Employee Spotlight: Wally Duran

Bob Pizzano

Jesus “Wally” Duran is many things — a girl dad, a former Marine, and a valued member of our family at Pizzano. We recently sat down with Wally to discuss his unique background and experience, what led him to our firm, his new role as a project manager, and the importance of “trusting the process.”

So, let’s start at the beginning. Where did you attend college, what did you study, and what was your first job out of school? 

I went the untraditional route and went to military school straight out of high school. I walked off the stage at graduation and went off to boot camp the very next morning. I was a mortarman in the Marine Corps and deployed to Afghanistan twice, once in 2010 and once in 2013. 

I knew from the start that I would be in the military. It’s in my nature, and it’s in my family. My grandfather was in the Army, my biological dad was in the Navy, and my stepdad was in the Air Force, so I followed in their footsteps and had to show them all up by joining the Marines. Throughout my career all three of them were there for me at different times when I needed them to be. 

The Corps teaches you values, work ethic, and principles you can live by and sets you up for success in the civilian world. I served four years, ending in 2014, and the core values of the marine — honor, courage, and commitment — are still with me. I’ve been in construction in some way or another ever since. My wife and I started a family, and I went back to school to study Construction Management at Everglades University, where I recently graduated. 

A photo from Wally's time serving in the Marine Corp

Tell us a little bit about your role with Pizzano.

I’m a project manager here at Pizzano, a recently promoted project manager, which is really exciting. I first started as a subject matter expert focused on the mechanical and electrical fields, which has helped me a lot, and I helped a lot of other guys with their issues. They would answer my questions and vice versa. I’ve been with Pizzano for two years this year. 

What led you to Pizzano Contractors?

My wife and I are originally from the Washington area, and our families are still here. We lived in Arizona but wanted to return to this area when we had kids. We want to raise our kids around family, with their cousins. 

As I started applying for jobs, Pizzano was one of the first companies to reach out to me. I love the Old Town Alexandria area, and I also had pretty specific criteria that I wanted the company to meet in order for us to move across the country. Luckily enough, Pizzano hit all the checkboxes. It was a family business. It wasn't a big conglomerate. Based on my interview, I could tell they cared about every individual employee. When you walk around the shop, you can tell it’s a family company, but they care about everybody the same. I signed the commitment letter, packed up the family, and moved back to the East Coast.

Can you describe your first day on the job? 

The first day was surreal. Many people in this industry don’t necessarily have the background that I have. I was in the field for 10 years, so this was a very different environment. Having a desk felt funny, and having the option of air conditioning on a hot day was a big change. 

I remember everybody coming up to me to tell me they were excited to have me on the team. The new project manager was hired at the same time, and they put drawings in front of us and told us that that would be the first project we would be working on. 

What is your day-to-day like working at Pizzano? 

This is actually a tough question because I do a lot of little things on different projects every day. I’m working on many different projects right now — closing on some projects and getting ready to work on one of our bigger projects. I’m also helping out on projects where I am not necessarily the lead but still lending my experience and expertise. 

To me, it’s about management, prioritizing, and getting as much done in a day as possible. I’m definitely an early riser, getting to the office around 5 or 6 am, and have no objections to staying late. I don’t treat my job as a 9 to 5 — I work weekends or late. You have to do what you have to do. As long as nothing interferes with my little girls, I will be here. 

How did you get started as a project manager? 

This is technically my first official project management role, but I have a lot of experience managing projects., I was acting as a project manager in Arizona. I’d be in the field running entire jobs from a cell phone and tablet, working multiple jobs at the same time, but this is the first time I’ve managed the entire envelope of a project.

Wally with his wife and daughters.

Is there any aspect of the project that you found challenging or interesting that you’ve learned as you've started taking on the project manager role?

You don’t have to be an expert in all the categories to be a project manager. It’s about getting to know the people in the various trades and working well with them. I’ve developed relationships with subcontractors because I’ve been in their shoes and understand what they are thinking. It’s definitely helpful to have developed relationships with subcontractors and know where they are coming from. 

What has been your most unique project so far, and why did it leave an impression? 

The most unique is Campagna, by far. This one was definitely out of my wheelhouse… almost like a historic renovation. It was my first project at Pizzano, and I got to understand how everything came together — going from my mechanical side to thinking about concrete, steel, raising the floors… things that I never had to think about. The historical aspect also added to the challenge in terms of aligning modern codes with old methods of building. It taught me a lot in terms of thinking through the solutions. When you are doing a renovation, it’s hard to envision how much something will cost, and things come up that you don’t see on paper. When you start pulling apart a 200-year-old building, unexpected things present themselves. It was definitely a challenge, but it all turned out amazing. 

What is the most rewarding part of being in this industry? 

The people. When you show a client their finished space, and they go, “WOW!” 

Architects can imagine things in 3D when they draw out plans, but the client can’t always envision it. It’s just lines on paper. But then you start putting it together and seeing it come to life, and the owner sees it and they’re wowed. Take Campagna as an example — it doesn’t even remotely look like what it used to. 

What is one lesson you have learned at Pizzano that you share with new team members? 

It’s a process. You’re not going to see the whole process until you’ve seen it from the beginning. When a project goes well, you think you are doing a great job, but sometimes projects don’t go as planned. You can’t birdie every hole, sometimes you get a par, and sometimes you get bogies. It’s a process, but the whole idea is to deliver what the client wants and build the relationship. Overall, it’s about trusting the process. 

What do you enjoy most about working at Pizzano?

The family atmosphere. All the Pizzano children and senior Pizzanos are great. When you get hired, you feel like you are part of the family, and they encourage you to get your family involved in Pizzano outings as well. You are not just a number — they very much care about you as a person, not just as an employee. 

Can you explain the value of having a project manager on a construction project?

You are the leader that brings everyone together. The project manager is the one person dealing with the architect, the owners, the clients, the subcontractors, and the cities. You are the focal point that everything gets funneled through, and it’s up to you to disperse the information accordingly to ensure things are getting done correctly and on time. No matter what you do, there will always be unexpected circumstances that change things and you are the one who needs to act accordingly, while being as proactive and foresee as much as possible, and that just comes with experience.  

What do you enjoy outside of the workplace? What do you like to do for fun? 

I’m showing my little girls the world! One is four and the other is going on two! On weekends, we are always doing something new, getting out of the house, going to museums or the park. Not just in one area, either. The D.C. area is great, but we have also been to Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Arizona, and Texas, and it looks like we are going to Florida together. I’m having fun when they are having fun.