Ten Minutes With ... Michael Curtis of G&C Concrete
Boston-area specialty contractor founder recalls how it broke a pattern that let the company grow.
Michael Curtis is co-founder of G&C Concrete. Today one of the most successful concrete subcontractors in the Boston area, the firm got its start in the 1980s when Curtis met partner Michael George while both were college students. Based in Haverhill, an old industrial city north of Boston, G&C this fall marked a milestone in its business—conducting the largest single concrete pour ever seen in New England. The company’s payroll has fluctuated from 150 to more than 350 when it worked on One Dalton, a new condo tower in downtown Boston that now is the region's second tallest building.
Curtis recently chatted with ENR Correspondent Scott Van Voorhis about his early career, the growing pains at a new company and how he and his partner grew G&C into the contractor able to make the record-setting 8,100-cu-yd pour for a Cambridge office building. The text of the wide-ranging discussion has been edited.
How did you get started in the business?
I met my business partner Michael George in 1985 when we were both students at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. We were looking to earn a few extras bucks, so we started pouring foundations for new homes. I had grown up in East Arlington (an inner suburb of Boston) and had already worked in construction for years – I started roofing when I was 14. For his part, Michael had worked construction jobs during the summer in high school, finishing floors, among other things. To get the jobs done, we hired other college students looking to make a few extra dollars.
What did it take to get your business off the ground?
We worked like dogs, seven days a week for ten straight years. No vacations. With a lot of hard work, the business took off and grew from there. The $22-billion Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project (better known as the Big Dig) proved to be a major source of work for us, with massive amounts of concrete needed for the highway tunnel built underneath downtown Boston. We also won work on public works projects put out to bid by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which built a new sewage treatment plant and tunnel in Boston Harbor in the 1990s.
Did growth bring new challenges?
After about a decade in business, we hit a wall. We were locked into a stop-and-go pattern: We would win new work for the firm, complete it, and then have to scale back before we went out and bid on new projects in order to land our next big job. We decided we would need to divide up the responsibilities if we were to find a way to grow more steadily. Around 2000, I left the field and moved into G&C’s offices. Pursuing new work and hammering out of contracts became my full-time job, while Michael stayed in the field. It really helped even out the flow of projects and revenue.
What was your next big step? As we took on bigger jobs, general contractors began looking for G&C to do more. We began buying the concrete and rebar ourselves as a way to provide the full package. As the scope of our work widened, we began hiring field engineers and others.
What is your business strategy? There is no real strategy for bidding the concrete. Every project is unique and looked at differently. We never act as the primary contractor - we are always a subcontractor to a general contractor.
And is G&C a union contractor? We are all union and signed with the carpenters, laborers, iron workers, cement finishers and operators.
Tell us about your big concrete pour last September.
Working with John Moriarty and Associates, we continuously cast 8,100 cubic yards of concrete on Sept. 7. It was the foundation for $215-million office and lab complex in the North Point section of Cambridge. The job took us 13 hours and we needed more than 125 concrete trucks. We deployed eight different pumps. It is the largest concrete pour I can recall by any firm in the area. The largest concrete pour I can think of before this was 5,000 to 6,000 cubic yards. We have been doing this for 35 years and I don’t recall hearing about one that was that big. It went exceptionally smooth.
What has been your most challenging concrete pour to date?
The most challenging job to date for G&C was pouring the foundation for One Dalton (a 61-story luxury condo tower in Boston’s Back Bay). The tower, which opened in May, was built on a very tight, triangular-shaped site in downtown Boston. Due to the small size and unusual shape of the development site – it was just 10,000 to 12,000 sq ft - the tower’s foundation required extra reinforcement. For G&C, this meant purchasing and then pouring and installing 50,000 tons of concrete and12,000 tons of rebar. While the North Point job in Cambridge was larger, there was also more room to maneuver in. The job at One Dalton required an even higher-degree of coordination with other contractors in other to get concrete trucks in and out.