There’s a general adage when it comes to getting into business with friends and family; maybe think twice. Money has a pernicious ability to wend its way into the cracks and pry apart stable foundations. It’s inherently risky business. Do not, however, tell that to Victor Fernandes, President of Fernandes Masonry. Situated in the coastal community of New Bedford, Massachusetts, Fernandes Masonry is owned and operated by four brothers, all of whom immigrated from Portugal at a young age with the traditional hopes of their parents – a chance to carve out a better life for their family.
As young men, each of the brothers worked their way up the construction ladder, into positions as foremen and masons. Dedicated workers, all. But it soon became apparent to them that they could be doing the same hard work under their own banner. So, in 1997 the brothers, alongside their father, decided to take the leap. Fernandes recalled, “So, two foremen, two masons, working for other companies and we’re like, why don’t we get our own thing going? So, that’s what happened basically, we started our own business at the time. Almost 25 years ago. Oh, my God, I can’t believe it.” In what seems like the blink of an eye, Fernandes Masonry will be celebrating 25 years of finest-quality masonry work next June. And it all started with a serious gamble.
After officially putting out their own stake they needed to get the ball rolling. Odd jobs here and there aren’t enough to sustain the ambitions of building a serious construction outfit, so Victor and his brothers took a chance. They won the rights to a massive job. Not just in respect to their company’s fledgling status, either. An eight-story hotel is no walk in the park for a large, established entity, let alone a company with the paint still drying on the door. But, the juice seemed worth the squeeze and the brothers tackled the job head on. According to Fernandes, “We started with an eight-story hotel in Medford, which was pretty aggressive for four guys and a couple of laborers.” It would be an understatement to call that an understatement. But the risk paid off and after successful completion of the hotel job, Fernandes Masonry was able to, slowly but steadily, start to grow. Fernandes continued, “Then we started hiring project managers, we started hiring estimators, foremen and so on. 24 years down the road and we’re employing about 100, 120 guys.” Following in lock-step with the company’s growth was the size and complexity of their projects.
There is something of a timeless quality to elegant brickwork. It’s one of the oldest known building materials, with documented use going back a staggering 9000 years. That’s quite the legacy to stack up against. It requires an abundance of fine, technical detailing, that, when done right, generates a warm elegance. It can create the type of building that elevates its surroundings. Fernandes Masonry tries to bring that feeling to all the buildings it erects. It’s built everything from fire and police stations to office buildings and schools. These otherwise utilitarian, municipal buildings become dignified, pleasurable places to both occupy and observe. Speaking about one the premier projects in the portfolio, Fernandes said, “We did the Franklin High School and it was a great project. It was our biggest project ever at $7.8 million. And it was tight schedule, a lot of detail. Everybody was happy with the work we did.” The freedom and intricacy of design afforded by masonry building is what makes it challenging as well. But, this is exactly what Fernandes Masonry sees as its strength. Speaking to that Fernandes said, “Complex detail, yes we do a lot of detail work. A lot of jobs that have brickwork detail, granite block, that’s our thing. Our forte.”
Much of the company’s portfolio are the buildings that populate, and subsequently make up the feel of, a town and community. It really does make a difference to the spirit of a place if it’s constituted by structures that warm the soul. Not grey, featureless slabs. This idea is baked directly into the ethos of Fernandes Masonry. At its roots, the business is based on a set of very simple, but extremely important family values. The company is seen as an extension of the family that built it. And that principle extends right out into its own community. As a result, it spends much a great deal of time and effort making sure it gives back to the people that make up that community. Among its many initiatives, Fernandes Masonry goes out of its way to help look after the children of area. According to Fernandes, “For the past 15 years we’ve done Toys for Tots. We feed about 200 kids and their families, we buy toys and help get them ready for Christmas.” The company also specifically aims to help out the families of children with special needs. Whether that’s helping out with a utility bill, buying a wheelchair or building an accessible bathroom, Fernandes Masonry sees it as a duty to give back to the place that has given them so much. Which is why it gives Victor immense satisfaction to drive by the local playground they helped the community build three years ago. It is now one of the nation’s top-ranked playgrounds, specifically designed to accommodate children of all needs. Remarking on the top-spec playground, “I love going there and seeing 300 kids just running around and playing. Love that.”
“Fernandes Masonry sees it as a duty to give back to the place that has given them so much.”
Like for so many businesses at the moment, supply-chain issues are a real difficulty. Price fluctuations require nimble thinking and adaptability. Another obstacle the company currently faces is a labor shortage. In the turbulent waters of the pandemic, finding quality workers is proving a stubborn problem. The pandemic has shaped a new reality for every business. It is worth noting, however, that when asked about the company’s biggest current challenges, Fernandes didn’t even mention business. The first thing he mentioned was how difficult it was that much of their community involvements were halted or slowed by Covid. He lamented, “It’s been brutal through Covid because we can’t reach out to families. I can tell you it’s been tough, but we still did a little bit of fundraising. So, when this thing is over, we want to do another Jeremiah Project. That’s my goal.” The Jeremiah Project refers to an Extreme Makeover-style project that Fernandes Masonry pulled off a few years ago where they sent a family on vacation for a week and surprised them with a newly built home upon their return. This company is dead serious about its commitments to the place it calls home.
Culture is a term bandied about by nearly every company these days. And while it truly is a transformative element of those businesses that actually manage to cultivate it, the term has definitely been co-opted by marketing departments everywhere. But, when Victor Fernandes talks about the family values that undergird every aspect of Fernandes Masonry, he’s not putting anyone on. It’s a company founded and run by a quartet of industrious brothers, who came to America to chase that venerable promise of a better life. And when that hard-working spirit paid off for them, they made sure that their good fortune radiated out into the new place they called home. For them there was no danger of mixing business with family.
For Fernandes Masonry, everything is family.