Friends of the Family: Sean Venables and Mark Petersen of Duran and Venables, Inc.
Posted by Robert Ellenwood on Mar 18, 2015
CEO Sean Venables and his partner Mark Petersen recently described the company’s behavior-based safety program. “It was slow getting this approach started, but what we’ve seen is a change in attitude about safety among people in the field. Their concern for each other’s well-being, where everyone is looking out for each other, has made a big, big difference.
Sean went on to explain more. “It is pretty amazing. People have embraced this cultural change, and now actually talk about safety during their lunch breaks. We have a saying, ‘Show me you care, make me aware.’ With this way of looking at safety, instead of expecting the safety officer to be the one responsible, people are looking at what others are doing, and saying things like, ‘Don’t forget your seatbelt’ or ‘Watch out for that truck that is backing up.’ This goes on all day long – people are constantly looking at what impacts their work areas. It is also important that they know, these guys really care about us and want us to watch out for each other. They realize we are interested in them and their safety – it’s not just another speech."
Duran and Venables has been a Graniterock customer from early on. “It’s been a good relationship,” said Sean. “We like the products and service, and they take care of us.
Sean Venables grew up in Visalia and studied at San Jose State. In 1978, he and Charlie Duran bought a wheel tractor and went into business together. They had worked together at Neu Brothers, an offshoot of Freeman Sondgroth in Santa Clara. “Our philosophy at the time was, let’s do a really good job for people and maybe they’ll hire us again,” said Sean. It seems to have worked.
Mark Petersen grew up in the construction business. “My dad and his brother came to San Jose from Fresno, and in 1954 they started Petersen Brothers Construction.” Mark went to college at San Jose State and decided to join Duran and Venables in 1982. In 1999, Charlie Duran retired and Mark became a partner with Sean.
“Our business is grading and paving,” said Mark. “Ninety-five percent of the business is private, and it always has been. Public work is a different mindset, and we have preferred to not have to switch back and forth.” Although their work is centered in the Bay Area, the company has found a niche in providing highly precise grading and paving for athletic track installations throughout California. Italian Mondo tracks, which are rolled out like a carpet and glued to an asphalt base, require extremely tight specifications with little or no deviation. Coming up soon is a track installation as a part of the remodel of Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.
Another interesting market for this company has been in wind farm developments throughout the state. “We do the grading work for the access roads,” said Mark. “It is fun because of the challenge. This kind of project is out of the norm.” When asked if Duran and Venables has a particular specialty, the answer from Sean and Mark is clear. “Service to the customer is our main focus. Pay attention to the customer. It really pays you back tremendously.”
The people of Duran and Venables have a commitment to community service, and support the Second Harvest Food Bank Annual Food Drive with a fundraising barbecue run by employees who decided to get behind the effort. The company helps Habitat for Humanity with paving, grading and driveway installations, and is also involved with a new 4.1 acre Rotary park playground going in near San Jose International Airport, providing a play experience for children regardless of their abilities.
Duran and Venables has many longtime employees, and “Everybody seems to stick around,” according to Sean, who is clearly proud of the company’s family feeling. Sean and his wife Kandi have been married for 42 years, their daughter Alexi is a teacher , and their son Ross is a photographer whose work is showcased on office walls. Cathleen, Mark’s wife of 32 years, has a financial planning business, their son John is a teacher, and their daughter Katie works part-time at the company while she pursues a master's degree in music at San Jose State.
Mark and Sean describe themselves as low key guys who have “really good people who have been here with us from day one.” Perhaps their greatest challenge is to find good people to fill open positions, but with the great core values of this company, that shouldn’t be a problem.
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