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Thu September 25, 2008 - Southeast Edition
To say Joe Fard faced some challenging circumstances when he decided to start his own construction company in 2003 would be an understatement.
Sure, he landed a $1 million-plus contract soon after opening for business, but when he tallied the numbers at the end of the year he discovered an unpleasant surprise.
“Our first project we did, I think we lost $200,000,” said Fard, president/owner of Orlando-based Sitek Corporation. “It was discouraging, but we learned from our mistakes. That was something that made us a little more aggressive to go after other projects. The first project we got was over $1 million and I think it was a little too big for us for the size of company we were. We started doing smaller projects and we just grew from there.
“That project took eight, nine months. We had cash flow, but that first year that was the only job we had. You don’t realize you lost money until the following year.”
Fard did indeed learn his lessons from that first year.
During the company’s second year, revenues doubled and the third year they doubled again. Last year Sitek earned almost $8 million in revenue.
“This year, if we do the same as last year, we’ve done well,” Fard said. “I think we might be a tad short of what we did last year because that was our best year.”
Born in Tehran, Iran, in 1959, Fard arrived in the United States in 1978 to attend college at the University of Florida.
Back home, the Iranian Revolution was taking place. Deeply troubled by the revolution, he realized he would likely never be able to return to Iran again. But he decided to look forward and devoted his energy to his education and building his life anew in America.
Fard later transferred to the University of Central Florida, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and remained in the Orlando area following graduation. He added an MBA to his academic credentials and started his career as a civil engineer.
“I was in civil engineering, working for PBS&J. I was a team leader there,” Fard said. “I worked for Darden Restaurants for 10 years where I was chief engineer and oversaw all of their site development for all the restaurants we built.”
It was during that time Fard decided “how I’d love to be in construction.”
He opened a small office with two employees — himself and wife, Trina. His goal was to find a niche in the industry by offering total site development services under the guidance of a company with engineering expertise.
Today, Sitek offers what Fard calls the “complete package.”
“We do underground utilities, drainage, sanitary water, fire lines, earthwork, clearing, the only thing I really sub out is the asphalt and concrete work,” Fard said. “Everything else is done in-house. Also, we do retaining walls. We actually do the design of retaining walls in-house. We’re also civil engineers. We have a design group, a sister company. We do civil engineering design, some design/build projects and we also do the site work.”
Like many other entrepreneurs, raising capital was one of Fard’s biggest hurdles to getting the business up an running.
“Nobody would finance you,” Fard said. “Nobody would give you any equipment. I would lease equipment when I could. At the beginning nobody really knew you. You have to really prove yourself and get some projects and get your name out there. Now, people know us and they come to us. We have more equipment and we can service them better.”
Today, Sitek owns all its equipment, about $4 million worth, including all the standard heavy construction equipment, trucks and transports.
“We started with three guys and a couple of pieces of equipment and we’ve grown to 60 employees and 50 pieces of equipment,” Fard said.
Fard said Sitek does about eight to 10 engineering projects annually and 20 to 30 construction projects. While he hasn’t forgotten his engineering roots, he enjoys the construction side of the business a little more.
“Engineering helps us get business and solve problems,” Fard said. “They like an engineer on staff. We can save the client a lot of money just on design. We had a $200,000 project for a client and we had to connect the utilities in the middle of a DOT road. Since we’re engineers, we worked with DOT and saved the owner about $60,000. The owner was very happy and he keeps coming back to us for additional projects. Being an engineer helps us to get projects because issues come up, not only at the beginning of a project, but change order issues. We make sure any problems that come up in construction, we have a solution for it.”
Fard also is proud that Sitek has an unblemished record and has never received a citation for violation of any federal, state or local regulation. It has never failed to complete a project and has never been penalized for improper or delayed performance of a project.
“We have a good record and a good relationship with inspectors,” Fard said.
Currently, Sitek is finishing the Mona Lisa, a $2.5 million condo/hotel project in Celebration, which is near the entrance to Disney World.
It’s the largest project Sitek has ever done.
“We’ve done work for Orange County, we’ve done roadway projects, we’ve done a lot of commercial projects and some residential for Pulte Homes, lots of mitigation projects, earthwork projects,” Fard said. “Another large project we’re doing is Robinswood Middle School for Orange County. We’re really starting to do a lot of commercial projects lately. In the last couple of years we’ve tried to get into the public projects.”
Other notable projects include Brevard County Community Park in Melbourne, Fla., Hoagland Business Center in Kissimmee and Renaissance Park, a shopping center in Kissimmee.
Like others in the construction field, Fard hasn’t escaped the economic downturn impacting the industry, but he remains optimistic the cycle is about to go on the upswing.
“We had a little bit of bad luck last year because of the slowdown,” Fard said. “We did five, six projects, about half of what we usually do.
“We still seem to be busy, everybody wants everything quickly. We’re optimistic. I’m optimistic about everything I do and I think the economy will be improving in the next year.”
Fard said the secret to his continuing success is really no big secret — it all comes down to hard work and good employees. He places much of the credit for the company’s success to his superintendent, Andrew Pettay.
“Andrew has worked really hard with me,” Fard said. “He started with me and he’s a hardworking guy and I respect that. He’s just like me — a workaholic.”
Fard said during the boom a couple of years ago, he had the opportunity to grow the company, but he decided to stand pat, which in retrospect proved to be a wise decision.
“We had the opportunity to double in size,” Fard said. “I didn’t have a crystal ball but I thought it was so good, construction was booming, I thought that it’s not going to sustain [itself]. I’m not going to grow like that. I saw some of my competitors growing like that and now most of them are laying people off. I knew it was cyclical. I knew eventually it would have to stop. Right now we haven’t laid anybody off and we’re keeping busy.”
Fard said that if a company grows too large it becomes less efficient because there is less control and higher overhead and he prefers to develop a corporate camaraderie that produces quality work.
As Fard looks to the future, he has three children who he says might follow him into the business.
“I have one son with me, he’s an estimator,” Fard said. “My other son was running equipment for me before he decided he wanted to go into the Navy. He joined the Navy three years ago and went to Iraq. He came back last year.”
As for Fard retuning to his homeland, he doesn’t believe that will ever happen.
“I don’t think so,” Fard said. “The country is run by a bunch of control freaks. I consider myself American. Really, that country I left behind is not my country anymore. It’s not the way I left it. It’s a shame. I wish it was different, but it’s not. I talked my brother-in-law into moving here. He keeps hoping that country will go back to being a little bit more democratic like we had before I left. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Those mullahs are control freaks.
“After you live is this country for so long, you can’t go back and live in that country. This is my home now.” CEG