An Oral History of Structure Tone: Building Relationships in the ’90s & ’00s
In the 1990s and 2000s, Structure Tone was growing so quickly that the company’s office space could hardly keep up! From welcoming a handful of new faces to winning the iconic MetLife project, tune in to Episode 5 of Structure Tone’s 50th Anniversary Oral History series to learn more about this transformational period for the business.
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 have been sharing stories of the company’s history through this special oral history series of the podcast. Now that we’ve covered how Structure Tone began to expand and evolve in other markets, we’re picking up our story where we left off at Structure Tone’s home base in New York City. In this episode, you’ll hear more about Structure Tone’s office environment the ‘90s and 2000s and how the company transitioned from successful family business to a force to be reckoned. Again, welcome to Building Conversations and Episode Five of the Structure Tone 50th Anniversary Oral History Series.
In the ‘90s, Structure Tone was in the midst of some serious growth in the New York construction market. Here’s Jim Donaghy, Executive Chairman of STO Building Group, to set the scene.
Jim Donaghy (01:20):
1983 to 2003, we were at 15 East 26th street. We ended up on six floors. It started at two floors, the sixth and seventh floor. Then we went to the eighth floor. I was actually the project manager on the build out of the eighth floor, so that would’ve been sometime around 1996. We then added other additional spaces throughout the building so that we could continue providing the right type of work environment for our organization as we grew.
On top of adding workspace, the company welcomed plenty of new faces during this time. A few of those who joined back then recall what it was like connecting with such a tight-knit group.
Rob Leon (01:55):
I’m Rob Leon, Executive Vice President of Global Services and I’ve been here for 26 years. I started in 1994. Coming over to Structure Tone when I joined the team, it was very inviting, number one, you know. It was like everybody has always been very helpful, very friendly. The culture of Structure Tone was that, you know, you come in and you join a family.
Tom Gallagher (02:16):
Hi, my name is Thomas Gallagher. I started here at Structure Tone in 1990. I am currently the Vice President of Operations. Everybody at 15 East 26th street spent a lot of time together. We were a young group with some senior managers as well. We were a tight-knit group. Everybody seemed to help each other out. They would share their thoughts, their insight, their education, their experiences. And that’s what I liked a lot about it. Just the people alone at Structure Tone, you really felt like you were part of a family. Everybody was very accepting of you. Everybody was willing to help you. Everybody was there if you needed a shoulder to rest on, they were there for you. They were.
Karl Anoushian (03:04):
My name’s Karl Anoushian, I’m Senior Vice President. I head up the pre-construction portion of the work here in New York. I started in 1993. I came from a smaller firm. So, when I came here, you know, as you were getting closer and closer, you start to get a few butterflies, you know, and say, what did I do and why, you know, why, what did I do? And then the more you thought about it, I remember I came here and by the end of the first week, it felt like I was never anywhere else. And that’s not just for the camera. That was just real, that it was the people that made the difference. So, coming from a smaller company, your exposure to others was limited. Here, you had such an eclectic group of people and such talented group of people, and you had plenty of characters too, you know? So, I think that was probably what I liked most about it.
Speaking of characters, we can’t continue the conversation about Structure Tone in the ‘90s without mentioning someone who has shaped the office atmosphere for more than 30 years. Meet Hope Love.
Hope Love (04:05):
Hi, my name is Hope Love. I am the director of first impressions here at Structure Tone. I believe I’ve been here 32 years. When I first started, I was part of the human resource department and actually there was a young lady, she went on maternity leave, and she didn’t return. So, I was pushed to the reception desk and guess what? I’ve been there ever since—like a gatekeeper. And at the time, when I tell you it was Grand Central. In and out, calls galore. And I answered just as so. I don’t know if you remember the old switchboard kind of, but that’s how it was. It was busy. Meet, greet, direct, answer. Not a quiet minute, not one quiet minute. It was just quick pace going on all the time.
Besides the phone ringing off the hook, Hope had a front row seat to Structure Tone’s day-to-day happenings, including some pretty dynamic office personalities—particularly founder, Pat Donaghy and leader of field operations, John White Sr.
Tom Gallagher (05:21):
There were a considerable amount of office personalities, especially starting from the top. You had Pat Donaghy and John T. White were the senior people. Also when I started was Lou Marino, Lou Marino was around for a short period of time when I started, and then Tony Carvette as well. Those were the senior most people in the office. Jim Hurley was in charge of a variety of different things – you had a question you would go to Jim. All very good people, good hard workers, but characters at the same time. The one thing I do remember different about when I first started 15 East 26th street was the overhead speaker. You knew when you were being called, you were being summoned to somebody’s office. I’ll never forget John White at 10 to 5:00 in the afternoon. He’d yell out and just say, “Please call me, 505.” And everybody would joke around it was nice working with you. Or it was just, “Call 505 I need a ride home.” It was that simple.
