Employee Spotlight: Bob Pizzano Jr.

Bob Pizzano

As the leader of Pizzano Contractors, Bob has witnessed growth and adaptability both professionally and personally. We sat down with Bob to learn more about his journey in life and the construction industry and hear his words of wisdom for others looking to follow in his footsteps. 

Pizzano Contractors has been in business for over 65 years. In your own words, can you tell us how the business started? 

The business started when my father's ‘49 Ford broke down on his way to Florida here in Washington, D.C. He needed to raise money so he could keep driving to Florida. One evening, he got called to do emergency repairs by a glass company, boarding up windows at a Holiday Inn on Rhode Island Avenue and 14th Street. The man who owned the hotel, Henry Fox, was so impressed with his work and timeliness that he wanted my dad to start doing some construction work at his law firm, ArentFox. My dad ended up doing that for a number of years, expanding his business as people left ArentFox and called him to do work at different firms like Fried Frank, Collier Shannon, and other respected firms around town. And so we spent probably the first 40 years of our existence basically doing work for folks that my dad had known, and it was primarily law firms.

Bob Jr. with members of his family.

How did you get started in your career in construction? 

A lot of my dad’s work happened after hours, and at a very young age, around grade school, I started going to work with him. I would go to work with him on the weekends, and I really learned how to work. I became an accomplished carpenter and painter and learned trade skills most other teenagers wouldn’t have dreamt of doing, and probably wouldn’t want to do either.

When I turned 16, my dad gave me a 10-year-old Dodge Maxivan, a 1975 van. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, except it was my dad’s way of telling me to get to work as soon as school was done. Instead of working only on the weekends, I also worked after school and did that all through high school. 

When it came time for college, I decided to move down to Florida because I figured that would be far enough away that I wouldn't have to work on the weekend. But as fate would have it, in my senior year of college, my dad got sick, and I ended up flying in on the weekends to help him, as it was a very, very, very busy time with work, and I kind of got thrown into working as soon as school was finished. I started this job full-time in 1985, and in May of next year, I’ll be hitting my 40-year milestone.

What did you study at college? 

I studied Law Firm Administration. While my father worked for different law firms, I vividly remember doing walkthroughs with executive directors who explained their role and made sure everything the firm needed to be done after hours was complete. I wanted to be that guy. But it didn’t work out that way, and at the end of the day, I have a tremendous amount of respect for folks who do that job and take care of the business side of their firms. 

As the president of the business, you must wear many hats in your day-to-day. Can you give us an example of what your typical day looks like? 

I’m a little bit of a cheerleader, a little bit of a quarterback coach, a part-time psychologist, and a part-time marketer, but at the end of the day, what I’m really doing most is engaging with people. I love people, and I love being myself in front of them. So, I would say, I wear many different hats, and I am also being myself while doing it. I don’t really think of my team members as “employees” — we’re all in this here together. I learned a long time ago from two very smart men, my father and Alfred Moses, that no one is more important than the person who’s standing across from you at any given moment in time. I was in high school, and I was standing in Alfred Moses’ office one day, asking him a question, when he received a call from Jimmy Carter’s office. At the time, Alfred Moses was lead counsel to the White House. On this call, Mr. Carter wanted to speak directly to Mr. Moses, but he replied that he was with someone and would return his call in a few minutes. I looked around the room to see who Mr. Moses was referring to, then realized he was talking about me. That made a huge impression! Everybody that we work with deserves respect, and I am no better than anybody else. I don’t have a door on my office, so my door is literally always open for advice and discussion.

Bob and his family enjoying time on a boat.

Is there a memorable project that you have worked on that has stayed with you? Why?

1001 Pennsylvania Ave, a project that we did not long after I finished college in the early ‘90s. Fried Frank, one of the big law firms, was moving to 1001 Penn, and it was a big deal for them to move from Watergate. It was a very, very big job — too big for us to do at that point. But I got to know the out-of-town developer pretty well. When Fried Frank moved, they still had three or four years left on their lease at Watergate, and the developer hired us to work there. I kind of ran that job. We had to hire many people, which was new for us because my dad was not one of those people who would hire somebody else to do something you could do yourself. That idea just was totally foreign to him. So we ramped up our number of employees and really everything at that point in time, and the project turned out really well. The contractors were really appreciative. They needed to get the space done inexpensively and quickly to trim their losses from having to take the lease over. The developers were also pleased and asked us to take on the work at 1001 Penn. So, we did all the suites and tenant spaces, all of the retail spaces on the first floor. A coffee shop, a card shop, CitiBank, a restaurant, and a hair salon — a whole city block of retail spaces. I was still pretty young at the time, and although I had worked in construction my whole life, I didn’t know much about the business part of it. I had to learn quickly and met some of the greatest people in the world as I went. I think it's memorable from the standpoint that it was one of the first major jobs that I did on my own, and it was Pizzano’s first major retail project. 

