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.
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