In this edition of ‘Coffee With a CEO’, we are talking with Pete Giovenco, President & CEO of Bergmann. From pizza maker to CEO: This is a great example of a great, down-to-earth guy who worked hard and rose to the top!
Juli: How Long have you been CEO with Bergmann?
Pete: I became CEO in 2017 and was President in 2016 so 3 years as CEO.
Juli: OK, let’s go back to the beginning. Tell me about your journey to become an engineer.
Pete: Honestly, I did not know what an engineer was when I grew up. Both of my parents were immigrants to this country- barely a high school education so it’s not like I had this upbringing where I had all this knowledge around me. I was the first to go to college. My guidance counselor told me I had great math skills and that is really what led me to engineering. The other thing, growing up, my family had a small pizzeria and every lunch hour there was a guy who owned a local civil engineering practice and I got to know him when he came into get his subs and his pizza at lunch. So, he brought me into his office to get a taste of things. I went to high school and I worked at the pizza shop. Then I went to a local community college where I worked at Mr. Kreiling’s office, and I got a feel for what engineering was all about. I finished my 2-year degree and went to RIT which was again local, because I continued to work while I was in school. RIT was a fantastic school.
Juli: What things were you involved in as young person that prepared you for your role today?
Pete: We had a small family restaurant so what does that train you to do? I dealt with the customers everyday- I solved their problems every day. I made them happy every day. Those are skills that I use today. I ask our young people here- have you worked retail or at a restaurant? One, it shows me that they have a strong work ethic and when you are in that environment, you have to think on your feet. You must be able to solve their problems quickly and make them happy. I think being part of a small business I knew at the end of the day, it was cash in and cash out so what was left was yours. You have to manage the business. I learned a lot in those early years. It taught me that I wanted to be an entrepreneur early on in my life either running or owning a business early on in my life. If I wasn’t in the engineering business, I probably would own a restaurant.
Juli: That is amazing…I bet you know how to make a mean pizza!
Pete: I do! In fact, we might have pizza tonight!
Juli: How did you select your school?
Pete: I chose my school from a location standpoint to be able to also work full-time at my family restaurant. I have worked full-time since I was 14 years old.
Juli: When you were graduating from college, did you ever think you would be leading a firm as the President/CEO?
Pete: I graduated from RIT and came to Bergmann, so it was my first job outside of college. It was intimidating because I was not accustomed to working in an office environment. My real focus at that time was just trying to become an engineer. I was a civil engineer in my early years doing land development projects. I learned water resources, stormwater, earthwork- all that stuff and tried to immerse myself. As I started to become more comfortable in my engineering, I became more comfortable with being a leader both internally and externally with clients, planning boards, and things like that. As I became an expert in what I was doing, I was able to speak more confidently at planning board meetings, and with clients talking about the projects, etc. That helped my leadership skills which helped boost my confidence. The people skills were something I learned 2-3 years into my engineering career.
Juli: What advice would you tell your 25-year old self?
Pete: I have a 30 -year old son who works for Chrysler in Detroit and he just got promoted from being a project engineer to leading a division of 15 engineers. He called me and was a bit nervous. I told him he should try to figure out his weaknesses and see if Chrysler can help with training. Unlike me, my son is a very confident person at his age. So, a few things I would say to myself is work/life balance…I would say looking back, don’t make the same mistakes I made by spending so much time at work that you miss things with your kids- soccer games, baseball games. You will never get that time back and that’s unfortunate. Two, there are no shortcuts- you have to earn your stripes. I worked hard early on to perfect my craft. I have seen a lot of young engineers want to jump right in to become a project manager and they don’t have the time to really earn their stripes. Don’t try to skip rungs on the ladder. It’s okay to think big and long-term, but you have to earn your dues.
Juli: How would you describe your mindset as a leader?
Pete: That’s an interesting question…when I talk to younger people about leadership, I talk about authentic leadership. That’s something that I think is severely lacking in business and other facets of our society. Authenticity is important to me, so I try to be who I am and not who people want me to be. People appreciate authenticity when it’s truly real and not fake. I always tried to remember my roots and where I came from and how I got here. Just as this came, it could be taken away, so nothing is taken for granted. My mindset is this is a real blessing to me, and I am humbled to be in this role- I have to earn it every day. It’s not something I ever take for granted.
