Thomas Mancuso says half-jokingly that all roads led him to his current profession.
After all, when your father develops the world’s first business incubator, it is not a stretch to expect that some family members will follow in the family business, he explains.
That is what the younger Mancuso did.
At 56, he is president of the Batavia-based Mancuso Business Development Group. The group-housed in the Batavia Industrial Center on Harvester Avenue-is a small business that employs nine people spread across the nearly 2 million square feet of industrial, office and commercial space that is managed by the firm in New York.
In all, upwards of 400 people work at these properties, which include the High Falls Business Center in Rochester, the Geneva Enterprise Development Center and Harrison Place in Lockport, Niagara County.
The Mancuso Business Development Group grew out of the late Joseph Mancuso’s vision of filling existing buildings with businesses and adding jobs to the community.
It is still the goal today, the younger Mancuso says.
"We take empty or underperforming buildings and find a way to use them and create jobs," Mancuso says. "It’s a great thing we get to do."
Joseph Mancuso developed the world’s first business incubator in 1959. He took a serious interest in reuse while serving overseas during World War II and seeing how people of other cultures used everything they had, while members of the military were quick to throw things away.
"It led him to thinking, ‘Why waste buildings?’" his son says.
Joseph Mancuso coined the term incubator after subdividing the massive warehouse in Batavia among dozens of tenants-one of which was a company that incubated chicks. That building, now the Batavia Industrial Center, previously had housed Massey Ferguson, a manufacturer of heavy equipment and the largest business in Batavia.
Thomas Mancuso grew up in the building, riding bikes around the property and going on forklift rides there on Sundays. When he was in high school, it was a place for summer jobs as a janitor, security guard and maintenance worker.
After high school, Mancuso attended Rochester Institute of Technology, where signs of his entrepreneurial skills began to emerge. As an RIT student, Mancuso started and ran a coin-operated game room as part of a co-op job. He would later run a similar operation for an outside firm while still attending RIT.
Mancuso received his bachelor of science degree in accounting from RIT in 1978. But rather than join the family business after graduation, he set out to sharpen his business skills by working for a few years at other companies. He worked at a now-defunct Genesee County manufacturer and at Darien Lake Theme Park & Resort, where his duties included accounting and guest relations.
In the early 1980s, Mancuso was signed up for a management training course with a firm in California when his father asked him to help out with the family business. The elder Mancuso had sold the incubator and was doing industrial brokerage work. He asked his son to help out for just a year before pursuing his job training on the West Coast.
The family business, however, turned into a long-term gig.
Mancuso spent the next few years managing and filling buildings across the state. In 1984, the family bought back the Batavia incubator from the bank that had taken over the property.
At that time, the group was a family affair, with Mancuso and his three brothers working alongside their father. Thomas Mancuso bought out his father in the early 1990s and assumed leadership of the company. The change was a natural progression, he says.
The Batavia incubator is the only property the Mancuso Group owns. With about 1 million square feet of space on 30 acres, it also provides tenants with access to networking events, flexible lease terms and shared equipment and facilities.
"It’s the heart and soul of what we do," he says.
Mancuso’s office at the industrial center is a central location that spotlights his family’s history and accomplishments. Portraits and snapshots of the Mancuso family are found throughout, as are various awards and honors that family members have received over the years.
Wall-to-wall windows along the front light the space, which often is used as a showroom of sorts to let tenants know what can be done to update such a facility.
Liberti, Valvo & Associates LLC, which does business as LVA Sales, is a tenant at the center. LVA is a manufacturer’s representative company in the electric and gas industry.
Bob Valvo, a partner at LVA, has known Mancuso for years, and both of them grew up in Batavia. He began working with Mancuso a few years back when his firm was looking for warehouse space.
When Valvo realized that the space he was leasing was too big for his needs, Mancuso was quick to find something that better suited his business.
"He was very flexible and willing to work with us," Valvo says.
Later, LVA Sales ended up needing more warehouse space, and office space as well. Mancuso again provided space that met the company’s needs.
Valvo is a fan of the incubator and says his business has used the services there, from business seminars to shared fax machines.
