BUILDING ON SUCCESS

Greg Stratis is 2016-2017 National Precast Concrete Association Chairman

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Greg Stratis

Many precast concrete producers have survived hard economic times and today’s competitive marketplace through diversification. Adding product lines or adopting new production processes has helped sculpt these companies into principal sources for all things precast.

But when a producer is already well diversified, what else can it do to stay ahead of the competition? “Concentrate on doing what we do better,” affirms Greg Stratis, president of Shea Concrete Products, Wilmington, Mass.

This business strategy of focusing on how to simply make precast better is what Stratis has concentrated on over the last few years. It’s also a strategy he has brought to his one-year term as the National Precast Concrete Association Chairman of the Board, determined to help market precast as the best option for contractors, engineers and designers.

“I didn’t start getting involved with NPCA to change how the association is run,” says Stratis. “I was more eager to help people with solving problems and figuring out ideas on how to make precast better. I’m more about trying to help improve what is already being done.”

Journey to the top

Stratis had no knowledge about precast before working at Shea Concrete. He had a job as an electrical engineer at defense contractor Raytheon when his father-in-law, Ed Shea, asked him to come work for the family business. Shea along with his wife, Judi, are the company’s second-generation owners. Their offer came with a condition, though. “If you come work for me,” Ed Shea told his son-in-law, “just so you know, you’ll start from the ground up.”

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Family owned and operated since 1949, Shea Concrete is one of New England’s largest suppliers of precast concrete products.

With his career at Raytheon about to change, Stratis decided to give precast a try before accepting a “suit and tie job.” He broke the news at the family Thanksgiving gathering that year, much to his father-in-law’s surprise. His first role at Shea Concrete involved working in the production department triple pouring 4-ft. manholes. Stratis’ responsibility was to climb into the manhole, pull out the pins, unlatch the form and climb out. Until this experience, it never dawned on him how hot concrete could get.

“When you climbed into it (the manhole), it was like getting into an oven,” Stratis recalls. “Everything is rusty and kind of slimy. I’d get out of the manhole and be filthy, head to toe, with wet rust all over.”

He remembers that due to the large amount of work one day, Shea Concrete General Manager Bob Flores was also out in the plant helping pour product and stripping forms to keep the production schedule on time. Stratis watched as Flores did the same thing—climb into the manhole, remove the pins and climb out. There was one big difference: The boss climbed out “clean as a whistle.”

“I don’t know if he was more experienced at it or more careful, but it was funny seeing me come out covered and Bob came out looking just fine,” Stratis chuckles. “I always joke about that to everyone. That’s probably my first memory of working production at Shea.”

Stratis has now worked in every Shea Concrete department or key function except for truck driving. From product design to installation, he understands the expectations and responsibilities of each step of the process. This has proved to be essential for him: Although he didn’t know it while learning the ropes, he would eventually be responsible for the entire company.

His management role began in 1999 when Shea Concrete purchased a competitor’s plant in Amesbury, Mass., and appointed Stratis to oversee the satellite’s operations. And last year, Ed Shea returned the Thanksgiving day surprise of 20 years ago by naming his son-in-law president of the company.

Stratis said his leadership tactics are slightly different from those of Ed and Judi Shea, but that he still values the lessons he learned from them about running a successful business. One thing Ed Shea did well was work hard to earn the respect of customers and employees. Stratis learned how to deal with people by watching his business and personal interactions.

Another tactic that he would like to incorporate is his father-in-law’s decision-making execution. “If he made a decision, it got done right away,” notes Stratis. “There was no waiting, planning or thinking. On the other hand, I like to take an idea and twist it, turn it and analyze it. He was one extreme and I’m the other. So, I think incorporating a little bit of both would be nice.”

MAINTAINING A PERSONAL CONNECTION

Greg Stratis enjoys seeing Shea Concrete expand and become a leading precast producer in New England, but is cautious about the company becoming too big— potentially losing its personal connection with customers and employees. “I want to make sure we’re not so big that we don’t know who we are or who anybody else is,” he says. “I want customers to feel like I am someone that they can call and talk to. And I want to think that’s something that customers still want.”

