Life's a little crazy, but interesting,” says Geno Benvenuti. Since named Big50 in 1990, Benvenuti, of Benvenuti and Stein, Evanston, Ill., has reached a goal many aspire to but few attain: He has followed his family's dream, moving to California's idyllic Monterey Bay area. From there, he runs his 48-employee, $8 million-a-year, design/build firm with the help of technology and key employees.
“I like the terrain; it reminds me of Italy,” says Benvenuti, 55, about Monterey.
Over a period of five years, he gave management control to Ben White, vice president and architecture department manager; Bob Zeivel, estimating manager; Gerry Russell, production manager; and his sister, Anna Skalla, controller.
Benvenuti says he was able to leap to his goal when he realized his people all did their jobs better than he did. “I know I've picked the right people because I literally get no ‘problem' phone calls,” he says. “That is cool, I've got to tell you.”
Benvenuti prepared employees for his unusual ownership arrangement with “culture building.” He created incentive programs, began an employee newsletter, instituted an “employee of the month” program, and adopted open book policies so employees understand all financials. He's blessed with average employee tenure of 10 years. Through those steps, he dissipated fear of his not being there.
He “commutes” four hours from San Jose Airport to O'Hare, spending 14 days in California each month and 16 in Chicago.
Meanwhile, at home in Capitola, Benvenuti stays in touch with the office via phone, fax, and PcAnywhere, which connects his computer to the company network, allowing easy reviews and modifications to AutoCAD drawings and QuickBooks records.
His wife enjoys the weather and gardening, his daughter (fascinated with sharks) hunts for fossilized teeth along the Capitola Cliffs, and his son gets to explore his creative talents in a progressive community.
“Find people you can trust, who can do a better job than you do, and be willing to let go,” he suggest to others seeking similar life goals. “It's all about trust. Sometimes the word surrender is a hard thing.”