Forest Contractors: Pride, Passion And Performance
A setback in his early years was not enough to derail Domenic Gurreri, who through passion and perseverance has built Forest Contractors into a leading contractor in southern Ontario.
We all experience setbacks in life, but the true measure of a person’s character is how we deal with them, overcome them and perhaps use them as motivation for future success.
A perfect example is Domenic Gurreri, founder and owner of Forest Contractors in Vaughan, Ont., one of his industry’s most respected companies. Basically kicked out of a bank as a teenager, he had the unmitigated audacity to seek a start-up loan to buy heavy equipment to begin his company.
While still at Toronto’s George Brown College studying civil engineering to fuel his passion for the construction industry, Gurreri was 19 years old and had started to do work around people’s homes. If he wanted to start his own contracting company, his biggest challenge would be securing the financing for this capital-intensive business because of the required expensive equipment.
“I remember going to a bank one day after school to apply for a $33,000 loan, and the bank manager literally laughed at me,” recalls Gurreri of this early setback. “But I was fortunate enough that my parents could co-sign the loan for me, and in other times during the initial stages of growth, I was able to get direct financial assistance from my family, but I paid back every dollar.”
It was Gurreri’s commitment to a hard work ethic that motivated him to pursue his passion, starting Forest Contractors, which is celebrating 25 years as an industry leader and has been named one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies. Those two traits he directly attributes to his upbringing in a close Italian family.
“I grew up with old-school Italian parents, who made me work during summer holidays,” says Gurreri of his early working career. “My father had a janitorial company, and I was working for him, but I’d watch all my friends’ families who were all in the construction business and I was enamoured by it.
His father, Alfonso Gurreri, never pushed him into his janitorial business and let him find his own path, and that attitude had an enormous influence on Gurreri and stays with him today. “My father has been my No. 1 mentor,” he says. “While never in the construction business, his guidance in life in general helped me build disciplines to learn and better myself in whatever I wanted to do. He helped me make the decisions that I needed to make in business. I don’t expect my son or daughter to enter my business, and that’s OK because my father never pushed me into his.”
Domenic invested in 15 key pieces of equipment in 1996, and he recalls in those early years that when he started to make money, every single dollar was reinvested into the company to help with its organic growth.
Today, Forest Contractors has grown to provide a multitude of services and is a successful company that stands on integrity with its extensive experience in superior asphalt and other services. The company prides itself in being a leader that sets new standards in this competitive industry.
Along with its newly opened head office in Vaughan, Forest Contractors also has Forest Paving in Concord, Ont., and a vast equipment yard in Brampton and Burlington, Ont.
Forest has invested significantly in cutting edge road grinding technology and a Green Asphalt Plant to enable it to execute its core service of asphalt pavement rehabilitation. In concrete, Forest Contractors’s curb machine is equipped with a variety of moulds, and its quality craftsman can hand pour almost any shape or form for special designs.
If you’re ever fortunate enough to see a concrete mixing truck and crew pouring a sidewalk or curb, don’t walk away. Stop and you’ll be captivated. Mixing and pouring wet concrete is a “live” event. You have one shot to get it right as the concrete hardens and quickly.
Forest Contractor crews are master artists in timing when it comes to the mixture and perfect texture of wet concrete, getting the measurement and moulds to the most exacting millimetre, as well as the overall coordination. The process is a symphony of synchronization.
The asphalt, concrete and aggregate business are also subject to the fickle weather and temperature changes southern Ontario can deliver. Whether it’s a -40 C wind chill in winter, variable freeze and thaw cycles or the above 40 C summer humidity, the work must go on and the deliverables delivered. Accordingly, protecting against decay is a large part of Forest Contractors’s business, carrying out a variety of repair services for drainage systems for commercial or other properties.
All of these services require a dedicated team, which holds a very special place in Gurreri’s heart. “Without the team around me, you’re nothing,” he says. “Everybody says that in business, but I believe not everyone believes it. I believe it. It’s very important to me, and everyone’s contribution to the company is what will make it successful, coming together to achieve our goals with fairness and integrity.”
In such a predominately male-oriented field as construction, Gurreri is proud of the number of women who work at Forest Contractors, which, he says, might be surprising to some.
“We have a lot of women engineers who do different roles within the company, such as estimators or coordinators, who have technical experience in the construction world,” he says. “In the field, we have several women who are operators of heavy equipment. In fact, at our sites if you see our crews working, it would be rare not to see a female as a member of the crew.”
