Charles Sachs can do almost anything on a construction site, from hammering out a frame to scheduling subcontractors with deadline finesse. The only thing this old-school superintendent appears to have had trouble with in his full-bodied career was retirement.
Sachs is parking his steel-toed boots for the final time this month at MCL Construction. However, it isn’t the first time this 76-year-old has put down his hard hat.
In 2000, Sachs made his first attempt at retirement at the youthful age of 58. He lasted a mere two years before he returned to the field with MCL, starting a new career at a new company when most men his age where turning their attention to improving their golf handicap.
“I thought I wanted to retire. A lot of people my age had retired and they told me how great it was,” Sachs recently recalled. “But, in my second year, my wife told me, ‘you need to go back to work.’ ”
So, Sachs called his old friend, Gary Leapley and Don Gausden, both of whom were working at MCL and both of whom knew him from his years at Kiewit.
“There is more to life than traveling and fishing,” Sachs explained.
Sachs is officially re-retiring this month after 58 years in construction. His retirement party Thursday comes as MCL Construction enters the final stretch of a one-year celebration, marking 30 years in business.
It is with the help of people like Sachs – old-school artisans committed to their trade – that MCL Construction has become one of the region’s most prominent and most respected construction firms in the Omaha area, with a reputation for providing personal, quality care.
Like MCL Construction, Sachs is not a flashy guy. He is not the kind of guy who seeks to dominate a room, but he is the type of guy who you would trust with your multimillion dollar project.
“If you wanted something done, Charles was the guy who would get it done,” said Leapley, one of MCL’s co-owners. “He’s very tough, very hard-nosed, but he’s fair to everyone.”
“He never asks for more than what his workers could get done, but he expected a lot and he met the deadline,” Leapley added.
Sachs earned his work ethic the old-fashioned way on a small farm near Fremont. He was the oldest of five kids who was expected to milk 15 dairy cows by hand with his brothers before and after school. He started driving tractor before he drove a car, at what age he doesn’t remember, but he was young. He might have stayed on the farm if he didn’t have a relative in the house-building business.
Shortly after high school, Sachs picked up a hammer and went to work for his uncle as a carpenter. Three years later, he joined the union.
“I liked construction work. Back then, when you built a house, you built it from the ground up. Not like today, when people come in and specialize in something and then move on to another project.”
A few years later, Sachs landed a job at Kiewit Construction. It was here that he quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a foreman on smaller jobs, before he eventually became a superintendent.
Gausden said Sachs earned a reputation as a straight shooter, who expected a clean work site, and who was a master at keeping a project on schedule.
“He is very old school. He came up through the trades as a carpenter before becoming a superintendent,” said Gausden, who is now with Davis Erection Co. “He can build anything with his hands. It’s unbelievable.”
Gausden said Sachs might have been a tough manager, but he was still beloved by his workers.
His popularity was on display in the mid-1980s when Sachs’ house burned down to the retaining walls in Elkhorn, while he was on a job with Gausden. Immediately, Sachs began to rebuild, but he didn’t have to do it alone. His friends in the trade came to his side. In fact, too many wanted to help.
“When he started to put it back together and rebuild, so many people wanted to help that he had to turn them away,” Gausden recalled.
“I think he had that house rebuilt in six weeks. He had so much help, so many people respected and admired him, that they wanted to do whatever they could.”
Over the years, Sachs has had his hand in many of Omaha’s biggest construction projects. He helped build the First National Bank building on the north side of Dodge, and he has worked on both Immanuel and Midlands Hospitals.
He also worked on a warehouse in the coal fields of Wyoming and helped to build a jail in the Chicago area.
“I like building things. I like seeing buildings come up out of the ground, all the way to the finish,” said Sachs.
He also worked on the Methodist Women’s Hospital.
“That was a nice job, a very nice job,” Sachs recalled. “All the subs we had got along real good and the coordination flowed good too.”
His claim to fame – say his friends – was his ability to maintain a strict schedule. Owners loved him because when he said something would be done, it was done on time and it was done right, Gausden said.
“It’s almost unheard of in this business to gain time on a schedule, but Charles could do it. His main saying to people was, ‘Don’t go home until you get it done.’
“He knew in the beginning you have to go like hell so that you can go easy at the end,” Gausten said.
Of course, Sachs didn’t sacrifice either quality or safety to get the job done. He may have been a taskmaster, but the only time he allows himself to puff up with a little pride during a one-hour interview is when he talks about how he never lost a worker to a serious injury.
His first priority was to make sure that every person who clocked into his job site in the morning, went home at night to their families, with their lives and limbs intact.
“I never lost a guy and I never had anyone cut themselves with a saw,” said Sachs.
Gausden said it was simple: Sachs cared about his workers.
“If you worked hard for Charles, he’d take care of you. But if you didn’t, he’d go right over the top of you,” Gausden recalled with a chuckle.
Sachs worked for Kiewit for several decades before coming to MCL where he put in another 15 years on the job site.
After all that time, Sachs says he is going to give retirement another go. He wants to spend more time with his childhood sweetheart, Corrine Sue. The two have been married for 58 years and have four children together.
“I knew her when she was in 8th grade,” Sachs smiled. “We started dating in 10th grade.”
Sachs doesn’t know exactly what he is going to do in retirement, but it’s highly doubtful he will spend his days in a rocking chair.
His friends and co-workers say Sachs isn’t the sedentary type.
“He’ll find something to do, I guarantee it,” Gausden said.