Karl Anoushian (06:25):
Well, when I started in 93, there were a lot of known personalities. I mean, there were a lot of people before me as well, but I would tell you, I would say it was the big guys. It was Pat Donaghy. It was John White, Jim Hurley, Mike Neary, and then I’ll list a few more, Richard Hart, Larry Oxman, Joe Coppotelli, Tony Carvette. You know, when you went down to that eighth floor, what we would say at the time, the leaders, you know, Pat, John, and Jim, you knew exactly where they were coming from—forceful, powerful, direct. Mike was always steady, was always a great guy to work for. Joe, Larry and Richard, they always had an angle on something, you know? And Tony was always trying to balance out the personalities across the board. So, it was really a group that worked well together, but was a lot of different personalities to make the world go around without a doubt.
Hope Love (07:19):
I’m going to have to say two people. That would be Patrick Donaghy and John White Sr. They both were well respected in the office and in the industry. You saw them every single day. And I would say that they were here first thing in the morning at the crack of dawn, or at least at seemed, and were still here well into the evening on most days. They were father figures, both of them.
Mr. Donaghy and Mr. White’s partnership and complimentary leadership styles inspired staff, and although they expected a lot from their teams, the two maintained their reputations as approachable leaders who did the right thing for their clients and employees.
Karl Anoushian (08:08):
When I came here in the ‘90s, I’ll tell you honestly who I looked up to were Pat and John. I mean, there was so many others, it was so many players, but I think the two of them, I just looked at it. They were different in many ways and alike in many ways as well. And I think they needed each other. They formed the best, you know, each one worked off the strength of the other. And I thought it was a perfect. It worked out well in that regard, at least as an employee watching that. It was never, no. It was okay, let’s go, a client called, and it was the bat phone, you know? And you did it. He picked it up and clients first, and that was never in doubt. So, whatever it took
As leader of field operations, Mr. White was known for his presence in the field.
Rob Leon (08:57):
I would say that John White, Sr. was always somebody who I looked up to. He would always be very, I guess, calm and professional with the client. Very demanding from his teams and from us, but did it in the right way, did it in a way that made you feel that you were part of the team. Not that John was up here and then we were down here, right? He was the kind of guy who got his shoes dirty and walked the jobsite with you. If you came up the elevator and your shoes, weren’t dirty, he’d be like, why is your shoes so clean? He wanted to see the sheetrock dust on your shoes. And that was what John was all about. Interestingly enough, I think that’s what the industry was more about. Like now sometimes it’s like, well, you know, can you write me a report or give me a two-week look ahead or send me photos. And it was about really getting your shoes dirty and getting out there and seeing it with your own two eyes.
While Mr. Donaghy championed Structure Tone’s client-first approach. One of the many employees carrying on that legacy is STO Building Group’s Executive Vice President of Client Relations, Eugene White.
Eugene White (10:04):
I’m sure many people have heard of, or were there at the Tavern on the Green parties. That was a massive event that I feel really put the thumbprint of Pat Donaghy on our client culture. You know, I think Pat took a lot of pride in particular, you know, putting together an event that really tipped the hat back to the client base and showed them our level of appreciation. And it was super well thought out. But at the same time, I would tell you that it showcased our culture of it first in client devotion, because if you were anybody at STI, you were known by how many clients were sitting with you at your table at that client party. So, relationships are what it’s all about. I always like to say that what has made our company successful was the blood, the sweat, the tears, and the energy that’s put forth to have client devotion.
Eugene White (11:06):
And that client devotion is never with a brand. It’s not with a logo. It’s not with a listing on Wall Street’s ticker, right? It’s with people. And people will always remain appreciative if you do the right thing for them, and as they move on in their careers and they make changes, you know, you got a really good shot of traveling through your career with those relationships. And what I do for the business today is a hallmark of that. You know, I learned from the best in this business, in this industry.
Those client relationships paid off. In 1994 Structure Tone began a 2.2Msf project at 11 Madison Avenue for MetLife. This was the company’s largest job to-date.
Rob Leon (11:55):
The first project that I worked on when I decided to come over to Structure Tone was the MetLife project at 11 Madison Avenue. And that’s when it was MetLife really repositioning that building to vacate and bring in one of their major tenants, which was Credit Suisse. That was my first project at the time. It was actually the largest project that Structure Tone had done. It was a massive undertaking. And it did, it went really well.
Karl Anoushian (12:25):
At 11 Madison, the MetLife job, and One Madison Avenue, I think really I was the chief estimator for the Credit Suisse portion of that. So Richie Schneider and his team had first come in and started the repositioning of the building. And then Credit Suisse became the first tenant. And they came in. So there were many things that we did together because they were doing Credit Suisse infrastructure work, we were doing the entire fit out program. So, Richie was doing $250 million worth of work. I was doing another $150 million worth of work.
When asked about the project’s impact on Structure Tone’s place in the market, Rob Leon summed it up perfectly.
