New chief Vincent Johnson copes with slump


March 11, 1991|By Ellen James Martin

Given the severe recession in commercial real estate, Riparius Construction Inc. has been going through a difficult period. Sales at the Timonium company dropped from $30 million in 1989 to $15 million last year.

But the construction firm is coping, says Vincent G. Johnson, 56, who was recently named president and chief executive officer.

To avert layoffs, the firm has become more aggressive in its marketing and has willingly accepted projects on a break-even basis.

"We're working harder to get jobs and doing jobs at cost," says Mr. Johnson, who succeeded the recently retired Thomas H. Brooke at Riparius Construction. Mr. Johnson had been executive vice president.

Mr. Johnson, a resident of Shrewsbury, Pa., who has logged35 years with construction-related companies, says this is one of the toughest times he's seen in the industry.

In this recession, bank lending to developers has been severely restricted. "I've experienced the ups and downs of recessions, but they never seemed to have the impact on the overall construction industry that this one has because they weren't as affected by the banks," he says.

Still, Mr. Johnson is optimistic about the company's future because, under his direction, it is becoming "intensely customer oriented."

"I'm going to be a selling president as opposed to just a technical president who gives all his attention to overseeing the construction," he says.

PD Riparius Construction, which calls itself a "design/build" compa

because it oversees all aspects of a construction project from design to completion, employs 23 people.

It has just completed two industrial renovation projects: one for a McCormick & Co. foil packaging facility in Hunt Valley and another for a Mercedes-Benz vehicle preparation facility in Belcamp. Riparius is now construction manager for the renovation of a school building for the Kennedy Institute for Handicapped Children in Baltimore.

Mr. Johnson, a civil engineer who has been associated with Riparius Construction since its incorporation in 1987, worked prior to that as vice president of operations at the former McCormick Construction Co.

Some of the major projects he was involved in during his years at McCormick include: The Farm Credit Bank of Baltimore, Lancaster Square in Pennsylvania, Silver Spring Metro Plaza, Hunt Valley Inn and Embassy Suites hotels in Baltimore and Richmond, Va.

Riparius Construction is a subsidiary of Riparius Corp., a Timonium-based holding company, which also provides real estate development and engineering services through Riparius Development Corp. and Century Engineering.

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