DPI Construction Management
Toronto-based DPI Construction Management is a full-service construction management company that has provided its clients with complete construction solutions for nearly 20 years. The company was founded in 1998 by Rick Perin and Elvio DiSimone. The two men originally met in university where they were studying architecture, but it wasn’t until years later when their paths crossed again while working for the same company, which ultimately led to them branching out and starting their own business.
Besides the obvious benefit of being one’s own boss, Both Perin and DiSimone believed there was a tremendous opportunity in the marketplace for a more personalized construction experience for clients that would be built on trust and accountability. Being younger professionals, they were also more attuned to the new technologies, and were not afraid to make use of them in order to enhance efficiencies.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Perin about his company’s tremendous success, which began in the basement of DiSimone’s house. Two decades later, the company resides in an office with 5,500 square feet and about 40 employees – and growing. It’s a startup story not unlike that of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who began Apple Inc. in the garage of Jobs’ parents in California in the mid-1970s.
After Perin and DiSimone finished their undergrad programs in university they each went off in separate directions – Perin went to the United States to continue his education while DiSimone stayed in southern Ontario. Perin eventually returned and wound up working with DiSimone, where the two quickly developed a friendship and began to strategize about becoming entrepreneurs.
“We saw an opportunity to utilize the skillsets we’d developed because of our age I guess we may have been a little more hip to the technology and accepting of it,” says Perin. “I come from a family-owned business in the construction industry. After I started working for somebody else, Elvio and I both noticed there was a new fresh approach to how things are being handled.”
A big part of seizing such an opportunity to branch out and become successful entrepreneurs was to embrace new technologies, which didn’t seem to be a big concern for some construction companies in the mid to late 1990s – and most have come to regret it, having either lost a sizable portion of their clientele or having gone out of business altogether. When Perin and DiSimone branched out on their own in the late 1990s, the public internet and email was still very much in its infancy. Perin recalls it being difficult to find five people who had their own email addresses at the time. But both men recognized it was the start of a technological revolution and that it was going to be a colossal benefit moving forward – and it has been, since Day One.
As with most new ventures that are just getting started Perin recalls that his company’s first job was somewhat mundane – installing some hardware on a few doors. From there he and DiSimone continued to put their noses to the grindstone and the long, hard hours soon began to pay off.
“Elvio and I split the tasks whereby he’d do more of the marketing and I would take care of the operations side and together we handle the accounting and everything else,” notes Perin.
DPI’s first big break was a job secured with the Canadian Venture Exchange, which is an offshoot of the Toronto Stock Exchange. It was a very prestigious project and one that instantly gave the company credibility within the industry. From there, Perin and DiSimone carefully and methodically hired on a few employees, one at a time, keeping the company’s growth at a sustainable level at all times.
“We never hired to fire anybody. We always had the mindset that if we bring somebody on there has to be enough work there to keep somebody on a permanent basis,” states Perin.
By 2002, Perin, DiSimone, their two employees and two site supervisors in the field had outgrown the basement office. The fledgling company decided it was time to move into an office unit, which was about 1,000 square feet. Almost simultaneously the company took on another employee and began landing a series of new, rather prestigious projects.
In 2005 DPI landed a very prominent pension fund client, which catapulted the firm forward in terms of generating a consistent workflow. That successful bid then provided the ability to market to different sectors of the industry, with Perin and DiSimone confident that a steady income was coming in on a regular basis.
Another major milestone in more recent years came in 2013 when Perin and DiSimone decided to bring on Arash Etedali to grow the business development side of DPI. It’s a decision that has paid off incredibly well.
“Because of what we do, we look for employees that have excellent project management skills. Ryerson University here in Toronto offers a great program where you can start off in architecture and then branch off into project management,” says Perin.
The majority of the employees at DPI are Postgraduates, primarily architects and engineers.
“We don’t practice either engineering or architecture but rather we practice construction management. But these added skills and having the professional designations onboard – it goes a long way in helping us in separating ourselves from our competitors,” remarks Perin.
Perin and DiSimone utilize construction management software that is part of the accounting system, which provides checks and measures. DPI spends a considerable amount of money developing the software in order to cater to specific requirements and generating the type of specific information that is required.
Consistency is crucial in order to remain organized and on top of everything. For that reason, DPI uses SharePoint, a Web-based, collaborative platform that integrates with Microsoft Office. It’s primarily sold as a document management and storage system, but the product is easily configurable based on the needs of each organization using it. For DPI it means an ability to be on any site at any location around the world and open up a laptop and have the ability to see the file the same way at both ends, with the exact same standards.
