Ricardo Souza reinvented himself as a plumbing contractor
Spotlight on EFR Mechanical
In his native Brazil, Ricardo Souza was proficient with boom microphones and video cameras. Construction tools, however? Not so much.
“I didn’t even know how to hold a hammer before I got here,” Souza says. Which is pretty extraordinary, considering that he is now the owner of EFR Mechanical, a growing plumbing and heating contractor. As you might expect, Souza’s success story is one filled with determination and singular focus. “You have to work hard in this life,” he says, sharing the drive that motivates him.
But Souza didn’t go it completely alone. His story also demonstrates how Local 12 can help enterprising plumbers realize their dreams of opening their own shops.
When he was a young teenager, Souza started working as an office boy for an advertising agency. He later held lights during video production shoots, then learned how to operate a camera, and eventually became proficient at editing the commercials and political videos that the agency developed.
After getting married, he decided to venture out on his own and open his own video production company. In order to finance the company, a friend suggested Souza go to the U.S., work for one year, and save the money he would make. 16 years later, he is still here.
“Everybody looks for the American dream,” Souza says, referring to the misconception that the country’s streets are paved with gold, and easy money is readily available. “It’s not as simple as everybody thinks.”
Landing in Boston because he has a friend who lives in the city, Souza did what many locals do: He went to a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts. While there, a plumber happened to come in looking for a laborer to help with a job and offered Souza the work. So began his plumbing career.
That plumber, Rick MacKinnon, admired Souza’s work ethic and took him under his wing. Souza began apprenticing with MacKinnon while working at (where else?) Dunkin’ Donuts at night to earn extra dollars. He also began fixing computers on the side in whatever free time he could find.
With the money he was earning, Souza maintained the dream of opening his own television production company and even bought a video camera thinking that he might start his business in Boston. But a funny thing happened.
“I found I really enjoyed plumbing,” Souza says. “I also realized I could make a good living at it.”
So he ditched the extra jobs and focused on plumbing. Souza worked most of the day with MacKinnon. Ever the entrepreneur and hard worker, he also bought a truck and tools and did service work on the side.
The people at his non-union shop didn’t speak well about the union, repeating many of the common myths that paint a false picture about organized labor and often prevent workers from making decisions that are in their own best interest. Since Souza didn’t know anything about unions, he took the misrepresentations at face value and continued working for the open shop.
“Then I made friends with someone who was in Boston Laborers Union Local 223,” says Souza. The friend talked about the health insurance he was getting, the retirement plan the union offered, and other benefits. “I thought I was doing okay, but I didn’t realize what I didn’t have,” Souza added, noting that he always struggled trying to pay for health insurance.
Upon learning about the benefits, Souza’s wife, Fabiane, encouraged him to look into Plumbers Local 12. His mentor, MacKinnon, had joined Local 12 by that time and also encouraged him. The day he got his license, Souza contacted the union and never looked back.
“In addition to the benefits, the money I started making was way better than at my non-union job,” he says. Souza began working for GBPCA contractors CMP Plumbing and Heating and American Plumbing and Heating. Among the projects he worked on for American was a building for MIT in Kendall Square. About a year after he joined Local 12, Souza got his Master Plumber license and began thinking about opening his own shop.
Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager, assured Souza that the union would support him if he started a shop. That gave Souza the courage to take the leap and form EFR Mechanical. He started the business in April 2020, just as the pandemic began wreaking havoc, as a one-person shop.
At first, Souza relied on Plumbers 911, Local 12’s marketing service that connects union shops with homeowners and small businesses seeking plumbing services. The referrals kept him busy with service work. He says that after completing the work, the customers would often turn into clients and call him back for additional projects. Word of mouth also led to additional work, as his clients referred EFR.
About a year after he started his shop, Souza now has three plumbers working for him. But he’s only just begun growing the business. He has been bidding construction projects and will be starting work on two apartment buildings in Boston. One is a 210-unit building that will begin in September, and the other is an 88-unit building slated for October.
“When I need help for these bigger jobs, I know I’ll be able to get the manpower from the hall,” Souza says. That kind of backing empowers him to think even bigger. Looking to the future, Souza says he envisions having “at least 100 people work here.”
Fandel is a big cheerleader for EFR and Souza. “He is so motivated,” the Local 12 leader says. “I know he will be successful.”
With a little help, it turns out Souza is living the American dream after all.