An Oral History of Structure Tone: A New Chapter
The 2010s sparked an age of reformation—for the construction industry and for New York City. Inspired by the momentum, Structure Tone invested in a new HQ that would not only reflect the company’s roots but serve as a beacon for progress. Tune in to Episode 7 of Structure Tone’s 50th Anniversary Oral History series to learn more about building this space and the impact it had on the company’s culture.
Welcome to Building Conversations, a construction podcast powered by the STO Building Group. August 2021 marked the 50th anniversary of Structure Tone, STO Building Group’s, flagship company. And since August, we’ve been sharing stories of the company’s history through this special oral history series of the podcast. In this episode, we’re focusing on the 2010s—a time of big changes for Structure Tone, the construction industry, and New York City. In the 2010s, Structure Tone moved its headquarters from Downtown to Midtown, began focusing on sustainability and wellness, and prioritizing diversity and women in construction. Trends were shifting in the industry. Massive developments were reshaping the skyline of the city, and Structure Tone embraced it all while remaining true to its company values. Again, welcome to Building Conversations and episode seven of Structure Tone’s 50th Anniversary Oral History series.
Let’s turn the page on this new chapter by hearing about Structure Tone’s most noticeable change in the past decade: where we work. In 2016, Structure Tone moved its headquarters to 330 West 34th Street, just down the block from the up-and-coming Hudson Yards development, but you can never forget where you came from. Senior Vice President of Operations, David Leitner remembers our older offices on 26th Street and 770 Broadway.
David Leitner (01:39):
Hello, my name is David Leitner. I’ve been with Structure Tone since 1994, 26 years. Whew. So, the old office was a lot different than 15 East, 26th Street. Like I said, 15 East 26th Street, we were on parts of several floors because the footprint was so much smaller. So, one of the main goals when we moved over to 770 Broadway was to get a larger footprint. I believe the floors over there were between 85 and 100,000 square feet. And the idea was to get everybody on one floor. You know, we had estimating in one corner of the floor operations in another. The middle of the floor was corporate, marketing was over there. A bunch of conference rooms were in the middle of the floor. And then the other side is where you had some support such as, you know, legal, HR, accounting, and the MEPs department was over there.
Collaboration was an even bigger focus when the company made the move to West 34th Street.
David Leitner (02:45):
You know, one of the good things about the space that we have now, like I said, not only is it collaborative as far as, you know, thinking between departments, but there’s also a lot of areas between the multi-purpose rooms, the cafe, the outdoor terrace, areas that are a little bit more conducive to everybody sitting down chatting and having a little bit more of an informal, impromptu type of meeting. It’s funny because I’ve been here for, like I said before for 26 years, and I’ve seen the city change in the areas that we were in, at the time probably weren’t the best areas, but as the city has changed, obviously certain neighborhoods have changed. Madison Square Park when we were there years ago was not the best location, but it got a lot better.
David Leitner (03:25):
Now, as you see, we have, Madison Square Park has become this great outdoor space that the city has invested a lot of money in. And then we moved over to 770 Broadway, which was where NYU was, which is a beautiful space too. Nice, very open, safe clean because of it being a college campus. But then when we moved out there, we moved over here and Hudson Yards has changed over the last few years too. So all the neighborhoods that we’ve hit with our offices over the last 20 years have changed. And we’ve changed with them.
Scott Renneisen, project manager for our move to 330 West 34th Street, talks about the thought process behind the move and what the atmosphere was like during construction.
Scott Renneisen (04:04):
So, in 2016, we made the move from 770 Broadway to 330 West 34th Street. And again, along the same lines, why we moved was for collaboration. We’re on two floors with an interconnecting staircase. And the plan was really to have our departments really touching where 770 Broadway was a very large floor plan where you can have operations on one side of the field, estimating on the other side and accounting a mile away. So, the plan was to keep us all somewhat centralized, so we’re kind of touching each department at any given moment. It’s a short walk, especially with interconnecting staircase. It makes navigating around the office and seeing different departments much easier. Prior to us starting the construction of the project, we did a lot of working sessions and there was a group of us that got together probably about 20, 25 individuals throughout the New York office that kind of had ideas of what we wanted to implement into the design of the project.