“It’s all about scheduling and budgets and watching the progress of the construction site,” says Perin. “We’re now at a point of considering more add-ons or possibly changing our software altogether because what we’re finding is that we’re dealing more and more with clients that may be headquartered in a different country and getting weekly updates to them or having them present for weekly meetings is something that is needed.”
From the outset, all focus by DPI is centred on the needs of the client and Perin says it is absolutely crucial that he and his employees always listen attentively to those needs and expectations very closely. From there it’s about fluid execution and working with the designers, managing budgets and ensuring schedules are met – on time and on budget. When a new project gets the green light a project manager is assigned along with a site manager. The project manager takes care of all the administration and budgeting. There can also be a project coordinator depending on the size of the contract while the site manager takes responsibility for the site and the trades and labourers.
“On our sites we developed an interactive job box about 18 months ago. It houses all the items that a site manager will need, along with a big screen into the board that allows them to Skype with anyone around the world or get instant changes to the drawings if need be. Technology has forced us to be instantaneous,” continues Perin.
With numerous commercial office lease hold interiors in Toronto and surrounding areas there has not been a need for DPI to expand its boundaries beyond the Greater Toronto Area, which from a logistical point of view, has been a benefit.
“The market has been very kind to us. We’ve been able to stay local and still grow our business,” says Perin. “We have some very large clients such as Siemens. Often companies will know what they want but also need our local expertise to help them get to where they need to be.”
From beginning to end, DPI is involved with producing budgets and getting a solid grasp as to what it is that the client wants and how much they are looking to spend per square foot. The experts at DPI then put together a strategy and implement a plan while working with the designers and architects to ensure that everything lines up when it’s time to go out to tender to the various sub-trades.
Perin and DiSimone recognize the importance of providing excellent service on every job, which oftentimes will result in repeat business either with that same client or through networking opportunities. The work is not just about building out a space; it’s about client retention and fostering a lasting relationship to the point where those clients know they can pick up a phone 24 hours a day and DPI will be there for them. There needs to be that trust factor. As proof that DPI stands behind its work they offer a five-year warranty on all projects.
“Amongst our competitors we can all do a good job, but what sets us apart from our competitors is that our employees have bought into the DPI way. DPI offers a headache-free solution. We have ownership involvement from start to finish. It’s about servicing the client’s needs. Sometimes things can go wrong on a project, but we will always find solutions. We’re a service-based company and we must always give our clients a headache-free experience,” says Perin.
There are a number of exciting projects currently on the go at DPI, including a contract with the Toronto Stock Exchange. “I would definitely say that we are in the top echelon of our industry. I don’t think there’s a project that goes out of any substance that we’re not either invited to or negotiated with,” says Perin.
Corporate social responsibility and adherence to strong environmental practices is a must in today’s construction industry. All project managers at DPI are all LEED accredited professionals, including Perin and DiSimone. The company works to LEED standards on every project whether the client is aiming for certification or not. It means stringent adherence that includes adherence to recycling programs, waste diversions and all the other items that encapsulates LEED standards.
“We’re currently working with a new standard called WELL. We were fortunate to be one of the first companies to build out a WELL project here in Ontario. WELL is the wellness of the employees. The project was for CRBE Canada and it was a success,” adds Perin.
Earlier this year, DPI Construction Management was honoured with the prestigious Canada’s Best Managed Companies designation. The 2017 Best Managed program recognizes the best-in-class of Canadian-owned and managed companies with revenues over $15 million that demonstrate strategy, capability and commitment to achieving sustainable growth.
“This honour recognizes and acknowledges the hard work, strength, and determination of our employees and executive team,” Perin proudly says.
Both Perin and DiSimone are strong believers in giving back to the community. DPI supports many charities and organizations, not just locally in the GTA but around the world including the United Way. The company donates to The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto as well as supporting the likes of children’s baseball, soccer and hockey teams.
With the company on solid footing Perin and DiSimone want to not only maintain DPI’s current high standards and volume of business but always look at ways of making the process that much better.
“I’d eventually like to get to the point where Elvio and I can take a step back and have the company run itself, and we’re almost there now. We have great employees,” says Perin. “Elvio and I want to leave a legacy that we can pass down to generations or to the employees in a buy-in program. There are lots of different ideas on the table right now. It’s nothing but positivity.”