Executive Spotlight: Perri Petricca, CEO of Petricca Industries of Pittsfield
PITTSFIELD — It never is easy running a big company, but, imagine running a large family business as a third-generation family member.
Perri Petricca understands that responsibility well.
Petricca, the CEO of Petricca Industries of Pittsfield, is the grandson of company founder Basilio "Patsy" Petricca, who founded the company in 1936, and succeeded his father, the late Basil A. "Rick" Petricca in the company's leadership role.
He also has been president of Unistress Corp., the company's most well-known and profitable subsidiary, for 31 years. Unistress, which supplies prestressed concrete for building projects, was founded by his father 52 years ago.
"We work there, we get our livelihood from it, you feel the pressure," Petricca said about running the business. "Because if something ever happened, it wouldn't be like, 'Oh, boy, well, there goes the stock value.' People lose their jobs, then their homes. Everything is tied up in the business."
We met with Petricca recently to talk about his current responsibilities, his grandfather's successes, his company's future in the Berkshires, and whether the firm ever would be interested in purchasing the struggling Berkshire Mall.
Q: Tell me what it's like to run a third-generation family business as a member of that family.
A: You go through phases. There was the overlap with the second generation with my father, my uncle and my aunt. You have to pay your dues, you know? Then, there's the challenge of working with the current generation.
I work with my two brothers in the business, and you're paving the way, at least potentially, for the next generation. You want to hand off something that was better than when you got it, and you feel the pressure when times aren't so good.
Q: What do you mean by paying dues?
A: Every generation comes in, you know, and right out of college you want to start managing things. I've gone through that with my nephew and my son. It's like, "All right, we're going to manage something," but it's like, "Hey, guys, you know how many decades it took?" I know you've been here since June [laughs].
I tell everyone, especially family members, 'The door's open and we'll give you the opportunity, but there's no guarantees.' There's too much at stake. This isn't a legacy where if your name is Petricca you're going to get a management position. You're going to get a chance.
There's people in the family that work at different levels of the organization.
Q: So, nothing is handed to you at Petricca Industries?
A: No, you've got to earn it.
Q: Did you ever think about doing something else?
A: I did. I was in the family business working in construction. It just wasn't challenging. So, I went back to law school (Petricca holds a law degree from Boston College).
Q: Did you ever practice law?
A: No. ... I thought I might practice when I got out. I interviewed with firms, but I always knew I was coming back to the family business.
I wasn't going to mislead anyone. I said, 'Look, I'll work real hard for three year or five years, whatever, but then I'm going back.' There was no law firm buying that, putting all that money into training you and then having you leave.
Q: So, was it preordained that you were going to be in the family business?
A: It started with my grandfather. My father and my uncles had no choice. My grandfather said, "You're coming to work for me." My father never said that to me. But, I can never remember a time in my life when I couldn't picture working for my father.
Q: Why did your grandfather come to America?
A: Nobody knows why my grandfather left Italy. We assumed it was for a better opportunity. He left by himself, with no family, no money, at the age of 16. He just got on a boat and ended up in New York.
We don't know how he got to the Berkshires. We just assumed somebody said, 'You want a job, get on the truck.' He came up here and worked in construction.
Q: What was he like?
A: When he died [in 1962], we found in his attic boxes and boxes from this old correspondence school. For 25 cents a week he learned how to read and write and learned his math and business skills through correspondence schools.
They would send you an envelope each week with reading materials and a test. You would send the test back, and they would grade it and send you the next round of materials. When my sisters opened the box, every test they found was an A or A+. For someone who never had a formal education, literally self-taught, he was brilliant.
Q: Unistress has provided prestressed concrete products for several major projects, including the Big Dig, the new Yankee Stadium and the new Tappan Zee Bridge. Which one of those projects means the most to you?
A: I would say the Big Dig, just because it was the first big chance we took. We had never been in that kind of business before. It was extremely challenging.
Q: Will Petricca Industries and Unistress always remain in the Berkshires?
A: Yeah. First of all, relocating a manufacturing plant is no small [task]. I get calls all the time from New Jersey, New York, even North Carolina, "What would it take to get you to bring that operation down here? Don't say no until we have a chance to talk." I'm like, no. This is my home. This is our community. Nobody's getting ready to cash out.
Q: There were rumors floating around on social media a couple of years ago that you might be interested in buying the Berkshire Mall because that property originally belonged to your company. You said no then. Do you think you'll ever be interested?
A: No. There's two challenges now. One, it's deteriorated so much that the deferred maintenance is going to cost someone. I know the town of Lanesborough has been talking about [purchasing it]. But, if the people that managed this for a living, the Pyramids and the CBL's, can't make it work, nobody floundering into this on their own is going to make it happen.
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