* Photo supplied. Alex DeCouto (centre), president of Greymane Contracting,  leads his team in a project review meeting. Seated from left:  Quantity surveyor Oliver Long, superintendent Serge Tremblay, Mr. DeCouto, quantity surveyor Geoff Law and superintendent Ricky James.
* Photo supplied. Alex DeCouto (centre), president of Greymane Contracting, leads his team in a project review meeting. Seated from left: Quantity surveyor Oliver Long, superintendent Serge Tremblay, Mr. DeCouto, quantity surveyor Geoff Law and superintendent Ricky James.
The boss is in. He celebrated his 34th birthday in January 2010.

Alex DeCouto returned from George Brown College, Toronto in 1999, a graduate of its Construction Management Programme. BCM McAlpine hired him as a quantity surveyor. Over eight years he advanced to project manager.

In 2007, Mr. DeCouto accepted the position of commercial manager at Greymane Contracting Ltd. This gave him 'fairly broad responsibilities and influence.' Two-years later, he organized the buyout of the firm's existing owners to become Greymane Contracting's sole owner and president.

Now with the transition complete, the young Bermudian is revisiting the words he wrote as a former Construction Association of Bermuda president.

He had said: "The role of construction in any economy is to act as an engine for overall economic growth, locally creating thousands of jobs and millions in tax receipts for Government. The fuel feeding that engine is provided through capital investment in the economy... continued capital investment."

That injection of 'fuel' has slowed considerably. Greymane's new owner bought his business at the best of times and the worst of times.

"Obviously, the economic situation is less than ideal; projects are very hard to come by at the moment. But the poor outlook made the buyout more feasible from a financial perspective," Mr. DeCouto said. "And thank you to CAPITAL G for supporting me when 'other' banks wouldn't."

Mr. DeCouto considered himself 'incredibly lucky' in his purchase, for he was also taking on a 'fantastic' team with which he was comfortably familiar.

"It was one of the factors that convinced me to go ahead with the buyout," he said. "It is extremely hard to assemble a similarly skilled and motivated group of people; I almost felt I had to take on the responsibility of keeping them together."

Half of his 40 staff holds the positions of foreman and above. The others ebb and flow in relation to the volume of work.

"There tends to be a swing in requirements as jobs progress," Mr. DeCouto explained.

Where masons are needed early in a project, for example, drywallers are hired towards the end.

He noted: "A single large project like the Reefs Hotel, for instance, would have us double in size."

"Our market is small enough that just two significant projects getting off the ground could have a drastic effect on the overall marketplace. If they do not... job losses will continue to mount. Small businesses in particular will find it very difficult."

But single large projects like the hotel or a couple of such significant projects are few and far between these days, and though Mr. DeCouto was optimistic, he admitted to being "absolutely frightened" once his takeover deal was complete.

He said: "I recall the next day walking on to an industrial site for a tour prior to bidding on a large project. I kept thinking I could bid and win this job, get something wrong on the bid calculation and lose everything. The risk of error was always there, obviously, but for the first time, it was all my risk."

"After a few big bids, I have tempered that fear, but I am also having to deal with the fear of not winning bids, of not having enough work. I explained these fears to another businessman at a cocktail party a while back and he advised that the fear was good, that it will keep me sharp. Well, I am as sharp as a razor."

Mr. DeCouto talked about the intense workload, unending to-do lists and percolating issues. He referred to the 'double-edged sword' of aggressive project pricing to ensure workload and employment and said: "We have to be extra-efficient if we are going to avoid actually losing money."

Long days

His days are long, so time management for this family man is a must. He starts at 5:45am with a reading of the headlines and business news.

"After the kids are in bed, I will usually remote in to our office to catch up on the [100 or more] emails I have neglected during the day... If I have a big bid due or a perplexing situation, it will be very difficult for me to pass out before 11pm."

Mr. DeCouto is proud of this company he bought.

He said: "Basically, Greymane is ready to respond to just about anything the market will throw at it. Something I truly believe is that we are one of the most efficient companies in our sector, and we leverage technology to the fullest extent possible to enable us to act quickly to shifts in the market place."

"Like most businesses, it is all about relationships, and a significant component of my role as president is business development," Mr. DeCouto said. "It is all about the next project. I make it a point of attending functions, serving on committees, taking clients out to dinner. Sounds exciting, but it is hard work. You have to work extremely hard to develop your business networks, particularly in this sector. Our clients are spending millions of dollars at a time and are very discerning."

Alex DeCouto is well aware of being the proverbial 'small fish'.

"Ownership of a major construction company is an incredibly difficult feat to accomplish. If you look at all the major construction companies in Bermuda - BCM McAlpine, D&J, Somers, Correia, they are all second and even third generations operating those businesses. It takes literally, generations, to build up the resources, retained earnings, reputation and most importantly business contacts to be able to maintain a viable business in this sector.

"But I don't believe that I have accomplished anything yet; I've only just stepped through the door," Mr. DeCouto said. "I will have a major fight on my hands to make sure I break through those established networks. But... if it were easy, everyone would be doing it."