Generations of builders

By TC Brown
Photos by Will Shilling

Building as a family affair is by no means a rarity in central Ohio. The area boasts several families in which commercial real estate is now carried on by second generations, and in some cases, third generations. Those organizations include the Robert Weiler Company, Pizzuti Companies, The Daimler Group, Virginia Homes and the Hadler Companies, among others. Some of these organizations' founders envisioned a legacy for their families; in other instances, family participation simply evolved. 

The Pizzuti Companies

The Pizzuti Companies
Two Miranova Place, Suite 220
Columbus 43215

Employees: 48
Signature projects: The Joseph (under construction) in Short North, Miranova condos and office building
Built more than 11 million square feet of business development 

Family and the family name has definitely taken center stage with the Pizzuti Companies, which is hip deep in what it considers a signature project, the Joseph. This development under construction in the Short North includes the Le Meridien Columbus, a boutique hotel, an art gallery, a 60,000-square-foot office and retail building and a parking garage.

The project is named for patriarch Joseph Pizzuti, a factory worker who “dabbled on the side” in student housing in Kent, Ohio. His grandson, Joel, president of Pizzuti Companies, said he and his father, Ronald, the company’s chairman and CEO, came up with the idea of using his grandfather’s name while sipping martinis.

“We were speaking about how important this was to the family and that we needed a strong, powerful name . . . and how my grandfather introduced real estate to my father,” Joel says. “We considered a lot of different names, but a lot of it seemed trite, and every time we said ‘Joseph,’ it felt right.”

Ronald Pizzuti and his wife Ann created the Pizzuti Companies in 1976, working out of a trailer with a desktop copier and a pickup truck. They started with foreclosure listings and graduated to building twin single apartments and buying and restoring buildings downtown. Today, the company employs 48 people, including son Joel, who got the building bug early on.

“My favorite toy was Legos,” Joel remembers. “The family business has always been an everyday part of our lives, and I thought that is something I would like to try.”

But that passion waned as Joel grew older, and although he and his father were close, he set his career sights on professional sports, working for a couple of years for the Columbus Crew. When he was 25, a major apparel company offered Joel a job out of town, but at the same time, his father wanted to grow his company and asked him to come aboard.

“It was an exciting time, and I knew I could learn from him and the folks with him and get a head start on my career, and the job sounded incredibly cool,” Joel says. “If I didn’t like it or was not good at it, I could get it out of my system and know I tried it and we could both move forward.

“I love what I do today, and I think I would have regretted it had I not joined my father,” he adds.

And his dad is happy to have him aboard, calling him a hard working, creative visionary with good values. High compliments, indeed, but that doesn’t mean Dad foregoes passing on his own wisdom.

“Joel gets ‘Ronisms’ every week; little things that are important to me, I try to pass on,” Ronald says. “He pays heed to some and ignores others. We are respectful of each other, and the vast majority of the time we are on the same wavelength.”

Growing up, Joel and his two sisters were tuned in to the family business and both the girls were involved in aspects of it, but they have moved on.

“This is a very hands-on business, from the time it gets conceived until the last nail and certification of occupancy, and then it is leased, sold and sometimes held. It’s a long process of four to five years from conception to final stage,” Ronald says. “In our case, our daughters went on and had babies.”

But the Pizzutis and other local developers believe that women will begin taking the reins in the future. It’s already occurred in some areas of the country: for instance, Penny Pritzker, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, founded PSP Capital Partners and Pritzker Realty Group in Chicago; and Lizanne Galbreath Megrue is the managing partner of Galbreath and Company, with Ohio roots, in New York City.

The Pizzutis gather once a year to discuss business, but no rules exist prohibiting such dialogue at other times, though one family member tries to impose limits.

“My mother tries to implement rules about not talking business during family time, but that doesn’t usually work out very well,” the younger Pizzuti says. “We are a family business, and the family is pretty well intertwined.”