Scott Renneisen (05:02):
So, we had a decent amount of time up front to really figure out what is difficult, what was not difficult. So, when construction started, we knew exactly what the design intent was to a point to make sure we implemented that. Some of the, some of the fondest memories were just the onsite meetings that we had, not just with the designers, but with also with the subcontractors. And, and it was unique because it was our space, right? We didn’t have to report back to a client to make sure we didn’t make decisions without them knowing or making sure that it wasn’t their vision. You know, building out our own space. We knew what the Structure Tone vision was, and we made sure that any decisions we made in the field that they were going to be the right decisions. Monday morning when we opened up the grand opening, I was one of the first ones here.
Scott Renneisen (05:45):
I at least wanted to be the one of the first people here. But Bob Mullin beat me in. And when I got off the elevator at six o’clock in the morning, he was standing on the 12th floor waiting to greet everybody. And he had nothing but nice kind words to say about the space, which was great to hear. And then as the day went on, I kind of just kind of laid back on the 11th floor kind of out of sight out of mind. But as I did walk around, I noticed a lot of people, most of the organization was walking around just taking in the new space, the staircase, the open lobby on the 12th floor the cafe, the 11th floor, a lot of amenities that we didn’t have in the previous space. So, it was actually really good from the background to hear some, some kind words and the excitement of the new move.
The new office proved to be the perfect opportunity for the Structure Tone team to show off their expertise in building amazing workplaces. One of the most impressive aspects of the office is that it’s the first WELL Certified office space in New York State. Jim Donaghy comments on our commitment to wellness.
Jim Donaghy (06:44):
You know, I think wellness has already made its way into the mainstream and we were an early adopter there. We were ahead of the game, and we can give folks like Jen Toronto and Rob Leon on a lot of credit for having the mindset that we need to not wait to be told what to do, but maybe help lead the way forward. And we’ve got a lot of entrepreneurial folks like that in our organization and we’re getting better at promoting them and putting them out in front and feeding their ideas and supporting them. And let’s face it, when you feel better in your office, you’re going to probably produce more, right? It’s pretty much common sense. But when it came time to do a move in 2014 and 15, we settled on a new lease here in New York and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to really double down our investment on wellness. And through the great advisory work of Bob Yardis, our head of HR at the time, and Rob and Jen, we decided to be the first, partnering with Delos and Gensler, the first WELL Certified commercial office in New York State. Which really showed where our minds were at, you know, to be the very first in New York state, which is, I think a state that’s very conscious about wellness. We really have shown our leadership on that.
Mentioned by Jim, Jennifer Taranto is the director of sustainability for STO Building Group. Here, she recaps her involvement in the New York City office move.
Jennifer Taranto (08:18):
I wanted to make the most of the opportunity. We had been introduced to the WELL Building Standard. It was a new standard that came on in 2014 and it was a really great opportunity to again, sort of push the industry forward and utilize some of those best practices and kind of treat ourselves as guinea pigs to see what it meant to be in a WELL space, what it meant to build a WELL space, what it meant to design a WELL space. I wish I could say it was that easy that, you know, I just decided that it should be WELL and it was, but there was a lot of convincing, you know, just sort of like, anytime you do anything new, you’ve got to sort of vet out the idea. You’ve got to make the business case, you’ve got to really understand what you’re asking everybody else to go through.
Jennifer Taranto (09:09):
And I’m always really sympathetic to the ops teams and estimating teams because I do feel sometimes that this impacts them and in ways that might make their job a little bit more complicated than it does otherwise. So the conversation started at a really high level, and again Rob Leon has been has been a great support and a great advocate for WELL the whole time. And so, with him by my side, having conversations with senior leadership about how this would change the way that we live in our space, the way that our people think about us as an organization both internally and externally, thinking about productivity and attraction and retention and all these positive components of the WELL space. I probably wrote you know, three or four position pieces to senior leadership trying to get them the details and all of the information, answer all of their questions. Again, because a brand-new rating system and we were really pushing the envelope and ended up being the first WELL Certified space in all of New York state.
Now is a good time to introduce Rob Leon, executive vice president of Global Services. Rob helped solidify Structure Tone’s partnership with Delos, founder of the WELL Building Standard and recounts how that relationship progressed into WELL certification.
