CEO on Leadership: Tony Panzica, CEO, Panzica Construction Company

Fall 2019 Issue
By: Ron Derven
Tony Panzica

The leader of this Cleveland-based construction firm offers his perspectives on the industry and on transitioning his company to the next generation of leadership.

Panzica Construction Company was founded as a small commercial carpentry firm in 1956 by CEO Tony Panzica’s father. Tony joined his father in 1976; in the mid-1980s, he purchased the company. Panzica Construction Company has grown over the years and now ranks as one of the top construction management and design-build firms in northeast Ohio.

Tony Panzica: I focus on the strategic vision for the company and relationship-building with clients. I spend time with my colleagues at the company focusing on client needs and communication, but I generally do not get involved in day-to-day operations.

Development: What qualities do you look for when hiring senior staff?

Panzica: Obviously, we want as little turnover as possible because it’s disruptive to our operations, culture and to our fellow employees. When we hire a new person, we look for someone who has the qualifications for the job and who fits into our culture. We operate like a family.

Development: How do you, as a leader, resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise in a company?

Panzica: When conflicts occur, we deal with them head on. We meet with the parties having the issue, whether they are individuals or other companies. It’s important to us to understand what the issues are and how they affect the people involved. We look for a win-win in terms of a resolution, so that each party feels they’ve been heard and that we come to a mutually agreed-upon solution.

Development: What are some of the things you have discovered you are not very good at — personally or professionally?

Panzica: As a company, we are in a continual-improvement mode and meet weekly to discuss how we can improve our processes and performance. Personally, having worked here for 44 years, I discovered long ago that I am a big-picture person, not a detail person. As Panzica Construction grew into a larger company, I was able to hire great people who excel in managing those details. We like to position people to excel in areas that utilize their strengths.

Development: When one of your employees makes a mistake, how is it addressed internally?

Panzica: We discuss it with him or her first in a very open and straightforward manner. If it affects other people, then we address it as a group and decide on the best remedy for the situation. Our goal is to learn from our mistakes and use them as opportunities to improve our processes in the future.

Development: What was one of the biggest mistakes your company made, and how did you find yourself making it?

Panzica: If something happens on the construction side of the business and a project is not exactly to plan, we address it and rectify the issue. We want all of our clients to be happy and satisfied with our work. Clients are the lifeblood of our business and as we continue to grow, we need to make sure that we always have very satisfied clients.

Development: How is your company preparing to weather the inevitable downturns in our industry?

Panzica: We have work scheduled out for a few years — but we are always looking ahead to the next project. We keep a close handle on what projects we have, how long they will take, what resources we need to use [superintendents, project managers, assistant project managers, etc.]. We balance our people and projects so that the work gets done with the proper quality and timeliness we are expected to deliver to every client. We pride ourselves on our level of customer service and are rewarded with repeat business from a great number of our clients.

Development: What is your outlook for the commercial real estate industry over the next three to five years?

Panzica: There is a general feeling in the industry that the workload will start slowing down. Last year was an extremely busy year for us, and we had a labor shortage in our area. That has balanced out now, and we are getting the workforce that we need for our projects.

Looking out in the future, a new issue on the horizon is tariffs. We are doing estimates for projects that may not start for a year from now, and we are concerned about getting accurate pricing for our clients. It is not just steel and aluminum — it is products that are specified and made in countries where these tariff issues exist. We are looking at all options: Do we have to buy a product that comes from that country? Could we source that product locally? Can we buy within America?

Development: What advice would you give someone entering the commercial real estate industry today?

Panzica: Whatever type of work you do in the real estate sphere — embrace it and learn from your experiences. Do your best every day to grow personally and professionally, and you will live a happier and more fruitful life. The happiest people I know in my industry are the ones who are willing to learn from others and continue to evolve.

Development: How do you de-stress?

Panzica: Currently, I am working to hand over the reins of the business to my two sons; the third generation in the business and the many other wonderful business “family members” that we employ. As Mark and Dave have taken over the operational aspects of Panzica, I spend much of the winter in Naples, where we are expanding our footprint and looking for new opportunities in the South Florida building market. In addition to developing new business there, I enjoy playing golf, traveling, and participating in arts and culture.

Ron Derven is a contributing editor for Development magazine.