(Bergmann's RIT Institute Hall Project - Rochester, NY)
Juli: As I look back on my own career, I feel like each decade is filled with new lessons. What’s one of the biggest lessons you have learned in the past decade?
Pete: It really holds true- I didn’t get to this position without having surrounded myself with really great people. I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I surround myself with great people. Even when I was running the Walmart project, I wanted skilled great people on my team. SO fast-forward today- CEO’s struggle when they try to do everything themselves and try to micromanage. I developed an executive leadership team when I became CEO. Without that team, I couldn’t do what I am doing. They are functioning at such a high level and doing such a phenomenal job through all of this COVID stuff. I kid with them that my job is to gift them with making myself irrelevant if I get hit by a bus and I have no doubt that they would do that. That’s what builds confidence in people. Lesson learned – surround yourself with quality people and don’t micromanage them. Mentor them and impart what you have learned to them so they can continue to develop as well.
Juli: How did the Great Recession change you?
Pete: The Great Recession in 2008-2009 was also about having a great team around me. At the time, our client Walmart was growing like crazy, so I was fortunate to have a great team around me. You must be agile- if there is a crisis you have to take advantage of it. We grew in that recession with great clients like Walmart and TD Bank and we were positioned very well to grow by pivoting and going to the work. I think it is the same with COVID. Where is the work coming from? There is work being created now.
Juli: How do you think COVID will change the A/E/C industry (for better or for worse)?
Pete: I think it is in your neck of the woods with recruiting. If people are working from home- maintaining that employee engagement is going to be extremely hard and we must work hard to make sure that employees stay engaged. I do a weekly Friday video- just 10 minutes talking about something- a light-hearted video to keep connected with our team. The thing I see in the future with remote work is the separation anxiety is minimal for someone who decides to leave their company. If employee X has a bad day, they can just leave a company and go to another company with very little interaction. Millennials and Gen X can tend to not communicate what with texting and email. Working from home, they won’t have that anxiety of saying something in person to their employer’s face. So now they can say, I am leaving Bergmann and they can just leave, log back into another firm’s computer with firm XYZ across the street. So, I believe we have to build that bond with the employee and make that bond stronger to engage with our employees.
Juli: What’s the thing that keeps you “up at night” with regard to leading your firm?
Pete: Staying ahead of the competition whether its projects we are pursuing, or the people we are trying to hire and scrambling to position ourselves in the market. I am a very competitive person and I hate losing so it’s just making sure that Bergmann is well-positioned to win.
Juli: What’s a piece of advice you would give a younger engineer who has just landed their first leadership role?
Pete: I kind of rolled this into the other question, but my son is going to get his MBA. He’s always looking 4-5 steps ahead. First of all, you just got this leadership role- make sure you get to know your people, build trust, be authentic, show that you really want to get to know them. I gave him a suggestion. I would write personal details about them in a book so that I’d remember when I’d talk with them the next time. It made them feel like I was investing in them and trying to get to know them.
Juli: What’s the best book you've read or the best movie you have seen lately?
Pete: The best book I read this year- it is an old book that’s been out forever called Endurance by Alfred Lansing. The story about Ernest Shackleton who did the Transarctic Expedition crossing the Antarctic in in the early 1900’s. The mission failed and they were stranded in the Antarctic, but he was able to save his entire crew over a 3-year period. He never lost faith that they would survive, and every crew member survived. I love books like this that are based on reality.
Juli: Any professional regrets?
Pete: Looking back, one thing I didn’t do a lot of - I mentioned I was in the land development and spent a lot of time at planning board meetings several nights a week - is I didn’t invest in ASCE or ACEC networking. I’d try to find time to invest in getting involved in those professional organizations. Now I am on several boards so am involved but I wish had done more of that earlier in my career.
Juli: What’s one career achievement you are most proud of?
Pete: I would say for sure becoming President and CEO of Bergmann and the reason being is that the president is elected by our Board of Directors. Our Board is 100% Bergmann employees so no outside people sit on our board. To me it was awesome, and it was very humbling for me to know that my peers gave me a unanimous vote.
Juli: Thank you Pete for sharing your wonderful wisdom & knowledge with us!