The Art of Building a Business
The Conti Group impacts people, communities
Whether building a road or building a new business, The Conti Group stays firm in its values. For 112 years, the company, headquartered in Edison, New Jersey, has sought to develop, build and manage projects that make a positive impact on people and communities.
A strong entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for solving problems have propelled the company to build and expand on its roots in the construction industry. Today, The Conti Group not only manages construction services, but also invests in and builds new startup companies, giving others the guidance of its managerial expertise.
“We keep an eye on market trends and look for areas of need,” says Chairman Kurt Conti. Areas include asset management for the construction industry. “Construction companies manage millions of dollars in equipment and tools—everything from backhoe loaders and other expensive equipment to power tools and shovels,” Kurt says. To help companies keep this expensive equipment ready, maintained and in the right place, The Conti Group has invested in Tenna, an Internet of Things (IoT) company that provides the industry’s first comprehensive platform to help companies keep track of tools, materials and equipment fleets.
“There is a real need for better asset management in the construction industry,” says Austin Conti, co-founder and CEO of Tenna. “We take a complex system and make it very easy to use. In the U.S. and Canada, field workers, CFOs and company owners use the system to track close to $1 billion in equipment assets.”
Leveraging Expertise, Experience
Tenna is one of several companies The Conti Group has in its holdings portfolio at any given time. Conti Federal secures environment, infrastructure and facility construction projects for the federal government; Conti Enterprises completes infrastructure projects for public and private sector clients; and Conti Real Estate is involved in commercial real estate activities. The $300 million company is also active in corporate ventures through its Oakwood Capital group, which invests in early technology, life sciences and infrastructure development. Additionally, The Conti Group is active in several capital assets and investments.
“We look for companies and opportunities where we can leverage our past experience or expertise,” Kurt says. The Conti Group’s solid reputation in the construction industry paved the way for the company to enter the solar market. Over 14 years, The Conti Group grew Conti Solar into an industry-leading renewable energy development, engineering, procurement and construction company. “It’s one of the successes that I’m most proud of,” Kurt says. “When we sold a majority stake in the company, Conti Solar was among the largest solar companies in the country. There were no layoffs with the acquisition, and we made good money on the sale. It was a win for everyone involved.”
Seeking New Opportunities
The Conti Group’s entrepreneurial spirit runs deep. Kurt’s great-grandfather, Tony, immigrated to the U.S. from Italy, landing at Ellis Island in 1906 with nothing but a few dollars in his pocket and dreams of a better life. A stonemason by trade, Tony settled in Maplewood, New Jersey, a half-hour from Ellis Island, working hard to build his one-man business into the go-to construction company for the burgeoning town. The company grew modestly during the next 90 years, primarily taking on civil infrastructure projects like roads and bridges throughout New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
With the passage of amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act in 1972, known as the Clean Water Act, the company spotted an opportunity to build its business. Throughout the 1970s, the company, headed by Kurt’s father, Nat, constructed wastewater treatment plants to clean public drinking water.
Kurt, who learned the business at a young age, had his eyes set on further expansion. After graduating from college with a civil engineering degree, Kurt joined the company full-time, helping to obtain projects in environmental remediation. In the 1980s, the federal government began mandating mitigation of the nation’s worst hazardous waste sites, called Superfund sites. “No one wanted to do this type of work, but we saw the potential and were one of the first companies to do environmental cleanup,” he says. The company remediated hazardous waste sites, including a site used by Thomas Edison to mine uranium.
Other opportunities followed, including those in the solar industry, cellular tower communications, biotechnology, satellite data communications and infrastructure. “We have a nose for new markets and new opportunities,” Kurt says. “We call them pretty right for the most part.”
Hiring for the Heart
The company typically has three or four holding companies at a time. “We are active in managing and growing these businesses. There are only so many hours in the day, so we keep our holdings at a manageable size,” Kurt says.
In the case of Tenna, Kurt’s son, Austin, heads up the growing company. “I love working in the family business,” Austin says. “At the core of our businesses is a strong entrepreneurial mindset. We truly enjoy identifying market needs, growing organizations and solving problems.”
Once The Conti Group formulates a workable development plan with a new holding, the company recruits management and employees for continued growth. “We hire for the heart first and the mind second,” Kurt says. “There are a lot of very smart people out there, but we want employees who have passion and heart for the mission, not just a stellar resume.
“We value open, honest communications with our clients, and we place a premium on sharing information—both good and bad—clearly and quickly,” he says. “These are deep-rooted principles that we take pride in. We say what we mean, and we mean what we say.”
Kurt says that when the company finds honest, passionate employees with heart, the company invests in keeping them. “We pay above what the market offers, and we treat our people with respect,” he says. “If you provide employees with good money, opportunities for advancement and interesting projects, you don’t have to worry when they get those calls from headhunters.”
The company not only invests in its people, but in its community as well. “Ten percent of our earnings go to The Conti Foundation, our philanthropic nonprofit that supports humanitarian efforts, community outreach and provides charitable donations,” he says.
The company has won hundreds of awards for entrepreneurship, innovation, philanthropy, its dynamic culture and outstanding project execution. “We set the bar high in fulfilling our responsibility to society. Our mission is to create, build and operate businesses that benefit our planet. It drives everything we do,” Kurt concludes.