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Frank Campanaro of Trillacorpe Construction

When Wall Street crashed and credit lines dried up, Campanaro relied on his military training to lead his company through the tough times.
"I'm not the only one who's sacrificed." —Frank Campanaro
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Frank Campanaro's military training has served him well in his business career. When his company, Trillacorpe Construction of Bingham Farms, Michigan, faced a series of setbacks after the 2008 financial crisis, Campanaro was prepared to do whatever it would take to keep the business going.

Construction companies need to be bonded, and bonding companies require a credit line and a reserve, in case there's an accident and your cash flow can't cover it. So we had a credit line, and we put up 100 percent collateral. But after the Wall Street crash, the bank refused to renew the line. So we were winning contracts, but we couldn't get the resources to get our work done. We were in danger of dying of indigestion.

So now we partner with other companies that have bonding in reserve, and we let them take the lion's share. We create the work. Trillacorpe has become a master of winning government work: My partners and I were in the military for years, and we understand federal procurement well.

The Wall Street collapse slowed us down, but we were still growing. Then, last May, our certification as a veteran-owned business expired. We had been certified since 2008, but the Department of Veterans Affairs requires companies to reapply every year, and they found problems with our application. We could no longer bid on Veterans First contracts, which were at the heart of our business. We also lost the $5 million in contracts we were about to win. It's had a tremendous effect on us. We've had to lay off around 25 people. I reduced my salary to virtually nothing.

I could have taken more money out of the company, but that would have prevented me from being able to travel and go win work. The day I stop traveling is the day our reputation starts to die. So I made a decision to let go of my assets so that the company could stay alive. I sold my car, and I stopped paying on my house and the other real estate I owned. The other properties were taken immediately, but I was able to stay in my home for six months. After that, I was basically sleeping on the couches of friends and family.

Being able to provide work for others drives me. I was an Airborne Ranger, and in the Ranger Creed, there is one line I live by: I will complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor. That's how I operate my business. We figured out a way to get bonding without a credit line, so I knew we would figure this out. We've diversified into other agencies, including the Department of Energy and the EPA. It's been 16 months since we lost our certification, but we're finally back on track.

I'm not the only one who's sacrificed. Three of my partners also lost their homes, and two are declaring personal bankruptcy. But we're all still here. We're in the process of getting our certification again. We've lost some of our employees to other companies, but we've been able to hire others back. I believe that we are going to triple in size over the next five years, at minimum. The madness that we've gone through only makes us 10 times more ferocious than any of our competitors.

IMAGE: Ben Baker
From the September 2011 issue of Inc. magazine




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