February 27, 2024

Square Feet | The 30-Minute Interview: Mark Varian

The company was founded in 1886.

Interview conducted and condensed by Vivian Marino

Q John Gallin Son started 125 years ago this year. How are you celebrating the anniversary?

A It’s a great milestone. This firm has made it through several wars, the Great Depression, the great recession — you name it.

We’ve been having small gatherings with special clients. For our 120th year we did a rather big splash, but we didn’t feel that the atmosphere out there was one that would really benefit from another event. It’s been tough for the construction industry.

Q Has business picked up at all?

A We had a rough year last year. This year is considerably better — our fiscal year ends this month.

Q How many projects are you working on?

A We’re probably handling 30 to 35 projects. We do everything from the $1,000 job to multimillion-dollar jobs. The size of the job this year has definitely increased.

Q Who are some of your current clients?

A Well, we do ongoing work with Wells Fargo here in New York, on their corporate side. We’re still doing work for Ann Taylor — who over the years is probably our biggest client — at the corporate headquarters at 7 Times Square. We just did a 200,000-square-foot demolition for Mitsui Fudosan at 1251 Avenue of the Americas, the Exxon Building.

Q Is most of your work in New York City?

A Most of our work is on Manhattan Island. We prefer to walk to our jobs.

Q Are you still doing many office prebuilts ?

A We’re continuing to do a lot of prebuilts. That used to be a trend that would only happen in a down real estate market, but it seems to be continuing, and they’re higher-end. Most of the major building owners in the city are spending good money and putting in great materials.

Q Are there any trends in building materials and designs?

A As the market improves, we start to see more use of stone floors or woodwork, and a lot of glass and metal — the expensive elements of interior construction. They want that look, and they want that sustainability, and if they’re going to be there for 10 years they want it to last.

The next generation coming in doesn’t want the old-fashioned office; they want the open space. We’re also doing a lot of window wall installations.

Q Why has the company focused on interiors?

A Ninety-five percent of our work is interior. We usually work directly for a tenant, or we’ll work for the building owner.

After World War II, when suddenly office space had to be created for the returning G.I.’s, major companies built out office after office knowing they had to put these guys back to work. And it was at the same time that air-conditioning was introduced. So all the old building stock had to be upgraded.

Q How many family members are working at the firm?

A At the moment, eight. There are four principals, which are three brothers and myself; and we have a project manager; a couple of administrative folks; and the woman who operates our plan desk. We’re fourth- and fifth-generation.

Q The company has always been headed by a family member; your mom was a Gallin. Is there someone waiting in the wings to take over after you retire?

A Everybody’s a half Gallin in the Gallin family, even though they have the name.

We haven’t decided who would take over. The other principals are considerably younger; it will be their determination.

Q Have you had to deal with any family clashes in the business?

A Certainly, and they probably do bite a little deeper than a typical professional conflict, but they’re few and far between.

People always ask, why work in a family business? Well, we’re never really able to choose exactly who we’re going to work for or with, or have work for you. But when it’s a family member and blood is involved, and there’s a certain commitment and understanding of a culture, it just makes it a lot more enriching.

Q You didn’t start out in the construction business — you were actually trained as a Shakespearean actor.

A I spent 10 years in the theater, all in regional theater.

Q Why did you leave it?

A I needed money.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=827b68eeaf81fa617fecc67543b003e5

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