Forest Contractors’s success has been a source of pride for the community and caught the attention of local leaders, including Mayor of Vaughan, Maurizio Bevilacqua.
“Domenic’s contribution to the City of Vaughan is making a meaningful difference to our community. Forest Contractors, a company he founded in 1994, has created jobs and opportunities for thousands of people. He has been an active participant in Vaughan’s strong economy,” says Mayor Bevilacqua.
“What is equally impressive is his spirit of generosity, as Domenic continues to demonstrate his passionate involvement and support of countless charitable initiatives. His philanthropic endeavours speak to his deep understanding of the importance of corporate social responsibilities. His efforts are a reflection of his personal core values, which are rooted in hope and optimism. He is a genuine and authentic person who exemplifies the very best of Vaughan citizenship.”
In the contracting business, the equipment you have is key in showcasing to clients you have the resources to handle any job. Its equipment yard in Brampton includes heavy trucks, concrete curb machines, asphalt grinders, heavy rollers, asphalt spreaders, tractors and bulldozers. It’s all a far cry from a 19-year-old kid being laughed at by a bank manager when he was trying to get a simple start-up loan to purchase some initial equipment.
The expertise of Forest Contractors has allowed it to work on major projects in southern Ontario. Forest continues to be a major contractor for regional and municipal governments, and fortune 500 companies. “None is more important than any other, as each project is a piece of the puzzle combining to get the company to where we are after 25 years,” says Gurreri.
During those 25 years, there have been many triumphs as well as sadness, no more so when the Gurreri family lost son Ross in 2007 to cancer.
Gurreri’s voice softens as he remembers his brother. “Even though he was younger than I was, he often played the role of second father to me. He was a great listener who only spoke after he had digested all the information and he was very disciplined. That was his approach and philosophy. I continue to live my life from what I learned from him,” says Gurreri.
In honour of Ross, the Gurreri family commissioned the Ross Gurreri Park in 2010, and a courtyard was dedicated in his memory at St. Padre Pio Church, both located in Kleinburg, Ont.
It is just one of the ways Forest Contractors and the Gurreri Family give back to the community. They are also active supporters to The Hospital for Sick Children, which has raised thousands of dollars for cancer research and family services.
‘Success in business is achieving your goals with integrity, and what I do today helps me strengthen for tomorrow’
“I’m fortunate enough to be able to give back, and it’s important to do so for the betterment of generations to come. That’s got to be a part of success, being able to give back to needy causes for the right reasons,” says Gurreri, who welcomed a son in 2010 and whom he and his wife named in memory of Ross. His philanthropic efforts and commitments are much appreciated by those in his community.
“Domenic invests countless hours each month, as he plays an integral role with many local charities, including leading our Ride for Health cycling events,” says Dwayne DiPasquale, director, Advancement, MacKenzie Health Foundation. “Forest sponsors many events throughout York Region, and Domenic is compassionate and committed to serving his community, bringing a keen business and analytical mind to the cause and inspiring others through his own passion. He possesses the ultimate in character, integrity and values of any person I have had the privilege of working with, and his inspirational qualities are passed on to his employees and encouraged as part of the company’s corporate culture.”
In speaking with Gurreri, you can hear in his voice and tell by his words the passion he has for his family and his work, as well as the pride he has in his employees. Even though he may be required to wear a business suit, he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty, or be actively involved with his front-line troops, whatever the job, day or time. These experiences have provided him with a valuable life lesson.
“Surround yourself with great people in the industry who care as much as you do,” he says. “They have to have the same vision and passion that I do in business, and to have that, [you must] lead by example. Whether it’s being here at 6 a.m., or on a Saturday or Sunday morning, when we have a special mixture to run, show them we’re all part of the same team.”
That’s all part of Domenic’s recipe for success, be it in business or in his personal life. He is humble, honest and fair in all of his dealings and extremely thoughtful in his approach to both work and family, who all realize and respect how passionate he is about his business.
“Success in business is achieving your goals with integrity, and what I do today helps me strengthen for tomorrow,” says Gurreri. “I want to build something that’s going to help me grow for years to come. And success is achieving what I need to achieve while being fair, and finding success with my family along the way, making them an integral part of my life. I work hard, but I also strive to put time into my family, and that’s also part of a successful business.”
Domenic did not let an early setback impact him and only used it to motivate him to achieve the success he has. The story of Domenic Gurreri and Forest Contractors is one of passion, perseverance and persistence, engineered from the ground up.
WRITTEN BY RICK MULLER
INTERVIEWED BY NICHOLAS LOMBARDI