Mascaro Construction President Wins Metcalf Award

Tue April 29, 2003 - Northeast Edition
Tracy Carbasho

A Pennsylvania businessman recently was recognized with an honor for continuing his father’s goal of “raising the level of professionalism” in the construction industry.

John “Jack” Mascaro, president and chief executive officer of Mascaro Construction Co. L.P., in the north side of Pittsburgh, has been named the 2003 winner of the William Metcalf Award. The lifetime achievement award is the most noteworthy honor presented each year by the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania (ESWP). Named after the society’s founder, the award is bestowed upon individuals who have made outstanding contributions to engineering.

Mascaro, 58, is a registered professional engineer in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Illinois. He received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. He worked in the engineering field after graduation, but quickly realized he wanted to work in the construction business. After working for a construction company where he climbed to the position of regional vice president, he ventured out on his own and continued the family legacy by starting the Mascaro business in 1988.

“When I started my company, I wanted to raise the bar in the construction industry by being honest and doing the job right the first time,” said Mascaro. “We will always try to achieve productivity gains and we will never think that we’ve made it. I always remind myself to be humble and to have an insatiable desire to keep improving.”

Mascaro Construction employs approximately 70 office people and between 100 and 200 field workers, depending on the number of projects being completed at any given time. Fifty-percent of the company’s projects are done in the Pittsburgh region, while the remainder are scattered throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. The company is a multi-faceted regional general contracting, construction management and design-build firm that has grown to be one of western Pennsylvania’s largest contracting businesses.

Among the many notable Pittsburgh projects that bear the Mascaro touch are the construction of Heinz Field, conversion of the old Allegheny County Jail into a Family Courts facility, the renovation of Heinz Hall, the Marconi Corporate Headquarters Complex and the UPMC Sports Performance Complex.

When he was eight years old, Mascaro knew that he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps by making an unforgettable impact on the construction industry. Fifty years later, he has achieved countless awards and completed a long list of noteworthy construction projects that prove he has surpassed his childhood dream.

During his career in the construction industry, he has witnessed many technological innovations that make it easier to complete projects. Computers, e-mail, enhanced software and Internet access have made it possible to monitor the progress of projects and transfer information more quickly to many people.

Mascaro believes the biggest trend that will be noticeable within the industry over the next five years will be the increased prevalence of design-build construction projects where ground can be broken before the design documents are completed.

The success of his own company and the reputation achieved by his father, Pietro, have given Mascaro a good understanding of business values and what it takes to land contracts and retain customers.

He believes the biggest mistakes that can put contractors and construction companies out of business are:

• Making bad estimates on potential jobs,

• Not adequately knowing the ins and outs of the business,

• Making investments in fields where the company has little knowledge in a blind attempt to diversify,

• Working on a job-by-job basis instead of planning ahead, and

• Seeking growth just for the sake of growth, perhaps at a time when the company is not capable of growing.

Mascaro’s father inspired him to work hard, practice humility, stay focused on his goals and to never become complacent.

“My father was an immigrant from Italy with a doctorate in math and he was a big believer in education. I remember going out on job sites with him when I was a kid and I always liked riding in the trucks. He had a strong work ethic with a good set of values and he made me work hard.”

His father, who also held a civil engineering degree, started a long family tradition in the construction industry. He came to America in 1924 and worked as an engineer and draftsman before starting his own business in 1941, focusing on a successful career in highway construction. One of his initial projects was the Parkway East, Pennsylvania’s first non-toll road.

“I wasn’t poor or rich growing up and I never felt entitled,” said Mascaro. “My biggest accomplishment has been for my family to see the pride of a first-generation Italian being successful. We’re proud of our heritage and entitlement does not exist in my family.”

When Mascaro began raising his own sons, John Jr., Jeffrey and Michael, he was careful to pass along the same set of principles that his dad taught him. All three of his sons work at Mascaro Construction with John Jr. serving as vice president of field operations; Jeffrey as the chief estimator and Michael, manager of business development.

“In the future, I would like to pass the baton to my children and see how well they will run the company,” he said. “I won’t ever retire, but I will eventually assume a lesser role so they can learn by doing the right things. If we get comfortable, that leads to complacency and we need to keep growing.”

Michael Bock, who serves as first vice president of the ESWP, said the same principles that have made Mascaro a good family man have made him a prominent businessman who grew his company to be one of the most successful in western Pennsylvania.

“First and foremost is his ability to enjoy a close working relationship with both labor and management groups within the construction industry,” said Bock. “He has significantly contributed to the growth and well-being of the local construction industry through his active involvement and leadership roles in such organizations as the Master Builders Association [MBA] and the Builders Guild.”

Mascaro, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon, PA, was elected to the MBA board of directors in 1993, later served as treasurer and was elected president for a three-year term beginning in 1998. He is best known at the MBA for serving as chairman of the labor committee and negotiating an unprecedented seven-year pact with MBA’s four trade groups.

“He’s a true leader in every sense of the word and he gives more back to the industry than he takes from it,” said Jack Ramage, executive director of the MBA. “His spirit, energy and enthusiasm for the construction industry are contagious — his employees catch it; his clients catch it and everyone who comes into contact with Jack catches it.”

Mascaro has come a long way from the early days in 1988 when he and his wife, Darlene, were running the company basically from atop a ping-pong table in their basement.