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Despite the tight schedule, Shea Concrete was able to deliver and install the precast structures for Endicott College on time. PHOTO: Stephen Chmieleski

That personal connection is something he feels needs to be maintained at NPCA as well. It’s one of the main reasons he’s remained involved with the association. The relationships and connections with other precast producers also attracted him to join the Board in 2011. “Once I attended meetings, that is what attracted me to NPCA,” he observes. “I found myself sharing ideas and eventually more people asked me how to do things when it came to precast. I felt the more people asked for my opinion, the more I wanted to participate in committees and on the Board.”

Prior to joining the NPCA Board of Directors, Stratis spent seven years as president of the Northeast Precast Concrete Association. He finds it fascinating to be involved in association leadership because he’s able to hear how other producers complete processes or solve issues related to production, succession planning and marketing.

NPCA also offers a Precast University, which Stratis at first attended to motivate other employees to join. After a few employees graduated and earned their Master Precaster designation, it placed pressure on him to do the same. He graduated in 2016 and now suggests all employees attend the Production and Quality School Level I course.

“It was first a ‘I’ll go, if you go’ kind of thing, but then I started slacking and had to keep up my side of the bargain,” he quips. “But I’m glad I finished, and learned a lot along the way. It’s a great program that NPCA has and our members need to remind their employees to make use of it.”

Marketing precast

A top goal Stratis wants to focus on during his term as chairman is sharing ideas with NPCA members on how to market their precast products to customers and specifiers. Since marketing is a passion of his, he wants to find a way to make it important and affordable for others as well. “I’ve always said that what NPCA does is technically marketing,” he notes. “We need to constantly be in the face of specifiers and engineers. Keep reminding them NPCA is out there and precast is a great option.”

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A Shea vault houses the turf-heating control system at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., home to the New England Patriots.

Finding a balance between budget and how to attack outreach and marketing is the key for both membership and association success, he adds. With everyone going online to research companies, products and processes, a marketing approach should live there as well.

“Since no one has an unlimited budget to spend on marketing, we have to use it wisely,” Stratis contends. “I think NPCA has done great reaching out to as many specifiers as possible with the webinars offered in 2016. That’s a relatively low-cost approach to reach that amount of people. We have to continue to develop those ideas and encourage membership to listen and interact.”

MORE THAN JUST MAKING PRECAST

It wasn’t an easy road for Stratis to get to his current position at Shea Concrete, but his hands-on approach and willingness to learn shows his true character as a leader. In addition, his shift from diversifying to perfecting makes him the best person to take Shea Concrete and NPCA to the next level. But more than anything else, Stratis wants to leave membership with one specific message: “It takes more than making precast products today to be successful.”

After seeing four precast manufacturers in New England within the last year close their doors or be bought out for not embracing marketing, he doesn’t want it to happen to an NPCA member. “I think it’s important we figure out the best way to let membership know that marketing in this day and age is very important,” Stratis concludes. “Otherwise, you may as well lock the door and throw away the key. There is more to it than making precast, it’s about making precast better.”

Sara Geer is National Precast Concrete Association Internal Communication and Web Manager, and Precast Inc. Managing Editor.

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Shea Concrete’s Amesbury plant produced 42 floating dock sections to replace an aging Lynn, Mass., marina structure. PHOTOS: Stephen Chmieleski
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The producer delivers three 10,000-gal. precast tanks for the Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery, working with Septic Tank Preservation Systems on a new structure design and installation approach.
 

National Precast Concrete Association AT-A-GLANCE

Shea Concrete Products AT-A-GLANCE
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The Shea family, from left: Eddie Lopez, Nancy Shea-DeRose, Dave DeRose, Tony DiRocco, Katelyn Lopez, Mary DiRocco, Kathleen Shea, Greg Stratis, Brenda Shea Stratis, and Judi & Ed Shea.