What has been your biggest achievement professionally? 

Being recognized as one of the top family-owned businesses by the Washington Business Journal in 2019 also feels like a big one, and being recognized as one of the best places to work last year means a lot, too. My father has always believed in taking care of his employees, and I started the 401K and health care plan for our workforce to follow in that direction and continue that legacy. Taking care of our people is really important to me. Also, making the top 20 interior contractors list in Washington D.C. We never tried to be the biggest guy in the industry but when the whole world turned upside down in 2010, general contracting became a different business. When I bought the business from my father, we started to rebrand and made sure everybody knew who we were. I think those three things are what I can sit back and feel most proud of. 

Bob enjoying a beatiful sunset on the water.

What accomplishment do you consider to be the most significant in your personal journey?

It’s probably the triumph that came from our family tragedy. My wife and I took what was the most horrible thing you could ever think of happening, and we turned it around to make it something that I’m sure my son smiles down on us every day. We were able to start up a swim safety program to help over 20,000 adults with disabilities learn how to be safe around water. In Alexandria, we’ve built a free spray park for children of all abilities with almost 2 million visitors. We’re also hosting programs that bring smiles to kids who have aged out of the programs the county provides for them. Another program that we started is creating employment opportunities for adults with disabilities, our B.E.S.T. program. We are actually at capacity with this program and looking to double the size right now. We didn’t undertake any of these initiatives for profit but purely to keep the memory of our son alive, and I think that we have done a hell of a job at it. 

What is your goal for Pizzano Contractors in 2024 and beyond? 

The goal for 2024 and beyond is to continue doing the same thing but get better and better at it each day and to grow the business to be immune to the hiccups of the economy. Washington, D.C. is a fantastic place to work, but it’s going through some growing pains right now. But there are lots of opportunities that can come of these pains, and we’re looking for opportunities to help. Whatever it is, whether it’s changing the use of a building or something else, we’ve got the people and the skills to get it done. We’re staying focused on what we’ve done all along, and that’s forging ahead and expanding as opposed to downsizing and being afraid of what’s happening or what might happen. I believe right now, there are some great opportunities to pick up some great talent, and we’re taking advantage of that. I’m bullish on this area. I think that it will come back strong, and I want to be the guy that helps make it happen. 

If you could pass on one lesson to the next generation of construction leaders who would like to follow in your footsteps, what would it be? 

I think that one thing that we've been very good at doing is collaborating. I think that the notion that competitors can’t be friends is a bit outdated and old school. We don’t need to treat each other as enemies. I believe we're all stronger together, and everybody's got their own niche. This is an attitude and a way of working that I want to pass along. 

Following on from the previous question, what do you look for when adding new team members to Pizzano Contractors? Is it experience, attitude to work, or something else? 

Our motto is “Whatever. It. Takes.” and I think that means something different here at Pizzano than it would at other places. We strive for a work-life balance. We may sometimes have to work lots of hours, but we also encourage taking time off to do fun things with our families.

When I’m looking for our next team member, I’m looking for someone with the desire to do what we are doing right now. If someone comes in and says they want to be a finance guy or civil engineer, there are certainly things that lend themselves to what we do. I don’t mind supporting them and teaching them everything that’s going on as long as they are willing to put 100% into what we’re doing right now. 

Bob enjoying time with a grandchild on the boat.

How do you like to recharge when you are out of the office? 

I love boating. When I look at the memories that come up on my phone, all the fun times that I’ve had with my family and extended family are on my boat or around water. We have a place by the water that the kids used to call Camp Pizzano, and on Memorial Day, my wife would pack up the car and take all the kids down, and come back on Labor Day. These are the memories the kids have of growing up — all the memorable times that we have as a family are related to the water. It has brought our family together and kept our family together even through tragedy. 

What is your favorite song, and why? 

Maybe a Bruce Springsteen song. My wife and I were high school sweethearts, and we always went to Bruce Springsteen concerts together. There are too many good ones. Maybe Born to Run or Thunder Road. Actually, Jersey Girl! Even though my wife is not from Jersey, we pretend she’s from Jersey when that song comes on, and we always dance. But it could also be a Jimmy Buffet song. I learned to love Jimmy when I went to school down in Tampa… I specifically remember A Pirate Looks at Forty. At the time, I thought, wow, 40 is old. And I just turned 61.