Vinny Penna took over the family business in October 1983.
The year 2012 marks AJ Penna & Son Excavating Contractors’ 65th anniversary.
In 1947, Angelo Penna was discharged from the Army. His wife Margaret’s father worked in the construction business in Westport, Conn. Penna worked alongside his wife’s family for many years, learning a trade that would provide for his children for a lifetime.
From Father to Son
As is often the case in family construction work, after a time, Penna mastered the trade and ventured out on his own. His wife helped him through the years with the bookkeeping and assisting with estimates and other office work for their new business — AJ Penna & Son Excavating Contractors, located at 46 Indian Hill Road in Westport, Conn. The privately-owned and operated excavation and utility company that continues serving Fairfield County area.
Growth was slow within the company at first. Employees would be hired from time to time. It hasn’t come fast, but, as operations manager Irisel DeJesus said, “Anything that comes easy is probably too good to be true.”
When son Vinny got old enough, sometime in 1964, he started to work for his dad.
Both father and mother demanded that Vinny work hard, and he put in many long hours in order to learn every aspect of the business.
In October 1983, Vinny Penna took over the business.
“My father had health issues and Mom needed to take care of him, and they had faith that I would be able to carry on the name,” said Vinny Penna.
Additionally by this time, Vinny had acquired all his licenses, including sewer and plumbing, demolition, explosives and more. And as he got each license, Vinny started to expand and provide various new services, such as demolition and various underground facility work.
The firm can handle any size job, while providing each and every customer — from the individual homeowner to the largest contractor — with what they call a “personal level of service.” The company provides water, sewer, septic, drainage installation and underground utility installation and repair services, as well as site preparation, snow plowing and removal services to commercial and residential claims.
Vinny’s two sons are now actively involved in the business, the family’s third generation. They hope to be involved for many years, like Ralph S., who was an operator/foreman for more than 30 years, retiring in 2011. Or Robert C., also an operator foreman who started with Vinny’s father Angelo, and stayed with the core of five employees who launched the present company through the last three decades.
There also is the dedicated Robin M., who took care of the bookkeeping, assisted with much of the paperwork and has been the overall office manager and bookkeeper since Vinny Penna took over company operations in 1983.
“In the beginning, Robin did this on a part-time basis,” said Vinny. “Then, eventually, I hired her full-time because I knew she would be a tremendous asset to the company.”
It is the core of solid employees like the three R’s — no, not reading, writing and ’rithmatic, but Ralph, Robert and Robin — that has kept AJ Penna on such solid footing. It gives Penna the strength to adapt through economic downturns and changes in regulations and in the industry itself.
“Back in the 80s, early 90s, there was a serious downturn in construction and I did my best to conserve. I worked and labored and did what I could in the field as a worker,” said Penna. “I kept my key people, which was just about four guys. They saw me through the years, these guys. I just constantly tried to network and every job I performed I did my absolute best.
“Then, networking with the municipalities during this time helped. Additionally, around this time, I had [acquired] the City of Norwalk drainage project, and that helped tremendously in stabilizing the company,” he added.
The Penna family believes you continue to survive tough economic times by fine workmanship, timeliness of work, quality, listening, being on call day and night and more.
“What our company has historically done the best is provide outstanding customer services, making every client feel that their project and the successful completion of it is our priority,” said Penna’s son. “This philosophy has become our trademark and directly relates to our staying power and the fostering of beneficial relationships through the decades.
“This business, like most others, is about people, how they are treated and the feeling they are left with can, and will, steer the direction, and, ultimately, the success of your organization.”
It also doesn’t hurt to be clean.
“The cleanliness of his equipment and trucks also is very important. This concern was carried down through Vinny’s father as well,” added operations manager DeJesus.
On Call for Any Emergency
AJ Penna is the “on call” contractor for many of the towns and utility companies in Fairfield County. Fully licensed and bonded, it is insured to install utilities throughout Fairfield County and offers 24/7 emergency services. It takes tremendous pride in its reputation, based on the quality of their workmanship and customer satisfaction.
Working with municipalities and utility companies has solidified AJ Penna.
“For about the past 10 years, we have been dealing with emergency work for various utilities like Aquarion Water, CL & P, AT&T and local municipalities,” added DeJesus. “When dealing with clients of this caliber, it is essential to understand their needs. They more than often have emergency work.
“So, over the years, Penna has geared up with equipment and personnel to attend to these emergencies. On a day-to-day basis, this can become a challenge,” she added. “For instance, the day before you can review what the schedule will be for the day, and, from one minute to the next, you get a water main water break and all of a sudden you have to change the schedule around to attend to the emergency.”
Penna has learned and adapted from such experience. In fact, such a break became, well, a good break to add to its emergency crew’s crisis knowledge.
“In 2010, we had a 36-inch main break in the vicinity of a pond. The job lasted about 72 hours. Just the coordination of rotating guys, coordinating materials, getting pumps, etc., was a challenge,” DeJesus added. “However, this is the kind of work that Penna is built for, and experienced to perform with excellence.”
Another major project that Penna tackled was The Scofield Project. In October 2009, the city of North Stamford approved a $2 million plan to bring public water lines to four city streets after a federal government study showed hazardous levels of pesticides in the soil in nearby Scofield Park.
Aquarion Water Company selected Penna to install a new water main and the hookups to more than 100 homes to that main. Over the next six months, the Penna crew successfully installed more than 4,000 ft. (1,219 m) of water main and connected 109 structures to it.
and for Customers
AJ Penna won’t have any kind of individual celebration to mark its 65 years of hard work and operation, but it has set up events to reward its clients since 2009.
“For the past three years, we have been holding a [annual] party at the main office, outside in the parking lot. The party is for our clients, as well as our employees,” said DeJesus. “Last year, we handed out plaques to our employees, as well as to clients that have been faithful to us. We have pizza trucks, hot dog trucks, games for the kids [and] a disc jockey. About 250 people attended.”
Another aspect of AJ Penna is giving back to the communities it serves. Vinny Penna is devoted to a charity called Al’s Angels, a local non-profit organization that raises money for children battling cancer, rare blood diseases and severe financial hardship. (For more info, visit www.alsangels.org.)
“The charity is treated just like our emergency clients during the holidays. The children make baskets and Vin drops what he is doing and provides them with trucking to deliver baskets,” said DeJesus. “He also provides them with our employees for manpower for lifting anything heavy. Not only does he donate, blood sweat and tears, but, he donates financially and helps out with almost every event. He has gone to hospitals to see the cancer patients, who are small children. Vinny is devoted to this organization.”
For more information, visit www.ajpenna.com.