Growing up in the Fingerlakes Construction business started in 1969 by his father, Frank, Bob Brisky pretty much knew where he was going to work after graduating from college. He just didn’t expect to land in a management role quite as quickly as it turned out.
Brisky was a senior at Ithaca College in New York in 1982 when his father, after triple bypass surgery, announced he was going to Florida to recuperate — and retire. “He said, ‘I’m going to Florida,’ and he threw me the keys,” Brisky recalls. That was it.
Brisky was a few months short of graduation, but he managed to step into his father’s place and graduate in May with degrees in psychology and business administration.
“The ‘boy boss,’ they called me,” says Brisky. The younger Brisky wasn’t new to the business, having worked on construction crews. “But I never was in management,” he says. “Dad and I never really worked together.” Pausing a moment, he adds, “Maybe we wouldn’t have worked too well together. It might have been the father-son epic struggle.”
Never out of touch
Regardless, the employees stuck with their young boss, who kept in close touch with his father, asking questions and getting advice as he needed it. “He wanted to know what was going on,” says Brisky. He came home (to New York) in summers. And he always wanted to know where his checks were.”
New York State was spending money on the construction of sewage treatment plants in small towns, and Brisky pursued that work, winning bids on post-frame buildings that fit well into the treatment plant projects.
Conscious of how young he was, Brisky sent his girlfriend Terri, whom he later married, to deliver bids so that no one would know just how young the leadership at Fingerlakes Construction really was. “I was very conscious of that (youth),” he says.
“Father had a good name in business for 13 years before I took over, so the company name was out there,” says Brisky, “but post-frame buildings in ‘82 were a niche market.”
Still, Fingerlakes got into the competition and won enough bids that, when architects and engineers started looking for people in other municipal projects — firehouses, town halls, garages — the Fingerlakes name popped up again and again and work kept coming.
Having tagged along with his dad to NFBA events and shows, (he calls it “getting dragged along”), Brisky was acquainted with industry leaders and organizations, and they with him.
Brisky soon joined NFBA and got involved right from the start. He credits tutelage from FBi Buildings’ Barry Bahler, a 2002 Rural Builder Hall of Fame inductee, and other NFBA leaders, with helping him grow in the industry.
Brisky served as president of the North Atlantic chapter of NFBA. In 1998, he took a took a seat on the NFBA board of directors, served as the board chairperson in 2001 and 2002, and holds a seat on the current board. He served as chairperson of the 2010 Expo in Louisville.
Under Brisky’s leadership the original small post-frame construction company, with 10 employees, has grown into a whole family of businesses employing more than 200 people in Brisky Supply Company, Park Lane Construction and Fingerlakes Garage Door Company.
An eye on the future
Brisky says that responsibility for the companies and the 200 people and their families who depend on them inspire him to want to put a structured management plan in place and “create leadership in the company so that I can be not quite as important…in case something happens to me, it doesn’t affect the other 200 employees.” Brisky adds that he is turning 50 soon.
Celebrating that milestone has inspired Brisky to push another dream to reality. In April he’ll be hunting plains game in Namibia on Africa’s southern Atlantic coast. Bagging an antelope or other prize, he confesses, is a lifelong ambition.
At the Louisville event were Brisky’s wife Terri and Ryan, 22, eldest of their three sons. Ryan works in the metal roll forming arm of the business.