Rob Leon (10:32):
So back in 2014, 2013 when I started reading about Delos and the work with the WELL Building Standard, it started catching my eye obviously. So, I said before about bringing sustainability in here and focusing on LEED, this was even more interesting to me because I knew that it was focusing on the occupant and not the building. I thought it would really, really have a lot of legs. So, I started getting engaged with the founders of Delos Paul Scialla, Pete Scialla, his brother, his twin brother Mark Carnavale and Anne Marie Carer. And little by little I realized that this was a great direction for us to go in and also to take a leading edge on it. And we formed an alliance partnership with Delos. The opportunity came up when we were relocating from 770 to here at 330 to not only say that, you know, we were going to again, get X amount of people who were WELL accredited, but really focus in on building our space. So, we can say that not only were we going to be the first ones, and again, that was a race to the finish, but that we actually went through the process.
Being the first WELL Certified office space in New York State is a monumental feat. Not only did Structure Tone employees have a new office, but one that focused on their wellbeing more than any previous space. Rob highlights some key features.
Rob Leon (11:59):
So like the sit-stand desks are one component. The company pantry downstairs that has healthy snacks and different options than the two vending machines that we had then at 770 that you could either have Snickers bars or potato chips. So, I think little things like that, the filtered water, the better air, the better sound quality, the better lighting, all those things, I think people really do appreciate. And they might not know the difference because when you’re moving from an old space into a new space, some of that just seems like, well that’s just the design, you know. So, I think it’s really about education and letting people know that these are the things that have been implemented into the design to make it a WELL Certified space.
Jenn also admires the positive changes the company has made in terms of sustainability and employee health and wellness.
Jennifer Taranto (12:54):
If I think about sustainability, health, and wellness, from the perspective of, you know, the 50th Anniversary, I think about it in terms of how much the industry has grown. You know, the two decades that I’ve been involved in it have really moved at a breakneck speed. And I have felt, especially in the last year with sustainability, that we have moved well beyond where I thought we would be a year ago. That this pandemic has been a blessing of a disruption for the real estate market when it comes to sustainability, health, and wellness. And I am just so hopeful for what the next 20 years will bring.
This continued evolution has also brought noticeable changes in diversity and inclusion within Structure Tone and the construction industry as a whole. Women, in particular, are noticing big changes. Jen Taranto and seasoned project manager, Eileen McCarthy, explain.
Jennifer Taranto (14:00):
So my experience being a woman in construction is, was probably most fundamentally felt while I was in ops while I was in the field. I don’t ever think I ever thought of myself as a woman in construction. I remember having lots of conversations with my male colleagues, really forcefully telling them to treat me like they would treat anybody else. I also remember, you know, snide comments from trade partners while I was on the jobsite but I will say that, and maybe it’s the Boston market, but I never fundamentally felt like an outcast or like I shouldn’t belong or I didn’t belong on the jobsite. I do think that things have changed on jobs. I think that there are more women in construction management positions, there are more women in owner’s rep positions, there’s more women architects,
Jennifer Taranto (15:10):
You know, I think that the industry, it’s certainly not gender balanced but we’re starting to see more women in trades. So, it is moving in the right direction, I think that there’s a lot of education that needs to happen to let women know that this is an opportunity for them. Commercial real estate or the building trades is a fulfilling and wonderful career choice for them. And I think that, you know, that’s a probably a place where we could do a little bit more work, but I do think that younger women are more likely to see other women on a jobsite than I was when I started 20 years ago for sure.
Eileen McCarthy (15:58):
I actually was working as an administrative assistant on a jobsite up in Hartford, Connecticut, and I used to, I bought a pair of outside boots to wade through mud and water, and I would put them on after my work was pretty much done for the day, put them on and just go walk the jobsite. And I was given a chance. It’s right time, right place, right horses in this business. And I was given a chance to become an assistant super. That was a base building jobsite up in Hartford, Connecticut. It was tough. I was the only woman, and I was in management. You would get hazed. There was always a lot more of that then than there is now. Um, I think the women today, that doesn’t even enter the realm of what anybody experiences on a day to day, but it was my choice to be there, so I just had to keep my mouth shut and keep going. I would say the shift really has come more so in the last five years, more than it ever had, but there’s still that underlying current. You’re still going to get tested, but basically what I’ve found, if you can do your job and give answers, they don’t care who you are, just can you do the job? That’s all.
