Everybody knows what a plumber does, but what does a precast manufacturer do? Precast concrete has been used in construction for many years and it is claimed that the processes which are applied to its manufacturing actually date back to the Roman Empire. Yet, this material is still relatively new to many professionals in the construction industry and almost unknown to those outside the industry. Incredibly, Mauro Brancaleoni, Founder and Vice-President of the Canadian architectural precast manufacturer Advanced Precast, often has to explain to people what it is that his business actually consists of. This year however, Advanced Precast is celebrating its 30th anniversary which represents a significant milestone and a massive achievement for Brancaleoni and Andy Bakhtiari, the company’s Co-founder, and President.
Starting out in Toronto in 1993 having been laid off by an employer, Brancaleoni and Bakhtiari set up shop in a small warehouse repairing windowsills. From there the company started growing and soon moved into a bigger building which allowed it to pivot and transition into the construction industry, manufacturing architectural precast concrete. For Brancaleoni, these experiences were both exciting and formative. “I was 34 years old, and he (Bakhtiari) was 33 years old. We just took an adventure, and we weren’t sure where we were going to go. And here we are, 30 years later.”
The adventure paid off. Today, Advanced Precast counts more than 100 employees and is one of the biggest precast companies in Canada. The company works mainly in Canada, particularly in Ontario, but it occasionally carries out work in the United States also. Precast concrete is manufactured in a controlled environment and can speed up production significantly in regions affected by extreme natural elements. While the harsh Canadian winter can cause outdoor construction work to slow down, it is also one of the reasons behind the rapid growth of the Canadian precast industry.
Despite their titles as Vice-President and President of Advanced Precast, Brancaleoni and Bakhtiari are still very much involved in the day-to-day part of their business. “Me and Andy, we’re still working people (…). We don’t consider ourselves the boss, per se. We come to work every day. I still go to the production every day. (…) So, we’re still very active in the business,” says Brancaleoni.
Advanced Precast specializes in the manufacturing of architectural precast concrete. The main difference between structural and architectural precast is their purpose. While structural precast has a purely functional purpose, architectural precast has both a structural and decorative function and includes finishes and ornamental features.
The company provides its customers with a complete package that includes engineering and design, building, transportation, and installation. With this in mind, it is no surprise to learn that Brancaleoni and his team serve many different industries. From residential and healthcare right through to entertainment, the buildings that Advanced Precast work on vary enormously in both feature and purpose. Furthermore, servicing customers across a wide variety of sectors requires Advanced Precast to satisfy the most diverse and detailed architectural and engineering specifications.
Over the past 30 years, Advanced Precast has worked on many projects and built millions of square feet of precast. However, there is one particular project that is really close to Brancaleoni’s heart, a job that proved the company could match anyone in the industry for scale and skill. ‘It’s called the Windsor Arms, which is a hotel in downtown Toronto. At that time, we had no business taking this job. We were too small. We had maybe ten employees, and the job was a fair size. It was a little beyond our reach, but we took the challenge, and we struggled through it, but we did it.’ Brancaleoni remembers this job with pride because it marked an important moment of growth for his company, which was at the time transitioning from the small warehouse shop to a larger building. With few employees, minimum equipment, and a relocation in progress, this project was a complicated but gratifying adventure for Advanced Precast.
“From residential and healthcare right through to entertainment, the buildings that Advanced Precast work on vary enormously in both feature and purpose.”
In passing, Brancaleoni also mentions another hotel project in downtown Toronto with which the company is particularly proud. The building stands tall beside the national soccer stadium BMO Field and in the middle of the Toronto Grand Prix track, it finds itself in a particularly privileged location in terms of visibility. ‘When the World Cup comes to Canada in three years, you’ll be able to see that building in the background,’ says Brancaleoni, visibly pleased by the idea.
As a reflection of its growth, the company has already relocated three times, and Brancaleoni says a fourth relocation might be on the horizon. From the small 5,000 square foot warehouse to a bigger one of 10,000 square feet and finally to the current facility, which extends to an incredible 50,000 square feet. When asked about the secret of the company’s success, Brancaleoni doesn’t pause for a second. “The people, both employees and customers. That’s what has made us very successful. A piece of concrete is a piece of concrete, but it’s how you present it, and it’s the people that we surround ourselves with.” In an example of how positive the company culture is, Brancaleoni is proud to share that most Advanced Precast employees have worked with the company since the very beginning. “Our personnel hasn’t turned around a lot. We have our guys in the shop who have been with us for 30 years. We have people that retire when they turn 60, and after three months they say, ‘Do you mind if we come back?’ So that speaks volumes.”
Advanced Precast builds long-lasting relationships based on trust, understanding, and honesty. After 30 years in business, the company can count on many repeat customers, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that Brancaleoni’s philosophy is that the customer is always right. “Andy and I, we may be the owners of this company, but we work for them (the customers). And we always specify that to our guys.”
Thinking about what made his company so successful, Brancaleoni emphasizes that nothing is possible without good luck and good health. Remembering the initial period of lockdown as being one of the most challenging periods for his business, he stresses the importance of being considered an essential business and lists the many changes Advanced Precast had to go through in order to keep its doors open. “We had to adapt. We got new clocks before the clock (because) we didn’t want people to sign (when punching in and out), we fumigated our lunchroom every morning, at three o’clock in the morning, we had somebody come in to make sure that everything was clean and sanitized. It was certainly a challenge trying to keep 60 people in a shop working, but nobody got COVID from the plant.”
For the future, Brancaleoni hopes to maintain the same success and to see the next generation gradually take over the business. As he speaks about the company and what he wishes for the future, the look in his eyes is one of contentment. The adventure started with his friend and co-founder Bakhtiari 30 years ago turned out to be an extremely successful and rewarding business. So, while the two partners will gradually take a step back, the new generation will drive Advanced Precast’s future towards new and equally successful adventures.