In a culture that is largely obsessed with self-promotion, the construction industry generally remains unassuming. But even among construction management firms, John Moriarty & Associates (JMA) is especially humble.
Although it is responsible for building some of the biggest, most complex, and most noteworthy projects in the region and beyond, people outside of the industry may not be familiar with the company.
“You’ll never see giant JMA banners at job sites,” notes Joe Valante, president of GBPCA contractor Valante Mechanical. His father first did work for JMA about 20 years ago and developed a great working relationship with its namesake founder and president, John Moriarty. To this day, many of Valante Mechanical’s largest projects are with JMA, and Joe has carried on the relationship with Moriarty. “His work speaks for itself. He prefers to be behind the scenes,” Valante adds.
But behind the scenes, Moriarty has made an indelible mark with marquee buildings such as 111 Huntington at the Prudential Center, the world headquarters of Novartis in Cambridge, and the 1.2-million-square-foot Atlantic Wharf high rise along Boston’s waterfront. And he’s done it by being fair, by focusing on quality, and by developing relationships based on goodwill and mutual trust.
He diverged from his original path
Although he always enjoyed working with his hands and even built a few kitchens to make some extra dollars while he was getting his undergraduate degree, there was never any grand plan for Moriarty to go into the construction business. Instead, he had set his sights on becoming a lawyer.
Another way that Moriarty helped pay his way through college was by becoming a union laborer and working during school breaks. The experience opened his eyes and introduced him to the building trades. Deciding he wanted to take a break from his education, Moriarty deferred applying to law school and went to work for Turner Construction instead.
“It was supposed to be for one year,” Moriarty says about his commitment to the large Boston company. “But I fell in love with the business.”
He started as a field engineer trainee. Putting together intricate deals, working alongside everyone from major bank presidents to union apprentices, and seeing projects go from ideas to architectural plans to humming construction sites to actual buildings all fascinated Moriarty. He quickly recognized and appreciated the importance that developing and maintaining relationships played in every aspect of the industry.
What was supposed to last one year turned into a 12-year tenure with Turner. Moriarty says that it was a great training ground, but he was itching to get out on his own. In 1985 he started JMA with “not a dime.” Luckily, he says, Boston Properties took a chance and hired his new firm to construct a major project. “Then we were off to the races.”
Partnership with labor and subcontractors
JMA quickly began establishing itself in the region. Among its more interesting and complex projects was a laboratory building for Millennium Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge. GBPCA contractor American Plumbing and Heating worked on the project for JMA. That led to buildings for other biomedical and pharmaceutical clients such as Takeda Pharmaceutical Company in Cambridge and Alkermes in Waltham.
“As the work became more complicated, it became obvious to me that I was the beneficiary of this fabulous workforce,” Moriarty says about the subcontractors and the union building trades workers they employ. “It’s really in partnership with them. I realized I could have the best plumbers and other trades. They can do anything.”
The workers are able to perform at such a high level because of the union, Moriarty contends. “We understand the Local 12 labor force. Most of the work we do requires their sophistication and the training they get. We’re never at a loss for qualified, competent labor even when we are busy as hell,” he says.
One of the reasons the building trades unions are able to maintain an exemplary labor force is because of their apprenticeship programs. According to Moriarty, unions and the subcontractors with which they work have a “miraculous relationship” with apprentices. “It’s an amazing thing,” he says in praise of the programs and the apprenticeship concept. “To this day it amazes me.”
Moriarty also understands it is more than just the training that distinguishes the organized building trades. “The reason it works is that the labor force has high paying jobs that come with excellent benefits, and the unions are extremely well run. The workers are highly motivated. It’s pretty terrific.”
Of course, it’s important for the unions and subcontractors to have general contractors like JMA developing projects and creating job opportunities. The system works because it is mutually beneficial for all parties. “We’ve always enjoyed a strong working relationship with John and JMA,” says Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager. “We are proud to work with him, and we are grateful for the work he and his company provides for our members.”
Cooperation and collaboration
Moriarty says that much has changed over the 47 years he has been in the industry, especially the incorporation of computers and digital processes. But the one thing that has remained constant is the need to nurture and sustain relationships. He says that people think that construction is a litigious business and that everyone is always fighting one another. While Moriarty allows that the business used to be more combative and that groups don’t always see eye to eye on everything, he’s proud of the fact that JMA has never gone to litigation in its 35-year history.
That’s probably largely due to his demeanor, attitude, and leadership. “His word is his bond,” attests Joe Clancy, president of American Plumbing and Heating, referring to Moriarty. “A handshake is all you need to know a deal has been made. That’s quite a rarity in today’s world.”
For his part, Moriarty says that project owners, contractors, subcontractors, and others involved in the construction of the kind of large-scale projects that is JMA’s specialty “should be enabling each other to be successful. Cooperation and collaboration is how you get the best possible result.”
JMA does not solicit multiple bids so it can award subcontracting jobs to the lowest bidders, according to Moriarty. Instead, he prefers to work with a handful of shops that have a proven quality history and in which he has confidence. Again, it’s about relationships.
“Besides being excellent subcontractors, I’d like to believe that we also think of each other as friends,” adds Moriarty.
In addition to its Boston-area headquarters in Winchester, the company has expanded to Connecticut, the DC area, and Florida. Among current JMA projects is One Congress, the stylish anchor building at Bulfinch Crossing in downtown Boston that will be the new headquarters for State Street Corp. Another signature project is Boston Landing along the Mass. Pike in Brighton, which includes New Balance’s headquarters and training facilities for the Celtics and the Bruins. Valante Mechanical has done much of the work on the multi-use campus.
Now 70, Moriarty says that he has had a good run and considers himself lucky. Not that he or his company are showing any signs of slowing down. After all, there are more signature buildings to be built and more relationships to be forged.