In the C-Suite: Greg Pettinaro, CEO of Pettinaro
“I think I wanted to be a vet,” he said with a laugh.
With Verino having founded what was then a large construction company a year before his son was born, Greg said that he never had much of an interest in entering the construction trade growing up. He got a firsthand look at the industry from watching his father develop the business.
“I spent a lot of time with my Dad as he went to meetings and met with people. I either got left in the car or got to wander the job sites back then,” he said.
As he got older, Greg spent his summers working on the firm’s job sites and he said that taught him more about what he didn’t want to do for a career.
“I spent one summer lifting blocks at the Gander Hill prison job and I quickly learned I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life,” he said.
When he graduated high school, Greg, like many teens, sought to get away from home and spent his college years in Florida earning a bachelor’s degree from Lynn University. In the winter of his senior year though, he said that he began his career at Pettinaro without believing it was anything more than a temporary job.
“I started as kind of a junior project manager, working under people trying to figure out what it was to put two bricks or two two-by-fours together,” he said.
Eventually, his father gave him a warehouse project in Wilmington’s Browntown neighborhood as a first assignment, tasking him with figuring out how to get the permits and what the project cost would be. They hashed out the details over the dinner table.
Greg said that one of his father’s greatest lessons was to pay attention to costs, likely a byproduct of his years as a construction firm boss who had to bid lower than competitors to win projects.
“I would tell him, ‘Hey this is going to make X,’ and he would say, ‘Well great, but what’s it going to cost?’ It was a good mix between the two of us, focusing on the expense side and focusing on the income side,” Greg added.
Like most children who take over the family business, Greg said that the early years were difficult to carve out his own reputation and build confidence in the business he was completing.
“There was a long time in my career when I was ‘Verino’s son.’ I think I probably got a lot of doors opened because of who I was, but I think I got a lot of doors shut because of who I was too,” he said.
Greg said that he can still recall the moment where he no longer felt like he was in his Dad’s shadow. After hanging up the phone with a client, he said he felt a smile creep across his face.
“I kind of looked at myself in the mirror and I was like, ‘You know, that kid that started here is gone,’” he said. “Now it’s my thing to run.”
Greg pushed his father toward doing more development work in the early ‘90s, and it led Pettinaro to becoming Delaware’s largest firms, often sought for the state’s biggest projects.
“That’s what really gave me my rush – finding the next piece of property you know finding the next tenant and negotiating the deal. A lot of times you know the deal’s over and it’s time to build it and it’s no fun for me anymore,” Greg explained.
Although not as glamorous as some of the firm’s other projects, Greg counts the development of Rockwood Apartments off U.S. Route 40 in Bear as one of his proudest moments. The project was initially proposed to just be a gravel pit, but it transitioned into multifamily housing and worked through several years of oftentimes contentious public meetings.
“I remember being elated when that project finally came to fruition,” he said of the community that now totals almost 700 units and has one more phase to complete.
In 1982, Greg recalled visiting Wilmington’s Riverfront with his father, finding a series of rundown, dilapidated buildings and overgrown weeds. His father asked for his opinion about attempting to redevelop the area, and Greg said it was hard to envision in its condition.
“But we talked about it, and we recognized that it’s right on the river, right next to the city and right now I-95,” he said. “Time heals all wounds in real estate. If you can’t make that site work at some point in time, then something’s wrong.”
The firm would ultimately buy 82 acres in the Riverfront and help lead the revitalization of the area, building the Chase Center on the Riverfront, the Shipyard Center, the Christina Crescent and Gates Building that are home to Barclays Bank, the STAR Building that is home to Navient, and the Red Brick Building alongside Frawley Stadium.
“I can’t say it was easy, but with the state’s help and through the public and private sectors’ help, the Riverfront is now a destination,” he said, noting that then-Gov. Tom Carper was particularly instrumental in helping push the effort.
Greg said that he was particularly excited to see the revitalization that took place in the Riverfront starting to spill over into the adjacent Southbridge community, especially with the new Margaret Rose Henry Bridge linking the areas.
Pettinaro has often focused on redevelopment rather than development, turning forgotten pieces of land into something worth visiting. Its next major project is the mixed-use redevelopment of Barley Mill Plaza, the former DuPont site off Route 141. The project will be anchored by the state’s first Wegmans grocery store.
“To take properties like that and redevelop them is, to me, more rewarding than taking an open field and turning it into houses,” he said. “It’s not just, ‘You build it, and they will come.’ I think you need to build something in the right location, and then you need to build something that’s cool and that the public wants – and then they’ll come.”