Dan Finnegan, executive vice president, shares his thoughts on encouraging workforce trends.
Dan Finnegan (17:18):
I absolutely have seen some really positive changes in our workforce. I think the amount of women we have on in our workforce diversity is something we can always be doing better for. But I think we’re much more diverse than we were when I first started, or even, you know, 10, 15 years ago. I think the amount of strong, smart, technically savvy, younger employees, I think has been incredibly positive. I feel like the younger employees that work for us now have been given more opportunities than probably the younger employees had when I started. I think the dynamic when I first started it is that you had to put your years in, you had to put in 5, 10, or 15 years. Now I think we’re, we’re more focused on talent level. I think there’s some people here at Structure Tone that are maybe only three or four or five years out of college.
Dan Finnegan (18:15):
And I think that they are incredibly talented and have been given opportunities. Part of that, I think is just because the enormous amount of growth that we’ve had, and those opportunities are out there for those individuals. When you look at our commitment to sustainability, to BIM, and building 3D models, just all the different initiatives we offer, in regards to our emerging leaders even, we have got a new relationship enhancement initiative that we’re really bringing our younger group into as well, working a little bit more with the business development group. So, I think there’s a lot more opportunities there, and I think we’ve got some incredibly talented people.
All of these fantastic changes are happening within our office, but what’s happening within our neighborhood? The New York City skyline is rapidly evolving with the construction of Hudson Yards, Manhattan’s newest city within a city, and we’re watching it all from our windows. Here’s Jim Donaghy:
Jim Donaghy (19:14):
I love the cafe area. There’s a TV on the back in the background. There’s some great light and you’re sitting in the corner of the building that faces Hudson Yards. And for the next, you know, decade, we’re probably going to see buildings being built over there. And since we moved in, it seemed genius to the market that we had moved in looking right on top of Hudson Yards, where we were building millions of square feet and continue to build millions of square feet to this day. So it feels like we’re, we’re sitting, you know, perched up above our largest jobsite area, you know, in the whole company really. It was just a great location, and I love that corner. When I’m in that corner, I just feel a little energized.
Tom O’Halloran, VP of business development, tracked the buzz around Hudson Yards for years before groundbreaking. Here, he emphasizes its impact on our industry.
Tom O’Halloran (20:02):
You know, just the enormity of it. Nothing like that’s happened in New York, maybe with the exception of Rockefeller Center. When Rockefeller Center was built, it was viewed as too far west and that was on sixth Avenue. To see that it’s actually come to life and just the hope is now that it can continue to what has been planned, you know, there’s still an entire phase for the Related portion. Phase two to build that platform over 11th to 12th Avenue. I’d love to see if that’s going to continue. It’s been great to see the development that’s happened around it. Big takeaways, I think we’re here, we’re a part of it. That was kind of the thing that stuck in my mind, like, wow, it started to be a wake-up call, like, “Hey, this thing’s really taking shape.” And then when you came over and you see this massive hole in the ground that people hadn’t been paying attention to, to see what was really at play over here. And then when we moved our office here, it was kind of like not one aha moment, but it was a year of like, wow, this is really happening.
We’re not only watching the buildings go up – we’re also building out major spaces for our clients. Executive vice president, Scott Corneby, describes how we got our foot in the door.
Scott Corneby (21:08):
I guess how it happened was when it was time to build a team and a program to go over there and compete for Time Warner. I was chosen as the lead of operations. I had probably a year or two before that left running operations in New York. And my role at that time was to you know, getting involved in, you know, some of our larger, more high-profile projects. And obviously Time Warner being over a million and foursquare feet was going to be a pretty high-profile project. So, I was involved in the presentations on that as well which was part of Hudson Yards. And then over in Hudson Yards is one of the other buildings was going up 55 Hudson. We were fortunate enough to pick up two law firms at the same time, and did another, you know, 14 or 15 floors in there. Whether it was Hudson Yards or somewhere else, I think it was really just because it was, you know, larger high-profile projects at that time.
But even he didn’t imagine it would turn into such a highly sought-after corporate destination.
