Basil A. 'Rick' Petricca dies; was ex-CEO of Petricca Industries, founder of Unistress Corp.
PITTSFIELD — Basil A. "Rick" Petricca, the former CEO of Petricca Industries and founder of Unistress Corp., died Thursday. He was 86.
Petricca, a native of North Adams, took over the leadership of the family-owned business at the age of 30 when his father, company founder Basilio "Patsy" Petricca, died unexpectedly in June 1962. Under his leadership, the business grew. Unistress, which Rick Petricca founded in 1968, is the state's only manufacturer of pre-stressed concrete, and one of only four companies in New England that offer that product.
One of two current subsidiaries of Petricca Industries, Unistress in 2014 received a $70 million contract to provide precast concrete panels for the new Tappan Zee Bridge over New York's Hudson River, a project that brought more than 100 new jobs to the Berkshires when the local unemployment rate was 6.3 percent.
Unistress also performed work on the Big Dig project in Boston from 1997 to 2005, and helped build the new Yankee Stadium after helping to refurbish the old one in the 1970s. It has also constructed various other bridges, parking garages, railway stations and stadiums.
"I had the pleasure of being the lawyer for the company starting in the 1970s, so I got to deal with Rick in many situations," said C. Jeffrey Cook of the Pittsfield law firm Cohen, Cook, Valicenti and Kinne. "He was a tremendous, energetic and imaginative businessman who was a great deal-maker. He loved to negotiate deals and did a great job of it."
In the 1980s, Petricca sold the land that would become the site of the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough to the Pyramid Cos. of Syracuse, N.Y., which built the shopping complex that opened in 1988. The $12 million deal also included a land swap — the deal allowed Unistress to move its plant that was then located at the future site of the mall to its current location on the other side of Cheshire Road.
"Unistress wouldn't exist today if he hadn't thought of doing it," Cook said, regarding Petricca's role in founding that company. "That was his concept. Unistress ended up becoming what is now the heart of Petricca Industries. It was Rick's imagination to see that as an opportunity that Petricca should go for."
Petricca's business philosophy was compared to that of a football coach, in an article published in The Eagle in 1984.
Sometimes it's OK to just "grind out the yardage slow and steady," he is quoted as saying. "But there's no big game unless you step back and throw the bomb."
"I never had a lot of ability," he said, "but I really have some good people."
In 1984, he bought a former pharmacy on the former of Fenn and Willis streets that he converted into a travel agency. He also decided to "indulge in a personal fancy" on that property, according to Eagle files, by adding a 10- to 15-foot clock tower to the structure because he missed a clock tower that used to be on a bank on North Street.
"I'm going to have someone call wherever you have to call — I don't care if it's England — to get the correct time every day and adjust the clock," Petricca said. "I want people going by there to be able to look up and know that the time on that clock is always absolutely correct." The clock tower is no longer there.
A member of both Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and St. Mark's Church who attended Mass every day, Petricca was also involved in a number of civic and charitable organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of the Berkshires, Berkshire Healthcare Systems, the Berkshire Museum, The Berkshire County Sheriffs Association, UNICO, and the Catholic Youth Center. In the 1980s, he served as chairman of the Berkshire Medical Center's board of trustees, headed Berkshire Health Systems, was elected director of the then-Central Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, and was appointed to the Pittsfield Downtown Development Team by then-Mayor Charles Smith.
"He was an extremely loyal individual to the organizations and people that he believed in," said Gary Scarafoni of Pittsfield, who served as president of the First Agricultural Bank in the 1990s, and later as president of the Colonial Theatre. "He was a very enthusiastic guy.
"He didn't do much halfheartedly," Scarafoni added. "If he was committed, he was committed. He could be the chairman, but he was also one of those guys who grabbed the cards and knocked on doors and asked for money. He wasn't afraid to lead by example."
Petricca's father, Basilio Petricca, came to the U.S. from his native Italy when he was 16 in 1910. He founded what was to become Petricca Industries in 1936 after he quit his job as vice president and foreman of a local construction company when his weekly salary was cut in half, according to Eagle files. "He started out with a pickup truck, some tools, and hired some workmen," the Eagle reported. Petricca Industries is now a third-generation family business. The current CEO is Perri Petricca, Rick's son, and Basilio's grandson.
"If you look at the old-line businesses in Berkshire County, many never made it into the third generation," Scarafoni said. "I think that's a tribute to Rick."
Born on Oct. 2, 1931, Petricca graduated from Williston Academy, now the Williston Northampton School in Easthampton in 1950 and Tufts University in 1954. He later served in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Belvoir, Va. He and his wife, the former Rosaland Bishop, were married for 61 years.
Besides his wife, Petricca leaves five children, 14 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and a brother, Robert Petricca. He was predeceased by a brother, a sister and two granddaughters.
Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at email@example.com or 413 496-6224.
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