"I love the concept here," he says.
Valvo also is pleased with Mancuso, who he says has a record of success helping small businesses.
"He acts and makes you feel like his main job in life is to make small businesses a success," Valvo says. "Without guys like Tom, a lot of businesses in Batavia wouldn’t be here right now."
The goal of Mancuso’s company is to use buildings as economic development tools for communities, Mancuso says.
Each project is different, he notes, and he tailors each property to its community. While the properties his group manages are in New York, Mancuso also has been asked to do consulting jobs in Florida and in Sicily, Italy.
The experiences have helped him because he can draw on past jobs to help get new ones off the ground.
"The diversity of the experience makes the process better," he says.
The end result-filling the buildings and creating jobs-is the same.
"I get paid to help people succeed," he says. "It’s all about helping businesses get started and grow."
So when things don’t work out, he says, that’s the toughest part of the business.
"It’s tough when the resources aren’t available or the market is not a good fit or an idea may be great but a person doesn’t have the experience to back it up," Mancuso says. "It’s hard to say no but better to stop something before it really gets started and someone gets in trouble."
The challenges in his business vary, from helping small businesses navigate state regulations and fees to dealing with municipal and state codes when rehabbing a structure.
"Sometimes the cost of taking an old building and making it new can be more than building a new building," he says.
The majority of Mancuso’s time is spent on communicating with tenants in the building he owns and those he manages, traveling to properties to the east and west of Batavia each week. He concentrates on talking to people and responding to their needs.
In Batavia, his focus is on the Batavia Industrial Center as well as the Masse Place property, roughly 60,000 square feet of flexible space for office and commercial uses in downtown Batavia. The Mancuso Group is looking to upgrade an older office building, making it handicapped accessible, and then working to fill it.
Mancuso says it is his style to reach out, communicate and ask questions, whether he is working with a tenant or on a project. When dealing with multiyear projects, he also has to be flexible.
"I create a plan after I get input from all sides and then just go," he says. "I then monitor how things are going and make adjustments as needed. You sometimes have to react to whatever comes up."
David Hochman, executive director of the Albany-based Business Incubator Association of New York State Inc., has known Mancuso for six years. Mancuso serves on the agency’s board of directors, and his firm was a founding member of the agency.
Hochman, however, says he was familiar with the family name long before meeting Mancuso, because of the family’s roots in the history of business incubators.
Hochman says he admires Mancuso for his commitment to following his father’s vision of rehabilitating older buildings and helping small businesses.
"He does a great job and sets a model for other developers," Hochman says, adding that Mancuso has amassed a large portfolio of properties. "He is unbelievably hardworking, which explains his success."
Mancuso is quick to point to his father as a business role model.
Once the younger Mancuso knew he would take a long-term role in the family business, he also sought inspiration and advice from other local developers, such as Elliott Landsman, chairman of Rochester-based Landsman Development Corp., and Laurence Glazer, CEO of Buckingham Properties LLC, also in Rochester.
"They were all encouraging and great resources," Mancuso says.
Mancuso lives in Batavia. He and his wife, Jinny, have one son, Joseph, 22, and two daughters, Jordan, 20, and Jenna, 17.
When not working, Mancuso likes to read, hike and travel. His family often takes trips to the Adirondacks. Mancuso’s passion for travel began in his youth, and he visited all 48 continental United States when he was growing up.
He is also a movie buff-with interests including historical and science fiction-and one of his favorite venues is the Little Theatre in Rochester.
Mancuso says he wants to continue finding new uses for old buildings, perhaps developing a project in Canada, and will draw on past successes and come up with new ways to grow as he goes.
"I’m always learning," he says.
Position: President, Mancuso Business Development Group
Education: B.S. in accounting, Rochester Institute of Technology, 1978
Family: Wife, Jinny; son, Joseph, 22; daughters Jordan, 20, and Jenna, 17
Activities: Reading, hiking, travel
Quote: "We take empty or underperforming buildings and find a way to use them and create jobs. It’s a great thing we get to do."
6/22/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.