FAMILY OPERATION THRIVES ON FATHER-SON TEAMWORK

Author Bio: Erica Bender, a Texas-based freelance writer and communications consultant, has worked with clients in the AEC industry for 13 years.

The Mongiovi & Son companies, headquartered in Pittsburgh, generate $20 million in revenue each year and employ over 100 people. What began as a small, single-person business operating out of a garage has transformed into a large, well-established plumbing operation that also offers excavation and fire protection services to clients primarily in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio.

The tale of a father, a son—and a dream to accomplish great things in life—best explains the start of the Mongiovi family legacy as it is known today.

A CHILDHOOD AMBITION

In the 1970s, a young Rick Mongiovi, son of an Italian-born baker, spent much of his childhood learning the ins and outs of the plumbing trade. His godfather ran a successful plumbing contractor business, for which his dad did part-time work.

“Starting when I was about 10 years old, my dad would take me with him to various plumbing jobs that he did on the side,” remembers Rick. “When I wasn’t working I would sit and listen to my godfather interact with other business owners, and what stuck out most were their discussions about the importance of advertising, good workmanship, and being honest and fair.”

By the time he was 13 years old, Rick decided he wanted to own his own plumbing business so that he could build a legacy of success similar to that of his godfather, who had also taught him the value of saving and spending money wisely. He convinced his father, Guy Mongiovi, to let him handle advertising for the side business, called Guy Mongiovi Eel and Drain Service at the time, but which Rick renamed to Mongiovi & Son Plumbing and Heating Service to add a sense of established longevity to the business identity.

Rick graduated from high school but skipped college, instead earning his Master Plumber license so that he could get started right away on building his own business. In 1982, at the age of 21 and with only $300 in his checking account, he changed the company’s name again, this time to Mongiovi & Son Plumbing Contractor LP—though technically by this point he was the only Mongiovi still involved in the business. He ran the operation entirely by himself out of his parents’ garage. “Within nine years of starting the business I had a wife and three kids depending on me,” says Rick. “I put in a lot of hours, working day and night—even on the weekends—to provide for my family and build the business so that I could take it to the next level.” And he did take it to the next level, eventually moving into a three-story building in the Kennedy Township area near Pittsburgh and branching out into other markets to provide additional services to customers. Now, 34 years later, Rick and his two sons, Ricky and Randy, run three family-owned and operated Mongiovi companies— Mongiovi & Son Plumbing Contractor, LP, Mongiovi & Son Excavating Inc., and Mongiovi & Son Fire Protection Services, LP.

BUILDING THE MONGIOVI LEGACY

Mongiovi & Son Plumbing Contractor, LP provides plumbing installation and repair services for commercial, industrial
and large residential projects. Mongiovi & Son Excavating, which supports the plumbing side of operations, was formed because Rick was tired of job delays caused by waiting for excavators and other companies to perform excavations. The third division, Mongiovi & Son Fire Protection Services, installs sprinkler systems in new buildings and retrofits systems in existing structures, and also provides sprinkler repair and inspections.

Rick owns all three companies, and his sons work alongside him in roles that complement their respective leadership styles and skill sets. Randy serves as Senior Vice President of the companies and oversees the fire protection division; his older brother, Ricky, has worked with their father the longest and is a Master Plumber and a Project Manager who oversees the plumbing side of operations.

Ricky, now 29 years old, started working for Mongiovi & Son straight out of high school—literally. He recalls, “On the Monday following my graduation party, I was out in the ditches digging holes.” Soon after, he attended technical school and obtained his Master Plumber license.

“I worked as a foreman for many years and ran a bunch of big projects,
including one of the biggest ones in our company’s history at Warrendale Point, which involved 17 buildings and around 300 units. At one point I had 23 guys on the job. Dealing with that many guys on a daily basis can be frustrating, but it was exciting
and I worked with some really great people. After that job, I was promoted to Project Manager,” says Ricky.

