Profile in Business: The Alliance Group
A conversation with Joseph Freeno, 59, president of The Alliance Group in Rancho Cucamonga. The design-and-build construction firm with eight employees specializes in concrete tilt-ups, mostly for the industrial sector. The Northern California native spoke last week with IE Business Daily about the state of the local economy, the beginnings of his construction career with Fullmer Construction in Ontario, and how his religious faith has helped him succeed in business.
Q: When did you work for Fullmer Construction, and what did you do there?
A: I started there in 1994 and left to start The Alliance Group in 2008. I started as a project manager. I was basically the guy who oversaw everything and made sure a project got built.
Q: Did you work at Fullmer with the idea of eventually striking out on your own?
A: No, not really. In just reached a point, after 14 years, where it seemed like the natural progression of my career was to start my own business.
Q: It sounds like Fullmer was a good place to learn the construction business.
A: It was. They’ve been around since 1946. We would negotiate what needed to be done, draw up the contract, and then start building. And Fullmer had a great stable of subcontractors to draw from. We would use maybe 15 “subs” on one job.
Q: Everyone who has a successful business career takes away at least one lesson from their first job, one thing that they carry with them for the rest of their business life. What did you take away from Fullmer?
A: That if you work hard and do the best you can on a project, and you charge a fair price, you will make a fair profit and the work will continue to come your way. That’s the lesson I took away from being a project manager at Fullmer, and it’s the business model I’ve tried to follow ever since.
Q: You started The Alliance Group in 2008, when the Great Recession started and the economy – and in particular the Inland Empire economy – went into free fall. Even the local construction industry took a hit, although it came back relatively quickly. What was it like starting a business in those conditions?
A: When 2008 started, no one knew that the economy was going to crash. But yes, when we started it was very tough. When we started the economy was doing well, but then it started moving in the wrong direction.
Q: What got you through it?
A: Well, one thing that got me through it was my faith in God. I’m a Christian, and that was when I realized that I could depend on God for anything. If I really need something and asked him for it He would give it to me. It happens over and over again. People who worked for me noticed it. They would say things like ‘I don’t know what that faith of yours is, but I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Q: And now, in addition to your main business – concrete tilt-ups – you also build churches, at a reduced rate.
A: Yes, we’ve done two churches from the ground up and a renovation. The renovation was the most recent one. That was about three years ago.
Q: How different is building a church compared with a regular building?
A: It’s not terribly different. You do have to design them so you can get a lot of people out of the building quickly if there’s an emergency, and the parking is a little different because so much traffic goes in and out of a church at the same time. But we have a good feel of how to design and build a church, especially from the parishioner’s point of view.
Q: Has it affected your regular business?
A: I don’t think it’s helped us that much, although we have gotten some good references out of it. But it’s a separate thing.
Q: Is there anything that The Alliance Group isn’t building now that you would like to start building? A sector that you want to get into?
A: Yes, multifamily. We don’t have enough multifamily in California, and someone will have to build them.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
A: For a couple of months, we didn’t have any projects. Everything just stopped. I was in the office doing paperwork and making phone calls. But the economy has improved from where it was in March, and I think it will keep improving unless we get a change because of the election.
Q: Are you a supporter of President Trump?
A. Absolutely. I think he’s done a great job.
Q: There’s been some speculation about restaurants – especially ones that lease, which most of them do – being in trouble, and that movie theaters might finally become a thing of the past, due to the damage done to the economy by COVID-19.
A: There’s no question that a lot of restaurants are in trouble, but I think most of them will come back. Restaurants are about food but they’re also about social interaction, about people going out being around other people. So the players may change, but I think most of the restaurants will survive.
Q: And movie theaters?
A: I agree that movie theaters are in some trouble. Netflix is great, and they can stream movies into your home with no problem, which is a lot more convenient. So I can see where movie theaters might go away.
Q: Are you working in any markets besides Southern California?
A: We’ve done some work in Tacoma, Wash., and in Denver. Right now, in San Antonio, were working on converting a 13-story office building into a multifamily. That’s the first project we’ve done in Texas.