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Giovenco parleys curiosity, talent to reach top spot at Bergmann

 

Pete Giovenco

Pete Giovenco

You read Pete Giovenco’s request to the 400-plus employees of Bergmann in his quarterly in-house newsletter and you don’t envision the warm smile, the down-to-earth demeanor and the raised-by-Italian-immigrants work ethic he possesses.

You also don’t see someone who is more comfortable not behind the desk in his office but rather walking the floor of the Bergmann offices to interact.

Instead, you imagine the mysterious intrigue of the silver-haired, gray-bearded original Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis beer commercials.

“Stay curious, my friends,” Giovenco asks of everyone at Bergmann.

But forget the Dos Equis Man. Giovenco isn’t warning psychics or teaching Tibetan monks about life. He’s simply leading a Rochester-based company toward a fifth decade of expertise in architecture and engineering with his own style.

Three months into his new role as chief executive officer, Giovenco hopes to call on Bergmann employees’ thirst to grow, to innovate, to connect even more strongly with clients.

Thus, his request to “stay curious, my friends.”

“When you talk about every successful business, every successful person, it starts off with being curious,” he said. “But how do I create an environment that allows curiosity to flourish?

“There needs to be fearless determination of following through with that curiosity. If you don’t follow through, you’re just dreaming.”

Giovenco, 51, knows this from first-hand experience. He has been at Bergmann 28 years, ever since graduation from Rochester Institute of Technology in 1989.

He was hired right out of RIT, weighing offers from an asbestos abatement firm and Amtrak before opting for Bergmann. Amtrak was out because it meant moving to Philadelphia. And asbestos didn’t sound all that inviting.

Plus, his professor at RIT, the late Bill Larsen, knew one of the principals of the Bergmann firm. That opened a door.

Once inside, Giovenco never left. He didn’t initially think his first employer would be his only employer. Then again, who does?

“But because of the challenges they gave me here, I felt like I was achieving what I wanted to achieve,” said Giovenco, who has spent his entire life in the Rochester area.

He started at Bergmann as designer, became a project engineer and then was elevated to project manager. He then soon took over as head of the retail division, and his accounts included Walmart. From there he became director of operations, then chief operating officer, then president and finally CEO in August.

Knowing how various segments of the firm operate is obviously helpful.

“You understand better the culture of the company; what’s important, the values,” said Tom Mitchell, the past CEO who has transitioned to executive vice president of corporate marketing and business development. “He’s walked the walk, so to speak.

“He really has worked his way through the company and is always excelling at what he does.”

So what’s next for Bergmann? Growth is always part of the equation. Founded in 1980, the firm has 12 offices, including in Grand Rapids and Lansing, Mich., Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.

“We see ourselves as a national firm with national strength,” Mitchell said, “but really with regional focus.”

Under Giovenco, Bergmann rolled out a new mantra in October: “National Firm. Strong Local Connections.” The re-branding actually began a year earlier. “We wanted to define who we are and how we see ourselves,” he said.

In October, Bergmann Associates became simply Bergmann.

“We believe we’re very authentic,” Giovenco said. “There’s a sense of formality with ‘Associates.’ We wanted to be more intimate with our clients. We’re just one team and it’s Bergmann.”

He says a progressive approach is at the forefront of client services. It’s also evident in Bergmann’s Rochester office, which occupies the second floor of Tower 280 and provides workspace for about 180 Rochester-based employees. Giovenco says the company stresses connectivity in the workplace, whether through a random popcorn social or the pool table and dartboard in what would best be described as the employee game room.

Giovenco often wanders through the 50,000 square feet of office space to interact.

“I don’t feel like I’m the CEO, I feel like I still want to be an engineer, a project manager,” he said.

And so he’ll talk with the folks in the civil engineering area, popping by cubicles to chat, to suggest, to listen.

He’ll also invite employees to lunch. “Eat with Pete,” he calls the informal, hour-long sessions.

“I take the first six who sign up,” he said. “I tell them, ‘I’m an open book—ask me anything.’ I keep it small because, just like any dinner table, if there’s more than six or seven, you’re fighting for air time.”

He still feels a sense of pride in projects he guided to completion in his pre-management days, such as the transformation of Griffiss Air Force base to the Griffiss Business and Technology Park in the Oneida County city of Rome.

He managed the Walmart account with Bergmann for nearly 20 years, dealing with dozens of projects for the nation’s largest retailer. That included construction of the Walmart on Dewey Avenue in Greece, which revitalized a near-death Northgate Plaza and sparked an array of new business growth on the strip.

Gaining site approval for a Walmart store within communities wasn’t always easy, but Giovenco’s approach to communication and negotiation was effective. He had the right touch, which earned the trust of the company. Soon, instead of just doing the civic site approval work, Bergmann was also doing project design for new Walmart stores.

While he fondly remembers success at work, he also hasn’t forgotten his formative years. Such as his first day at Wayne Central High School to start the 1982-83 school year.

He had grown up in Toms River, N.J., but then the family moved to the town of Ontario in Wayne County before his junior year in high school. “I spoke a little differently, I dressed a little differently,” he recalls.

He remembers being a little lost following the first-day general assembly at school. A fellow student approached.

“Are you the foreign exchange student from Spain?” she asked.

“No,” Giovenco replied. “I’m the foreign exchange student from New Jersey.”

His parents emigrated from Sicily in 1964. His father, John, was a house painter. His mother, Nina, a seamstress. His given name is Pietro but he has gone mostly by Pete since childhood. He admits he’s starting to use “Pietro” a little more frequently now.

He was the first member of his family to go to college. He started at Monroe Community College and earned his associate’s degree, then transferred to RIT where he completed the bachelor’s program in engineering. He returned to the Henrietta campus just a few years back for his MBA, preparing him for the promotion to CEO at Bergmann.

But without MCC, he’s not sure how his career path may have gone.

“I was telling (U.S. Rep.) Louise Slaughter the other day how much of a real value MCC is to the community,” Giovenco said. “It was very important for me. I had good grades but I didn’t understand how to get through a college process.”

MCC helped ease the transition. Now the Giovenco family collects college degrees like some people collect baseball cards. He has an associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s. His wife, Sue, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in teaching. Their 28-year-old son, Pietro, has a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s in automotive engineering. Their 26-year-old daughter, Danielle, has a bachelor’s in psychology, a master’s in public health and is in the process of completing her Ph.D. in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina.

Pete has his escapes, however. Hunting is one. Just getting outside is another. He and Sue live on a farm in Walworth, not to farm the land but to be able to enjoy the fresh air and hunt on his own property.

“And yet I’m 25 minutes from downtown Rochester,” he said.

He recently attended a career fair at RIT, chatting with prospective designers and engineers while sitting at Bergmann’s table.

“I told the students I was looking for a CEO,” Giovenco said. “They said, ‘Yeah, right,’ and I said, ‘That’s what I said 28 years ago.’ ”

koklobzija@bridgetowermedia.com/(585) 653-4020

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Pete Giovenco

Title: President and chief executive officer at Bergmann.

Age: 51.

Family: Wife, Sue; son, Pietro, 28; daughter, Danielle, 26.

Education: A.A. from Monroe Community College, B.A. in engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology, MBA from RIT.

Hobbies: Hunting, fishing, being outdoors.

Quote: “Stay curious, my friends. There needs to be fearless determination of following through with that curiosity. If you don’t follow through, you’re just dreaming.”

 

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