As a teen who aspired to become an architect, Demetrios Stathopoulos knew he was in trouble when a college recruiter asked to see his art portfolio.
“I have absolutely no artistic ability,” Stathopoulos said.
So the East Irondequoit native pursued a career in engineering instead. He has since found his calling, leading the family business.
Stathopoulos, who goes by Jim, is CEO of Ajay Glass Co. in Manchester, Ontario County.
The company designs, engineers, fabricates and installs custom and standard exterior wall systems, working mainly with glass and aluminum, and assists architects, contractors and owners with budgeting, design, material sourcing and project scheduling.
Ajay Glass-one of the largest glass subcontractors in the Northeast-has an employee base of 40 people, but the number of workers varies with the season. The summer tends to be busy, and employment is now at roughly 130 workers.
Ajay has worked on several major area projects, including a $1 million contract at the Strong National Museum of Play, a $1.9 million contract for Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial, a $2.2 million contract for exterior work at the Rochester headquarters of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and $3.2 million in work on a medical research building at the University of Rochester.
Stathopoulos, 45, has held the top position at Ajay for more than a decade, but his involvement with the company started as a boy when his father, George, ran the business. It continues to be a family affair with Stathopoulos’ brothers, Steve and Dean, helping to run the business.
For Stathopoulos, becoming a part of the family firm was a natural progression.
“I was destined to be in this business,” he says.
George Stathopoulos immigrated to the United States from Greece in 1961 and joined Ajay shortly after that. When the firm began to struggle, he took over the business with a partner in 1968.
The elder Stathopoulos serves as a role model for his son.
“He pretty much epitomizes the American dream,” Stathopoulos says of his father, who is 74 and still involved in the business. “Here’s someone with about a fourth-grade education who came to a different country, didn’t speak the language and did an amazing job of growing this company.
“He gave us the foundation to succeed.”
The business originally was in Rochester, and as a youth, Stathopoulos would work there on summer vacations. At night he often studied the building design drawings his dad would bring home, even offering opinions.
“I was fascinated by construction,” Stathopoulos says, adding that he learned to read blueprints at an early age and took drafting courses in high school.
Getting a start
His father, however, wanted his oldest son to get his feet wet before joining the business. After graduating from Clarkson University in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Stathopoulos took a job with the Maryland Highway Administration as a civil engineer.
He rented a house there with fraternity brothers and also attended George Washington University, where he received his master’s degree in civil engineering in 1987.
Wanting to return to this area, Stathopoulos worked for the city of Rochester in engineering roles for 18 months. He joined Ajay full-time in 1990, working first as a project manager.
Today, Stathopoulos owns the business with his two brothers, and their dad has a minority share. Steve, 39, is president and chief operating officer; he oversees the project managers and does the estimating. Dean, 44, is the executive vice president and leads field operations.
Steve says that what makes his brother a great leader is an ability to make difficult decisions under pressure while keeping a calm demeanor.
“If there is a problem on a project, he attacks the problem head-on and never turns his back on it,” he says. “This is part of the reason we as a company are so successful with his guidance.”
Stathopoulos usually works in the office from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. He tries to get to major jobs outside Rochester each month.
He focuses on the financial end of the business, working with banks and helping with collections, but also assists project managers when needed. A licensed professional engineer in 11 states, Stathopoulos also works on in-house engineering and design.
The best part of the job is seeing a completed project, he says. It is especially sweet when he can show his young children.
That was the case when his family visited the Strong Museum Stathopoulos was able to show his children the glass exterior Ajay constructed for the butterfly garden.
Another memorable project was at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. Stathopoulos says it was one of the most challenging projects he took on because of its size and scope.
The project included a curtain wall, a relatively lightweight facade that is attached to the building’s exterior and does not bear a structural load. Ajay had to hire an engineering firm from Australia to help with the job.
For Stathopoulos, the worst part of his job is collecting money from problem accounts and dealing with changes in the industry that have added more bureaucratic processes and red tape, he says.
He declined to disclose revenue for the privately held firm but said Ajay is 20 percent ahead of where it was last year in terms of sales.
The company has a regional customer base, with work coming from businesses in the Mid-Atlantic States and along the Northeastern seaboard. Ajay recently landed its first contract in the Chapel Hill, N.C., area, and work there will begin next year.
Ajay also has worked on the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, Oneida County, and at Syracuse University.
Its largest current project-a roughly $10 million contract-is recladding a building in downtown Buffalo for Uniquest Delaware LLC, a partnership between Uniland Development Co. and Acquest Development LLC.
Stathopoulos expects growth in energy-efficient building design that focuses on natural light and, therefore, more glass.
Ajay, which moved from Rochester to Ontario County in 2005, recently bought a larger building in Canandaigua, where it houses some operations, and Stathopoulos would like to move the entire business to that one site. Ajay has spent more than $1.45 million to purchase and renovate the larger structure.
While he describes his leadership style as laid-back, Stathopoulos will step in if a problem arises. For the most part, however, he believes employees can handle lots of responsibility.
“If you hire good people, give them a decent wage and incentive to work, they’ll get the job done,” he says.
His office is filled with pictures of his family and favorite projects, including the Strong Museum, along with sports paraphernalia, including a picture of the New York Rangers hockey team.
While he and his brothers disagree at times over a business decision, Stathopoulos says the bad feelings never linger more than a day.
“At the end of the day we always agree to figure it out,” he says. “There are no egos here like in other businesses.”
LaMont Thomas is a senior relationship officer/sales professional with Rose & Kiernan Inc.’s Rochester office, which insures Ajay Glass.
“With Jim the phrase I would use is ‘Never confuse kindness with weakness,'” Thomas says. “In a business situation, Ajay Glass are tough negotiators and can swim with any sharks.”
Thomas has known Stathopoulos for perhaps five years, he says, through Thomas’ wife, Christine, who grew up with Stathopoulos.
Thomas gave two examples of Stathopoulos’ kindness and leadership abilities: Stathopoulos, a former president of his college fraternity, learned that a friend had lost his job 20 years after graduation, and he was instrumental in helping his friend get a new job in the Rochester area.
More recently, Stathopoulos and his fraternity brothers put together a weekend golf outing that raised more than $60,000 for the family of another college friend who had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Thomas describes the members of the Stathopoulos family as humble and spiritually centered, which he says comes from the family’s commitment to the local Orthodox Christian community.
The family is a major supporter of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation and a key contributor of the Greek Festival every year, Thomas says.
Stathopoulos and his wife, Dori, live in Victor with their children, Rita (named after his late mother), 8, and twins Peter and Ellie, 6. His brothers and father live nearby.
Stathopoulos spends some time trying to improve his golf game with his brothers and is a member of his town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, but he mostly enjoys spending time with his wife and kids.
A die-hard Rangers hockey fan, he rarely misses a game when the team is playing in Buffalo. He also enjoys watching world soccer and the Buffalo Bills.
Stathopoulos says he is optimistic about Ajay’s ability to grow and prosper, largely because it has a track record of success.
“We are in a position to take advantage of opportunities that come our way,” he says.
firstname.lastname@example.org / 585-546-8303
Position: CEO, Ajay Glass Co.
Education: B.S. in civil engineering from Clarkson University, Potsdam, St. Lawrence County, 1985; M.S. in civil engineering from George Washington University, Washington, D.C., 1987
Family: Wife Dori, daughter Rita, 8, and twins Peter and Ellie, 6
Outside activities: family time; following New York Rangers hockey and other sports; Victor Zoning Board of Appeals; golf
Quote: “I was destined to be in this business.”
07/03/2009 (C) Rochester Business Journal