Rob Leon (13:03):
Well, they were definitely really on the scene already, but I think that really put a stake in the ground for them to be more than just a one floor, two floor interior fit-out contractor. Like this was a major undertaking. There was a lot of structural work that had gone on and we built new ConEd vaults for the incoming power and service. We cut holes in slabs and put in new elevator banks and stairwells and all that. And that was really something that I think made us grow up and mature as a company, as an organization that really took a step into a different direction. And that really put us on the map in a different way.
In true Structure Tone fashion, that project at 11 Madison Avenue snowballed into more and more work with MetLife, including a job that Karl considers one of the most memorable projects of his career.
Karl Anoushian (13:57):
And then, it expanded over to the clock tower next door, One Madison, you know, that Rich did, and Credit Suisse came in and took floors within those towers and those floors. So, we worked hand in hand throughout that time, and it was quite a unique time to say the least, but one of the most, uh, I was involved in with a number of talented individuals where we relocated MetLife’s hundred-year-old boardroom from Madison Avenue, up to 200 Park Avenue. So, we actually cataloged the entire room, took it apart piece by piece, stored it, built a new shell on the 58th floor of 200 Park Avenue and actually reassembled the entire boardroom back in that space. So, and it was just an unbelievable type of project without a doubt, but all the talent and the company that came together to do that was just to me, it was awe-inspiring. Those are the ones you remember, right? People will always have those special jobs and that one to me was quite unique for MetLife.
MetLife wasn’t the only repeat client Structure Tone earned during this time. The company’s focus on individual relationships and doing the right thing helped them foster long-term, and in some cases, partnerships with several players in the New York City market.
Karl Anoushian (15:23):
In the industry, we’ve had a number of people too that we work with that are still, let’s say our clients today, like John Vasquez is over at Verizon or Tom Farrell over at Cove Properties who used to be at Tishman Spire, and Ralph Mancini, some of the old times, Albie Dejacamo at JB&B. We’ve learned so much from those people. And those are things that you take forward, you pay it forward and you teach some of the young people that I’ll teach today. They’ll say, how did you know that? And I’ll say, it’s a lesson learned from 40 years ago. You never forgot it, you know, and you keep passing those things forward. And hopefully somebody will take the things I say and take a little bit of it and do well with it.
Eugene White (16:05):
I think of one conversation that is, at least now it’s got to be 25 years ago. We had an executive on an account that I was the estimator on, and we had just been doing a great job for this client. We had relationships established at multiple tiers, the job was going well, we were getting the high fives under budget on scale, and I passed the comment to the account executive. And I said, we’ll never lose this client. And he said, say that again. And I said, we’ll never lose this client. And he said, if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s how easily you can lose a client. He says, things change so quickly. And all we can do is make sure that if that happens, you know, it’s never been because of anything we’ve done.
Eugene White (16:59):
He says, we dot I’s. We cross T’s, and you will lose clients in your career, but you have to be able to walk away from those knowing that we’ve done everything we could to do things the Structure Tone way. And, sure enough, that one particular client was merged into a large bank and there was change. And we lost the relationship for a short time, and I learned that what allowed that relationship to progress is when our client went to another bank and called us back in and there it was, it was like the band got the band got back together again, it was great. And I’ve seen that play out time and time and time again.
Although we’ve grown a lot since those early days, the company never lost sight of the value of individual relationships—not just with our clients, but with each other. From mentorship, to collaboration, to spending time together outside of work, that human element is still what makes Structure Tone a one-of-a-kind team.
Hope Love (17:59):
I don’t care what I’m doing. If I’m on a call, if I’m doing something I see you, you know, and I may not say it to people, but I, we get that connection. I want to give you a smile and I want you to smile as you’re heading in starting your day.
Karl Anoushian (18:16):
I mean, how it started to where it is. I’m very proud, very proud to be part of it. And what you learn and what you pass on and how you pay it forward is, it’s our role to teach, it’s our role to mentor and to lead by example, maybe not all the things that I do, but lead by example. And that’s how you prepare the next generation. And that’s how the company continues to grow.
Jim Donaghy (18:44):
What I really love about what we do today, captures a lot of what I loved about our business back then, and creating certainty on integrity, creating certainty for our clients, for our employees and for each other while sometimes feels corporate, I’d also say there’s enough people here with the legacy and focus on our culture and the importance of it that I don’t think we’re ever going to lose the balance that’s needed between a great culture and a professional run organization. So, I like that we’ve made the necessary strides to be more professional. It creates more certainty on our future and that’s important. And that comes with experience. We’re in business 50 years this year, and I’d like to think we’re getting better each decade.
We’d like to thank Jim Donaghy, Rob Leon, Tom Gallagher, Karl Anoushian, Hope Love, and Eugene White for giving us a glimpse into Structure Tone’s office in the ‘90s, and we’d like to congratulate Karl on his retirement earlier this year. Up next, we’ll be revisiting a painful point of Structure Tone’s history: 9/11. Stay tuned for episode six of Structure Tone’s 50th Anniversary Oral History series on the Building Conversations podcast.