Today, Ricky has several foremen working beneath him, but heeds his father’s advice to always continue to learn from these individuals and others in the industry. “It doesn’t matter what my role is, I’m still learning from everyone—from accounting and human resources, to watching the project managers and guys out in the field who are older and more experienced than me.” He adds, “I really depend on my dad’s insight, too. He helps me feel validated in certain decisions that I make.”

The Mongiovi sons didn’t always want to work with their dad. When he was 18, Randy was set on moving across the country to Los Angeles to attend film school, but his dad asked him to stick around and work at the companies instead—an option that would allow Randy to be near his family, an important consideration for him. Having always been intrigued by the idea of running a business, Randy stayed and studied project management and business at a community college while he worked with his dad.

One thing that Randy enjoys most about his career is making important decisions for the companies. “My favorite thing to do is to
negotiate jobs in scope review meetings. It’s like Friday night football—you’ve prepared for it and you’re excited, and then you
get to perform and show the customers what you know about their jobs and what you’re going to do.”

One experience in particular helped affirm Randy’s reason for being in this line of work—and also prevented one division of the company from being shut down. In March 2010, Randy took it upon himself to investigate a problem in the fire protection services division that had caused the company to lose money for years.

“You don’t want to see your dad lose money—it’s just heartbreaking,” says Randy. Even though he had little experience in this area of the business, he wrote a fivepage proposal to his father outlining a solution. Randy also proposed that if he was able to turn a profit by end of year, the fire services division should continue to operate with him at the leadership helm.

Randy’s efforts did indeed right the nearly-sunk ship. “By the end of the year we’d made a $56,000 profit—it was the first time we’d made a profit in the fire protection services division in three or four years, and it’s stayed profitable ever since,” he says, and proudly adds, “My dad was so happy. Now we’re at the point where we want to grow it even more.”

The company is already involved in three markets (plumbing, fire protection sprinkler systems, and excavation), and there are no immediate plans to expand into other areas. “We know these three trades, and we’re focused on growing and enhancing our services within each of them,” states Randy.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Maintaining high standards of workmanship is one of the main reasons the Mongiovi companies have prospered over the years, says Rick. He and his sons try to only hire and train people who exhibit a strong work ethic, honesty, and quality workmanship skills. According to Ricky, “If people don’t care about the quality of their work, then we either don’t hire them or we don’t keep them long.”

The Mongiovis strive to treat their employees like family, and also try to help them and reward them for doing good work. “We are pretty involved with our employees and like to keep the atmosphere tight-knit and family-oriented,” Ricky says. In his opinion, one of the best ways to build better communication with staff members—and also customers—is to get to know them outside of the work environment. Weekend retreats, off-site parties, Foreman Nights, parking lot meet-ups, baseball game outings and other fun get-togethers are all examples of how the Mongiovis build relationships and grow company unity.

When asked what career advice he’s given to his sons that he would also share with others, Rick replies, “I want people to know that you don’t have to go to college to make it. We’re really short on tradesmen today—good, honest, quality tradesmen are needed everywhere.” He adds, “But some people do need to go to college. I have a daughter who is a journalist, and she needed a college education for that kind of job. But college isn’t everything, especially in this industry.” The Mongiovis often attend Career Day events at local schools to share how people can obtain successful, well-paid careers in the building and construction industry—even without a college degree.

Randy and Ricky are both fathers now, a milestone that helps them feel an even greater sense of appreciation for their dad’s mentorship as he prepares them to run the business one day. Ricky shares one piece of wisdom that he would like to pass down to his own son. “You have to have a good work ethic and have open eyes and ears to everyone around you. Getting along with different types of people is important, too.” But Ricky doesn’t plan to force his son into the family business. “Whatever inspires him, whatever he wants to do in life I’m going to support. My dad didn’t push me to do plumbing, but he did encourage me to at least give it a try to see if it was a good fit for me. Turns out, it was.”

Rick concludes: “I wanted my sons to know that the people you’re providing service for are important. You have to be professional and do an excellent job that you can be proud of. And always keep learning. I still learn every day.”

It is this spirit of excellence and openness to knowledge that continues to propel the Mongiovi legacy forward.