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Mario Bertolini – PCI

January 2004

Name: Mario Bertolini

Date of Birth, Place: December 27, 1934 In New Haven, Connecticut

High School: East Haven High, New Haven, CT

College: University Of Connecticut – Civil Engineering Degree, 1958

Family: Wife, MJ is a retired psychotherapist and five children: John is an ER doctor, Maura is a housewife, Jennifer is a housewife and teacher, and Peter and Mary work at Blakeslee.

Hobbies: Golf, fly fishing and tennis.

First position in Concrete Industry: Project engineer in heavy construction for C.W. Blakeslee and Sons.

Significant mentor early in career: None, he learned the ropes by trial and error.

Greatest Projects: Volvo Tennis Stadium in New Haven, CT and a 500,000 square foot housing project in Brooklyn, NY.

Most Significant improvement to precast industry: PCI certification and developing the reputation that precast materials are as good a quality product as any other building material.

Upcoming challenges for the industry: Expanding our markets into all types of buildings and bringing in new blood with strong management skills.

Advice to those new to the industry: We are only limited by what designers think we can do.

More about Mario Bertolini:
Early in his career, Mario Bertolini almost made a decision that would have changed his life forever. A young graduate of the University of Connecticut’s civil engineering program, Bertolini was hired by C.W. Blakeslee and Sons in 1958 as a project engineer for the company’s heavy construction division. At that time heavy construction was a big industry in Connecticut and he led projects doing road work and water work and he loved what he did.

Everything was going fine until 1960 when C.W. Blakeslee was having trouble with quality control at its prestressed precast plant outside of New Haven. The president of the company asked Bertolini to take over and he didn’t want to. “I thought I was going to spend the rest of my career in heavy construction,” Bertolini says. He seriously considered quitting but decided in the end to give it a go. It was a decision that changed his life.

Bertolini took over as the quality control person in the small plant which had only seven employees at the time. The industry was slow at the time but steadily grew along with Bertolini’s career. In 1961 he was made manager of part of the plant; in 1962 he took over management of the whole plant and by 1965 he was made production manager of a second plant that C.W. Blakeslee opened to meet the growing demand for precast materials. “It was an exciting time for the industry,” Bertolini says. “Wherever we went we were plowing new ground.” Because the industry was so new every project was a first for them. The best part was taking jobs that were designed for steel and converting them to concrete, he adds. “The engineers were just as excited as we were. It was all cutting edge stuff.”

As the ‘60s neared the end, however another big change was afoot. C.W. Blakeslee was sold to Westinghouse Electric in 1969. Westinghouse was interested in building multifamily homes as an avenue to sell more of it’s housewares and appliance lines. They took over the company and focused Bertolini’s plants on building complete precast wall-frame housing systems.

Over the next six years, they opened a third plant and completed several major developments including a 500,000 square foot housing project in Brooklyn. Then, in the early 70s the market fell apart and Westinghouse had serious problems in its nuclear division. To stem the loss of money, Westinghouse divested itself of its core businesses and sold Blakeslee off in pieces.
Determined not to lose his place in the industry, in 1976 Bertolini found a private investor and bought the precast division of the company, which he has owned and operated ever since.

Blakeslee has continued to be a major presence in the precast prestressed concrete industry, steadily growing to a $50 million a year business. The company has built hundreds of structures over the years, including the Volvo Tennis Stadium in New Haven in 1990 that at the time was the third largest tennis stadium in the world. However, Bertolini doesn’t site any individual project as his favorite. “I’m just a guy who comes to work every day.”

During his career, Bertolini was also president of PCI in 1989 and chaired the PCI seismic committee from 1990 to 2002 which coordinated and helped fund research into proving that precast products are a viable material to use in seismic zones. Thanks in part to the committee’s work over the years; a 40-story building using precast materials was recently completed in San Francisco in the highest seismic zone in the country. “That’s a huge accomplishment for our industry,” he says, but declares that it was not his efforts that made it happen. “The engineers on the committee did all the work, I just ran the meetings.”

Bertolini is proud of how far the precast concrete industry has come over the years. “When I was in college, the only thing we used precast for was to build bridges and parking garages,” he says. “Today we are on equal footing with other industries.”

He attributes the industry’s success and expanding market to its reputation for delivering quality durable materials. “We realized in the 70s that for precast to be a major force we have to produce the best quality products.” Blakeslee was one of the company’s that led the fight for higher quality and PCI certification, dragging others in its wake. But, he says, the battle isn’t over. He wants to see the precast industry gain even more acceptance in the building community, which means more research and pressure to gain consideration for projects such as schools and office buildings. “We are only limited to what designers think we can do,” he says.

He also thinks the industry needs some new blood and that those coming into it must have solid management skills. He suggests that along with engineering educations, potential candidates should have MBAs so they don’t have to learn by trial and error.

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