By Sarah Rolph Worcester Business Journal - Family Business Award Issue (June 6, 2011)
"We are survivors," says Jennie Lee Colosi of the firm she leads, E.T. & L. of Stow, which was once led by her father. For more than 65 years, the heavy construction company has survived, and grown, through judicious business practices, commitment to quality, and a strategy of ongoing diversification.
The company was founded in 1945 as Eastern Tree and Landscape Corp., and provided residential and commercial landscaping services. By the 1950s, the company became one of the largest commercial land-clearing contractors in New England.
But the firm kept evolving. In fact, it was Jennie Lee Colosi's father, Anthony L. Colosi, who moved the firm into site work to prepare land for large construction projects like roads and building sites.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, E.T. & L. became one of the commonwealth's most experienced builders of roads and bridges and also constructed many earthen and rockfill dams.
Starting in the mid-1980s, E.T. & L. diversified again into environmental work, expanding and closing landfills and developing the expertise to work on environmental cleanup sites. As transportation funding increased again in the 1990s, E.T. & L. was able to expand again in that area, as well.
Today, E.T. & L. is still very much a family business. Colosi worked with her father and then succeeded him as president of the company. Her husband, Garry Balboni, is a vice president at the firm, and Garry's brother Jay is general superintendent. And the next generation is lining up: Jennie Lee and Garry's daughter, Francesca, has recently joined the firm in administration. The couple's other daughter, Laura Lee, is following in her mother and father's footsteps, earning a degree in civil engineering.
The entire company is, in a sense, extended family.
"The E.T. & L. family is an umbrella that covers everybody," said Jay Balboni, the company's general superintendent. "It goes out to the laborers, the carpenters, the operators, the mechanics. Jennie has maintained that same feeling from her father."
Perhaps as a result, the firm has many longtime employees - workers who have spent three and four decades with E.T. & L. That loyalty pays off in efficiency and ease of doing business.
"In the field, when you've worked with people for years, everything is much easier," Jay Balboni said. "You know each other's thinking. It's like we all have telepathy - it makes for a much smoother operation."
AT HOME, AT WORK
Working together as a family does sometimes add to stress level, but the payoff is worth it, according to Jay Balboni.
"When things aren't going right and Garry has to come down on me, or I have to buck him, that night we might be at a family birthday party together. It's hard once in a while," he said. "On the other hand it's great to be able to stand up with your family and all be proud of your accomplishments."
Colosi agrees. "People often say to us, as a husband and wife, how can you work together?" she said. "We complement each other, we have different strengths and weaknesses. It works for us. But when times are tough, maybe you're not getting a paycheck because you want other people to get their paychecks, it's tough because you're both worrying about the same things at the same time. It's not like when your husband works elsewhere and he can come home and kind of lift you up. You're both in it together."
Now E.T. & L. is entering a new stage of growth. In a joint venture with construction contractor J.F. White Contracting Co. of Framingham and engineering design firm Fay, Spofford, Thorndike of Burlington, E.T. & L. will raise six bridges in the area to accommodate new double-stacked container trains to travel along a stretch of rail lines in Central Massachusetts.
The new project, now in its construction phase, allows E.T. & L. to team with engineers to create the best possible building solution at the best possible price. Colosi is proud to be working as an equal partner with these larger firms, particularly a fellow family-owned firm like J.F. White, which was founded in 1924.
"J.F. White is a great firm and they can relate to us," she said. "They say we are like a young J.F. White - like a little sister of theirs."