-Diane Catalano’s family-run construction company ranks third on a national scale.
by Sumathi Reddy (article taken from the Providence Journal, January 4, 1999)
CUMBERLAND — Diane Catalano looked up from her desk with a start. What was this? She was ranked the number three woman entrepreneur in the nation?
This was news to her. But glancing at the paperwork, there she was.
Diane Catalano, president of Catalano Construction Inc., 10 Nate Whipple Highway, ranked number three in Entrepreneur Magazine’s top 10 woman entrepreneurs of the year.
The list was compiled by Dun & Bradstreet, based on 1997 sales revenue.
According to the list, Catalano’s construction company started in 1989 with $12,500 and ended 1997 with $4.7 million in sales.
Yes, that was correct, Catalano said, nodding her head. As the news settled in, she smiled, showing the paper to her coworkers, most of whom are relatives.
She vaguely recalled filling out paperwork a few months ago, but had heard nothing from the magazine or Dun & Bradstreet.
She scurried around the office. It’s a homey office where the family cat, a huge, black cat named Lucky, resides.
This was a busy time. Christmas shopping for three children. She’d have to talk later.
A week later, a more relaxed Catalano settles in the main room of the company’s office. Sitting nearby is her husband, Bernie, who is the vice president of the company. The two share the duties of running the business as partners, without regard for titles.
Diane, 45, takes care of most of the paperwork, such as the payroll, union business, and finances. Bernie, 47, is trained as a civil engineer and deals with most of the construction work, such as estimates and project management.
Both say they were shocked and pleasantly surprised by the award. Who would have thought their business would be the third most successful woman-owned business in the country?
They admit that the business has expanded and grown over the years, but note that $4.7 million represents total sales, not their profit for their year. They won’t get into exact numbers, but say they live comfortably, certainly not luxuriously.
As the two chat about the business, they sometimes finish each other’s sentences.
That is not surprising since the two not only work together and live together now, they grew up together in Manville.
They attended elementary school together and started dating when Diane was 13 and Bernie was 15.
He went to Roger Williams College and she went to Newport Hospital School of Nursing.
They got married about 20 years ago and three years later moved into their Cumberland home, on 195 Bear Hill Rd.. They built the house themselves, Bernie says proudly.
“I was the project manager on that one,” Diane says chuckling.
Building his own house was one of Bernie’s dreams. The other was to start a construction company.
And so Bernie and Diane set out to start their family-run business. Until last year, Diane also continued to work sporadically as a registered nurse at Rhode Island Hospital.
The construction company works on projects throughout the state and in Massachusetts and Connecticut. It functions as a general contractor and as a subcontractor for other companies.
The two rattle off projects they have completed, ranging from site work at the new Fleet Skating Center in Providence, to playgrounds, parks and parking lots.
Business is really good right now, both Catalanos say, and they are averaging about 45 projects a year.
It wasn’t always like this.
The business started in 1989 with about four employees and seven jobs a year.
The company was run out of their house on Bear Hill Road.
“It got to be crowded and too busy really fast,” says Diane. “There was no room for equipment.”
So they moved to a red barn across from their current office space. But they outgrew the office space there as well, finally moving into their current location about four years ago.
Business was good the first few years, but in the early 1990s it was tough, Bernie said.
“There was not a lot of construction, prices were down,” Bernie said. “We ended some years with negative numbers.”
“Running a business is like riding a roller coaster,” he added. “You have good years and you have bad years.”
Now they have a solid customer base, many of whom come back for repeat business.
Bernie’s mother and father also work in the business, as well as the couple’s children: two daughters, ages 8 and 16, and an 18-year-old son. All three help out in various ways.
“It’s really a family affair,” Diane says.
Jason, the eldest, is currently an architecture major at Norwich University, in Vermont.
“He called the other day and mentioned that he was thinking about changing his major to construction management,” Diane said. “He asked us if we’d like a second-generation company.”
The Catalanos say they would.