| Life Lessons
Joseph Lopez, president and CEO of Sierra Metals
» When you have two entrepreneurs who collaborate, that’s a challenge.
» There has to be a lead dog. Someone has to take ownership and control,
and you fight for that No. 1 position. That’s a lesson I didn’t think I
» Sometimes there is conflict. The way we worked it out was I was always
working on the business, and he was working for the business. We took a
strategic planning course together and decided, we will make these
» When you are working on a project where things are fast paced with a
lot of deadlines, you have to be ready and willing to give 100 percent,
24 hours a day.
» On CityCenter, we faced a lot of different designers and engineers who
were allowed to be creative. ... You had to keep up with these guys. We
never rested. We had to man-up and deliver.”
» You have to have some faith and confidence that the people you are
working with will pay you for what they contract you to do. We can’t
just decide we want to wait to pay taxes or tell the union guys we’ll
pay them when we get paid.
Sierra Metals sells precision in sheets of brass, titanium, aluminum and zinc.
That’s how the Mentor-based metal fabricator has grown from $1.1 million in revenue to $16 million in just two years and how it landed multimillion-dollar construction contracts for projects such as the MGM Mirage’s 68-acre CityCenter in Las Vegas.
Take the pool canopy at Vdara Hotel & Spa, for example, part of Sierra’s contract to supply high-end fabricated metal for the exteriors and design architecture of three CityCenter resort hotels.
Composed of thousands of square feet of aluminum composite material, Sierra’s craftspeople worked on tolerances that came to within thousandths of an inch and hundredths of a degree.
“People would say, ‘You guys are building a Rolex as a construction contractor,’ ” says Joseph Lopez, Sierra president and CEO.
Like a fine watchmaker, it’s an art born of experience. Lopez worked for about 20 years in the contracting industry as the founder and president of Willoughby-based New Era Builders before he took over Sierra Metals in 2007.
Yet, the company’s beginnings were anything but clockwork.
Sierra’s current vice president, Andy Russo Jr., a Cleveland native, moved to Las Vegas several years ago to start a subcontracting company that made metal signs. But Russo’s company faltered.
When Russo sought financial and business help, Lopez took an equity stake in the company and became the chief executive. “I went out there to Las Vegas and replaced the people he had in place,” Lopez says. Some were let go, others were redirected, and the company was retooled.
Sierra came out of the slump as a supplier of fabricated metal products with a suite of services to back it up, including installation and consulting services.
Early contracts were tough to come by. “We had to persuade them we had the capabilities,” Lopez says. “As a minority firm, all we’ve asked is give us an opportunity to be successful for you.”
CityCenter, an $11 billion complex of resorts, casinos, residences, retail and entertainment space, provided traction for the company, as did its work on the Trump International Hotel and Encore at Wynn, both in Las Vegas, and the new Cincinnati Red Cross headquarters. “We chipped away on the resistance,” he says.
Sierra is currently being courted for work in California, Pennsylvania, Utah and overseas, Lopez says.
In the pipeline is a large parking garage for University Hospitals in Cleveland with elaborate metal design elements. “The design is cutting edge,” Lopez says. “It is a really unique building because it sits at the doorstep of University Hospitals, and it will look like a cool Frank Gehry type of building. It will be the most beautiful parking garage in Cleveland.”
The company has grown to about 60 employees, including LEED-certified professionals, architects and an on-staff IT professional.
The company’s holistic approach to subcontracting is what sets it apart from its competitors in the market and helps it grow, Lopez says. “We have all the answers before we go in,” he says. “We try to eliminate the, ‘Oh [shoot]’ moment. Most subcontractors won’t share that information until they get rewarded for it; we offer it upfront.”
During the construction of that pool canopy on the CityCenter project, there were issues with the concrete, Lopez says, but Sierra made it work anyway.
“We stepped up and took care of it,” he says. “No one wants to hear, ‘It’s not my job.’ We just said, ‘These are conditions we need to overcome.’ ”