Leading Edge Construction Owner Todd Lessard and Director of Business Development Serge Arel spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about their experience building a Connecticut-based business during the height of the pandemic.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. Do either of you have an entrepreneurial spirit?
TODD LESSARD: I come from large family of business owners who immigrated from Canada. So, the entrepreneurial spirit has been in my blood since I was little. I saw my dad working long hours and putting in the effort to make a business. He’s fortunate enough to have retired, which is partly what sparked the idea for Leading Edge Construction.
Serge Lessard, one of my business partners, is one of my uncles. In 2020, shortly before the pandemic, he asked if I wanted to start a business. The other uncles had since retired, he had his own general contracting (GC) business, and I was pursuing my career in construction.
NAN: Serge, how did you became involved?
SERGE AREL: Todd and I met at United Technologies about six years ago. I was working in the corporate real estate and facilities management area and Todd was our team’s construction project manager on site at Collins Aerospace in Windsor Locks, CT. We worked on a fairly large project together and developed a good working relationship.
I retired early and after taking some time off and decompressing, I received a call from Todd, who was thinking of starting this business and wanted to know if I was interested in helping. I said yes.
TODD: As an entrepreneur, having people you can trust in your circle is very important. Serge (Arel) was that to me. He was a mentor and as I was starting I reached out to him for advice. That grew to the partnership and bringing him into the business. I knew I could trust him and he was someone I could rely on to say the right things and present us in the right light.
NAN: Do either of you have experience launching a startup?
TODD: Personally, no, this was my first attempt. I’m fortunate to have Serge Lessard, who built his business from scratch 30 years ago. My parents have been helpful resources too, because they built their business. That goes down the line of the Lessards. There’s a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in the family, so I get a lot of support and they have a lot of knowledge as well.
SERGE: I was briefly self-employed for about a year, which led me to depart from the private architectural business and led me into facilities and corporate real estate with a consulting role at Aetna in their real estate department. That led me down an unexpected path, but it’s been a great journey.
Even though I haven’t run my own business, when I was working at UTC and at Cushman & Wakefield, I developed and ran their businesses for them. I was an account manager, but I was in charge of building the design, construction, and facilities and managing the operations. I had my own profit and loss center. So, I was accountable for both staff and financial performance.
NAN: You were an “intrapreneur,” as we say.
SERGE: Exactly—that’s a good term. So, I was able to transfer that knowledge and skills to what I’m doing now with Leading Edge Construction.
NAN: You’re more than two years in, how has the business evolved? What lessons have you learned?
TODD: The biggest thing is the employees—from our office administrator to bringing on Serge and all the way up to our carpenters. Again, having a base of people you can trust is important. That’s probably been the most challenging thing, finding people who fit our culture, see the vision we’re trying to create, and are willing to put in the work to help us grow. Right now, we have that crew. We have a solid team of 11.
SERGE: In terms of the other challenges, we started in the middle of the pandemic. At the time, a lot of things were shutting down. Initially, our experience was in the corporate office space. We thought we would capitalize on that with the relationships we had in place. But when that work dried up overnight, it pushed us to pursue other things, which has been really good for us.
We started going after more boutique types of projects and we’ve been focusing on developing different relationships. We’ve gone outside our comfort zone, which turned out to be quite healthy for us because it’s created some diversity in our portfolio and service offerings.
For example, one of the hallmark projects we did starting out was building a tap room at Back East Brewery. Since then, we’ve built a couple more tap rooms and worked in historic buildings. We also do a lot of work with nonprofit organizations. Those are all things we didn’t anticipate when we first started out.
NAN: So many industries have dealt with supply chain issues, did that impact the business a lot?
TODD: At first, yes. But our subcontractor team and our background in the corporate space have helped in terms of finding creative solutions. That’s one of the key reasons why our customers keep coming back to us, because we’re able to keep to project schedules and budgets even through these crazy supply chain issues. That’s been very helpful not only to end users, but also to our business as we grow.
SERGE: With the supply chain issues, one of the things that differentiates us from other GCs is our background as owner’s representatives. We’ve been on the owner’s side of the equation. As a result, as GCs, we can work with the owners through the planning process.
And because we’re involved in the planning process, we can anticipate what some of these supply chain issue challenges might look like. We try to plan ahead so when it’s time to implement the project, we’re not scurrying to get some supplies that are delayed.
TODD: One of the reasons I decided to start our own company was to change the business model about what a GC looks like. We’re not so much the wait-and-see type of GC, we’re more proactive about helping the owner accomplish their goals. The relationship creates a little bit more effort on our side, but I think it’s beneficial to everybody.