. He also served on the board of trustees of the Cooley Dickinson Hospital for 15 years, was a corporator for Brightside for Families and Children of West Springfield for 12 years and is still a trustee of the Massachusetts Laborer's Health and Welfare fund. Dick Manuel was a scoutmaster, town meeting member and volunteer fireman for many years, as well as a trustee of the Carpenter's Union Health and Welfare Fund, and is still a trustee of the state Laborers' Annuity Fund and a member of the local Carpenter's Apprentice Board.
Rick Aquadro serves on the boards of director of the Northampton Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and is a member of Umass' Civil and Environmental Engineering Advisory Council as well as the advisory council for Smith Vocation Technical High School's Carpentry Program. Frank Aquadro is a board member of the Construction Industry Association of Western Massachusetts.
Rick Aquadro traces his family's philanthropic roots to his grandfather, who believed in hard work and a strong community. That made Rick and his cousins appreciate the advantages they had, which also included a strong family and a good community. "Now it's our time to give back," he says.
As he looks to the future, Rick sees Aquadro & Cerruti growing in a controlled manner. The Aquadros take their time hiring new managers-they want people with a commitment to quality. If they grow too quickly or become too large, they might lose that commitment and they aren't willing to take that chance.