30-Year Reflection Series
The story of Tony Fucinaro and his career at MCL Construction starts with a love of family and ends with a pushy uncle who knew what was best for his nephew.
It also begins in the winter of 2003. That was the year a young, 20-something Fucinaro with jet-black hair and a big Italian family was preparing to graduate from Iowa State with a degree in Construction Engineering.
The Omaha native had his future all mapped out. Fucinaro is the son of Anthony Fucinaro, Jr., a famous Omaha restauranteur who was an owner and founder of Anthony’s Restaurant. Fucinaro loved his family’s red sauce and the late-night mayhem of the kitchen, but his heart was in concrete and steel.
Fucinaro had always wanted to build things since he was a boy. Big things with a big company. It’s why he went to Iowa State and it’s why he landed an internship at construction giant Kiewit Construction during his junior year in college. “I always dreamed of working for Kiewit because they were the big guys and did all the cool stuff,” Fucinaro said.
Yup, Fucinaro had it all planned out, but his uncle had other ideas.
His uncle, Greg Boulay, knew Bob Carlisle and knew that his nephew would flourish in a smaller company, with a family-like atmosphere. He had been talking to Carlisle about giving his nephew an interview. At the same time, Greg was trying to convince his nephew to give MCL Construction a chance.
Carlisle and Fucinaro finally found time to meet over Christmas break in 2003 at Chili’s Bar & Grill near Oakview Mall.
It was a bromance from the start, let’s call it CarFu if you will.
The two former Creighton Prep boys were sold on each other from the outset, with Carlisle offering Fucinaro a job and Fucinaro beginning to question his big corporate dreams.
Eventually, Fucinaro realized he would be happier working with a smaller company, after showing up one day at a Kiewit job site and realizing that he would always be a small cog in a big company.
“I never worked for anybody but my family,” Fucinaro said. “And, MCL was more like I was used to. I was used to working for a family.”
For his part, Carlisle said he instantly knew that Fucinaro would go the distance. “I knew right away that he was going to be the guy. I knew then that this guy is very intelligent,” said Carlisle.
Today, 14 years later, Fucinaro is the heir apparent at MCL Construction. He was tabbed by Carlisle four years ago to buy into the company, with the idea that he would one day be its next chief executive.
When that will be is anyone’s guess. Carlisle doesn’t give any appearance of slowing down as MCL Construction celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. The company that Carlisle and Jim Meyers started in 1987 has grown into one of Omaha’s most recognizable and trusted construction companies, with both Carlisle and Fucinaro committed to continuing that growth over the next 30 years.
“He and I are both cut from the same cloth,” Carlisle said. “We’re both Sicilian, we both have hard-headed parents, and we’re both very, very competitive.”
As for when Fucinaro will assume the reins, Carlisle said there is no timetable. Carlisle plans to continue to work at the company for the foreseeable future or until he doesn’t want to work anymore. At that time, he will have The Conversation with Fucinaro. In the meantime, he’s giving Fucinaro the chance to learn what it means to be an executive on the job.
“There’s going to come a time when it’s time to slow down, and I’m going to say, ‘Here it is Tony. It’s yours. Run with it,’” Carlisle said.
“I’ve already given him a very long rope to start making changes,” Carlisle added.
Fucinaro is fine with the no-time-frame part of Carlisle’s succession plan. He is in no hurry to assume the top job. He figures he still has a lot to learn. That has been Fucinaro’s modus operandi since the day he started with the company. He has always tried to soak up every facet of the company and to learn and incorporate new technologies into the business.
Fucinaro’s first job at MCL Construction was working under Jim Fleissner at Lakeside Hospital. He started with a new coat and a new phone – a huge phone – that had been given to him by Carlisle as recruitment presents.
The phone, which Fucinaro estimated weighed 20 pounds, was as tough as an iron worker. “I dropped it off the roof at Lakeside. It was buried in snow all winter. In the spring, we found it, and it still worked.” (Don’t tell Paula!)
Fucinaro was a field engineer who did anything that Fleissner asked, from sweeping floors to installing backing. “We were in a small construction trailer for 60 hours a week. Jim became my construction dad,” said Fucinaro.
A few years later, Carlisle gave Fucinaro his chance to shine or stumble, when he put him in charge of a remodeling job at Children’s Hospital.
“It was a pretty scary feeling,” Fucinaro recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh shoot. I hope I don’t mess this up.”
Obviously, he didn’t mess up, because Carlisle kept giving him more and more responsibility.
“Bob always let me do what I wanted to do. I’d come to him with an idea, and he would say, ‘OK, let’s see what you can do.’”
As for the future, Fucinaro is keeping his plans for the company to himself. He is currently involved in putting together a long-term strategic plan for MCL, but he is not eager to let the competition in on his plans.
“We have a very strategic plan of where we want to go in the future,” said Fucinaro. One thing he will say is that he and Carlisle are committed to incorporating the latest technology into the company’s future. “We want to build smart. We want to build more efficiently,” said Fucinaro. He is also committed to investing in the company’s workforce.
“We want to make sure we’re able to invest in our guys. We want them to go as far as they can go in their careers,” Fucinaro said. “I don’t want anyone to say, ‘I wasted my time at MCL."
It’s clear Fucinaro has his sights set firmly on the future and has no regrets about giving up on Kiewit. “None. Not a bit. I’m glad I got out when I did. It’s not a knock against them (Kiewit) but all those deliberations I made those many years ago about whether to work for MCL or not, and my gut feeling about Bob, it all turned out alright.”
You can say that again, CarFu.
30-Year Reflection Series:
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