Scott Corneby (22:09):
So, a long time ago it was going to be possibly the home of the New York Jets. There was talk, you know, I forget whether that was the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, about a stadium going over there. That kind of fiddled away. When New York competed for the Summer Olympics I don’t know, 10 or 15 years ago, there was talk of that being some kind of Olympic venue and whatnot. And then that fell to the wayside and Related, picked up the idea or the area and ran with it. So, you know, we were fortunate to get our fair share of corporate headquarter projects over there.
Scott isn’t the only one who’s made Hudson Yard’s site offices his home away from home. Other team members have extensive experience working there, starting with our first major Hudson Yards win: Warner Media. Senior account executive, Dave Maltby remembers the pursuit process.
David Maltby (23:06):
Back in, I guess it was late 2014, early 2015, we started talking to Time Warner about performance in precon for them for their new headquarters at Hudson Yards. So, I think it was April of 2015. We were officially brought on board. So, we worked with Time Warner for about 18 months, I think, on precon. And then got drawings and over another two-year period, basically built out their space. We did the pre-con from April of 2016 to about December of 2017. Late in 2017 we were asked to bid on the project. We put a big team together, interviewed I think three or four times with Warner Media and were awarded the job late in 2017. Excuse me, 2016 drawings came out in 2017 and we started the project. But yeah, it was a, it was a big team effort.
Kiera Brady superintendent recalls her favorite project moment.
Kiera Brady (24:08):
My name is Kiera Brady. I am a super here at Structure Tone. My role when I initially started was, I was an RPE in our rotational project engineer program. I had started in the field at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the restoration there. I was there for just over two years. And then I rotated into our estimating department for a bit there. And then I went out to Hudson Yards to the Time Warner, which is now Warner Media, project. And that’s when I became a full-time super. The magnitude that was Warner Media. I never imagined it would be to that extent. I mean, that was definitely a once in a lifetime project. When it came to working on Time Warner, one of the most memorable things, I would say, really two were when we turned over the CNN Studios, the broadcast areas like Dave said, it was just all hands on deck working six, seven days a week.
Kiera Brady (25:08):
We knew we were going to get there. It was just a matter of how we would get there, <laugh>. But it was, I mean, it was amazing, like all hands on deck. The entire team—it wasn’t just, you know, one off guy being on during the Saturday. It was, everyone was there on Saturday. You had full crews of all of our subcontractors there on Saturday. You just had full buy-in from everyone from top to bottom. And it was pretty amazing because studios are incredibly complicated builds and the magnitude of those studios in particular on the 19th floor over there, it was their audience studio and then two other large studios that were just, I mean, incredible. It was unbelievable. Very meticulous, highly detailed. And it was, when we turned those over, it was so cool. It was awesome.
David Maltby (26:03):
But it was a really good kind of family-oriented team. We have each other’s back, and it was, it was really a fun project. Our client was great.
It was a great project, and it was just the beginning of a new era for Structure Tone. Jim Donaghy talks about what’s ahead.
Jim Donaghy (26:18):
This is going to be a great place to be over the next number of years. We’re going to hit our diversity goals. We’re going to stay very focused on that. We’re going to end up, I believe, with a far stronger base of teams to bring to our clients. I’m excited about that and what that might mean to, to us and for our clients. We want to continue becoming a great platform where people can go to work safe. We want to continue to be known as an amazing place to build your career. Not just a really good career path organization for a construction company, but for any industry, be considered a great place to build your career. I just think our best days are ahead. And I’ve said that for years, and I always feel a little guilty that I say that because it sounds repetitive, but I keep looking forward and I say, “Wait, this is even getting better.”
With many illustrious chapters in its 50-year history, it’s remarkable to look at the changes Structure Tone has gone through over the last decade. Between relocating headquarters, creating programs and committees to foster learning diversity and development, and investing in sustainability and wellness, Structure Tone is headed towards an exciting future.
We’d like to thank David Leitner, Scott Renneisen, Jennifer Taranto, Rob Leon, Dan Finnegan, Tom O’Halloran, Scott Corneby, Eileen McCarthy, Kiera Brady, David Maltby, and Jim Donaghy for sharing their stories about Structure Tone’s new chapter. We’ll be talking about the evolution of the STOBG brand next, so stay tuned for episode eight of Structure Tone’s 50th Anniversary Oral History series on the Building Conversations Podcast.