When he was 12 years old, Glen Wagner had no idea he had found his life’s work. “I was indoctrinated into construction at an early age,” says Wagner, Owner and President of Wagner Development Co., Inc. “During my teenage years, I worked with my grandfather, father and great uncle doing things like pouring concrete and laying sewer lines in a mobile home park that they owned in the Pittsburgh area.” There was enough work to go around and Wagner, eager to be part of the family business, was placed in a supervisory role… overseeing the park’s septic plant/sewage systems.
Though not the most attractive of jobs, this leadership position started Wagner on a path to success. Before he had reached his 20s, he had learned several valuable life lessons from working alongside his relatives. Later in life, his executive leadership responsibilities at Wagner Development further defined his tenacity as a businessman.
“When I took over running the excavating division, we had three employees—and I was one of them,” Wagner says. “As we’ve grown, we’ve brought in new people who were organically compatible with the culture. But the attitude from management has always been that we’re all in this together.”
Chief Operations Officer Thomas Fabrega, who has been with the company for nearly two years, quickly came to understand this philosophy.
“We have an open-door atmosphere, welcome employee input and encourage a culture of collaboration,” he says. “Glen is also an incredibly kind and generous guy. He’s a guy in a highly competitive business who has been able to be successful while staying true to those attributes. That’s unique in the construction industry, which can harden you pretty quickly.”
BEST MARKETING TIP? SIMPLY DO WHAT’S RIGHT.
Wagner Development is based in Pittsburgh and has $65 million on its books in projects. This site development and general construction company specializes in
Every successful business needs great office personnel. Billie Gilpin (seated) is Wagner Development Co., Inc.’s Front Desk Administrator, and Patti Fabrega is the Contract Administrator/Accounts Payable representative for the General Contracting Division.
renovating retail spaces and constructing new buildings. As the business grew and expanded, it developed a reputation as a “field-to-finish” contractor that can do it all.
Wagner Development currently has about 50 full-time employees and over the last five years has experienced some of its most remarkable growth. Namely, big-box remodeling jobs have expanded the company’s reputation and expertise. And this is not just a local company—Wagner Development is licensed to work in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Maine. Its expanded client base has been organic. The advertising budget: zero.
“Most of our growth has been through word-of-mouth,” Wagner shares. “We do an excellent job for our clients and treat them right. Those customers tell other customers. People want to deal with good people. Once we started doing work in other states, customers and subcontractors realized that we’re not your average construction company.”
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Developing solid credibility in the industry has led to plenty of business referrals. But the jumpstart to Wagner
Development’s most recent growth occurred when Wagner added Dave Stolic to the management team in December 2009.
“Dave always wanted to surround himself with the right people. He and I shared a similar perspective when it came to getting things done and finding the right solutions, and his can-do attitude was really beneficial for our company,” says Wagner, who first met Stolic in the early 2000s.
Stolic (who was named superintendent of the year at his previous company) had considerable expertise in project management. His proficiency in bidding on projects and seeing them through to completion helped advance Wagner Development’s ability to handle more large retail construction business.
Last November, Stolic passed away at the age of 57. The shock created a void that rocked the company.
“Dave was a huge component of the general contracting division,” Fabrega says. “There were employees who wondered, ‘Is this the end? Would Wagner be able to fill this void?’ It was a challenge and there was some insecurity about the company going forward.”
Glen Wagner, Owner and President of Wagner Development Co., Inc.
“To my joy, everyone in the company has stepped up and taken on more responsibility,” Wagner shares. “Again, it goes back to this ‘we’re in this together’ attitude that helped keep us going after Dave passed away.”
After Stolic’s passing, Fabrega campaigned and spearheaded efforts to restructure responsibilities, analyzing and organizing the succession plan and facilitating the collaboration necessary to ensure there was no lapse in the coverage of Stolic’s extensive responsibilities.
“We needed to create some systems and put best practices in place,” Fabrega says. “It’s human nature to resist change, but our staff has been great because of the collaborative culture that was already here.”
Fabrega, who joined the team in February 2016, is from Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in law. “After meeting some key people and discussing the opportunity, I was convinced that Wagner Development would be a great place to work,” he says.
“I recall having dinner with the Fabregas. After learning about who they are as people I knew Thomas had the character, tenacity and integrity required to be Wagner Development’s advocate,” Wagner says.
“His resolve and contributions along with those of all of our team members, including John Kendall (Sr. Project Manager) and Walt Shaffer (General Superintendent), are the reason for our continued growth.”
“I originally assisted with managing our contracts, but was quickly promoted to COO,” says Fabrega. Today his responsibilities include directing corporate operations and developing corporate policies, establishing performance goals and implementing performance management processes and practices, and directing and participating in acquisition and growth activities.
GIVE RESPECT, EARN LOYALTY
As those in the construction industry are well aware, there are constant deadlines to meet. The ticking clock does not care if rain slows the work, if materials don’t get delivered on time, if a question for an engineer can’t be answered because he’s on vacation, or if an architect’s drawing needs onsite tweaking.
“It’s all about problem solving,” Wagner says. “It can be a difficult industry; it’s not all peaches and cream. There are so many unknown variables. You just put forth your best effort to bring the job in on schedule and on budget.”
For Wagner and his team, treating the boots-on-the-ground workers with respect is just as important as the work itself. Wagner says this approach has earned the respect
Jeff Mrvos (left) and Anthony Gallaher are the son-in-law and stepson, respectively, of the company’s former Vice President, David Stolic. Mrvos and Gallaher proudly continue the construction legacy upheld by their revered mentor, who passed away last November.
of many top-notch subcontractors, so finding dedicated, talented outside help is never a problem.
“Something we hear all the time is, ‘We love working for you guys,’ ” says Wagner, who was a subcontractor for years. “We pay them on time and we’re not cutting corners trying to get something for nothing.”
With projects that have reached into nine states outside of Pennsylvania, Wagner and his key executives have developed relationships with dozens of subcontractors in those states. This has enabled Wagner to assure high-quality work no matter the location.
Wagner, who is infused with pride when driving past the buildings his team has developed over the last four decades, is also proud of how the company has maintained its values.
“ It’s all about problem solving. It can be a difficult industry; it’s not all peaches and cream. There are so many unknown variables. You just put out your best effort to bring the job in on schedule and on budget.”
Shown here is David Stolic, who served as Vice President of Wagner Development Co., Inc. for seven years before passing away last November. His contributions greatly influenced the company’s growth.
“The culture of the company, as we’ve grown, is that it’s still like a family business,” Wagner says. “If an employee needs a day off or has a medical issue, we’re sympathetic to the human needs of the employees. I want to treat people like they’re family. That’s what I want this company to be.”
The Wagner Development Co., Inc. construction crew working on a retail remodeling project in Norfolk, Va.
Author Bio: Wendell Barnhouse started writing about sports at his hometown newspaper when he was 18. After four-plus decades the essence of his job remains the same—storytelling.