Jason E. Ciavarro founded Supreme Metro Corporation in 1988 with no more than a $500 loan from his father and a can-do attitude. The New Jersey native wasn’t afraid of hard work, or of taking chances—lessons he learned from his father, a mechanical engineer turned farmer.
“He was known as the concrete cowboy because he grew up and lived in Newark, New Jersey and always wanted to own a farm,” Jason remembers. “He managed to obtain a piece of land out in Sussex County and I grew up farming for him on a 75 acre farm where we housed racehorses and baled hay.”
Jason took the lessons he learned from his father and applied them to his own dream. “The work ethic was always there. It was something that our family felt very strongly about. It was all about work ethic,” he says. Armed with this commitment to hard work, Jason took his $500 loan and put down a deposit on a single-seal coat machine in order to launch his own construction company. Now, nearly thirty years later, the one-man show has grown into a full service asphalt, concrete, and drainage service provider with over fifty employees. “We have been very fortunate in our growth. We have grown over the past decade a minimum of ten percent annually.”
How did Jason manage to grow the company from a humble startup to what it is today? “A relentless pursuit of success,” he summarizes. This relentless pursuit included several key strategies. Putting the customer first has always been at the forefront. “I understand this is not about me; this is about what the customer wants. [It is about] making the customer number one and looking at what problems the customer has. I don’t believe in selling to them. I believe in solutions.”
Everybody has a problem in need of a solution, Jason explains. “I think having a full understanding of that is step number one. You have to know what they need—not just what you want to sell.”
Flexibility is another key company strategy. “We like to call ourselves cross-fitters. There may be years that are heavier on the concrete side, and other years that are heavier on the asphalt side. Having that diversification or adaptability gives you the availability to move forward regardless of what is going on out there. Whereas if you are just a milling or paving company, or just a concrete company, or if you don’t do the maintenance, you can pigeonhole yourself. We like to put ourselves in a recession-proof position.”
Valuing staff members is also critical. “I don’t look at people as employees,” Jason remarks. “They are my teammates. That is vitally important.” Likewise, employees are expected to be committed to the company values. “If somebody is there just to collect a salary then they are not the right fit for us.” Management is careful to put employees in areas that match their talents—then give them the freedom to meet their full potential. “You find out what their strengths are and you put them where [they can utilize those] strengths. You find out where they fit, put them in there, and let them take control of that situation—empower them.” Employees thrive in this environment, creating a win-win situation and encouraging retention. “We have employees with six to 12 years of service on average.”
These long time employees bring crucial experience to the company, as does Jason. Not only has he been constructing roads in New Jersey since he graduated from high school, but he also built infrastructure in Iraq and Kuwait while serving in the military. The entrepreneur made the decision to serve in the Middle East after 9/11. “When they hit the towers I was working a job site in Parsippany, New Jersey,” he remembers. “We were doing drainage instillations and a very low plane flew over the site and we all looked up and thought it was weird. Come to find out that was the one that crashed in Pennsylvania. I have no idea what came over me, but I went home and told my wife that this can’t happen here.”
Jason tried to enlist in the marines, but his age kept him out. “I was 31 at the time, so they would not allow me.” He was able to enlist in the Army instead, although his age still made him stand out. “They called me Pops in boot camp, but I was a man on a mission.” Jason’s construction experience led to a posting with the Army Corps of Engineers where he helped to build airfields and roads—anything to support the troops. “I did my part to allow the forward movement of what we needed to do over there.”
Now, Jason is back in New Jersey and preparing his company for the future. With America gravely in need of an infrastructure makeover, he believes that there will be plenty of work for Supreme Metro for many years to come. “Our infrastructure, as a whole, is severely compromised,” Jason remarks. The greatest challenge will be finding the manpower with which to repair it all. “We are in an industry that is starving for new employees. Employees are our biggest hurdle. Everybody is going to college [instead of working blue collar jobs].”
Jason knows from personal experience that construction can be a fulfilling career that should not be overlooked. “This is a very rewarding industry. This is an industry that someone could come into with no knowledge, or minimal knowledge, and make from 50K plus in their first year and not have any school debt.” Jason is quick to add that he is not against going to college—his two children are currently enrolled, in fact—but that higher learning may not be the best fit for everyone.
He wants young people to be aware of the opportunities that construction brings and dispel myths about the industry. “Some of these guys can be making $150,000 plus and never go to college. Don’t discount these guys as just a bunch of guys who know how to handle a shovel. We do continuing education, we implement training classes nationwide, we bring in trainers and consultant firms. There is such an opportunity for success. There is an opportunity to really get into the workplace and be able to really build stability for yourself and have a future.”
Supreme Metro is actively working to draw new talent into the industry. “We are working with high schools. We are meeting with guidance councilors. Our younger employees and our HR department are lecturing the senior classes, letting people know that there are other options if college is not a choice for you.” The company also actively recruits veterans.
Maintaining employee numbers will be crucial to the industry—and to America as a whole—in the coming years. “We’ve got to have roads and bridges. And they all need to be maintained,” Jason points out.
Fortunately, Supreme Metro continues to grow despite the industry-wide workforce shortage. In fact, the company’s footprint will expand dramatically this year. “Our expectation is to serve the Tristate area starting in 2017. Significant expansion is on our horizon. Be on the lookout for a rollout of that growth.”