By Danielle Wolffe
Real Estate Weekly
Profile In Construction & Design
JUNE 20, 2007
When Rosemarie Gerenia-Friedman, president and founder of WBE Sheet Metal Inc., was a child tagging along on her father’s contracting firm’s jobsites in Pagadian City in the Philippines, she was mesmerized by the work.
She always imagined that, one day, she’d work alongside her father. Still, when political upheaval prompted Gerenia-Friedman to emigrate to the United States with an advanced degree in civil engineering, she was a little surprised to find herself bracketing together a construction business that has stabilized contracts of up to a quarter of a million dollars in New York City.
“I was hesitant at first, I think I would have rather worked on the sidelines,” Friedman said. “But I guess it is in my blood. Both my parents were small business owners. My dad owned a construction business, my mom owned a bakery and that really encouraged me. In a way, it was a dream come true for them to see me follow in their footsteps in that way.”
Friedman’s business allowed her to realize her own dreams as well. She stumbled upon sheet metal quite by accident, when a friend got her a job interview at WENIG Company. She scored a position in the firm’s drafting department. During the next eight years, as she worked her way through the ranks of the industry–as head of the drafting department, vice president of engineering and finally as partner–she watched the skyline and realized she had inadvertently found a material that would help her fit in.
“New York City is in a constant state of change. Tenants are turning over constantly. So if you are in a trade, whether you are able to secure one of the cocktail party projects–like the [Frank] Ghery’s or 7 World Trade, or are just involved in the evolution of office space–there will be plenty of work.
“When I came here, I started to understand there was this niche out there, so decided that rather than becoming a civil engineer, I would devote myself to the sheet metal trade,” Gerenia said.
The changing state of the industry ultimately helped her to capitalize on that devotion when, in 2003, she decided to start WBE Sheet Metal Inc.
“Working with WENIG, I noticed how the requirements for W/MBE (Women & Minority Business Enterprises) often prompted us to sub out all or part of our contracts. Interacting with architects and developers over the years, I came to understand how important the advent of W/MBE requirements were becoming in the industry. I thought to myself, ‘Why not. I am certainly an expert in this field now and I fall under both categories.’ It just made sense to form my own company.”
In doing so, she was able to draw on the hankering for the nuts and bolts of a building she first discovered as a child.
“Building something is very satisfying to me. It is not something abstract. You are not buying and selling something. You are creating something and when you are done it is so satisfying because you can look at that thing and think, I helped build that.”
If Friedman’s track record is any indication, sheet metal was the right fit. Over the years, she has completed work on many of her favorite buildings–from outfitting Radio City Music Hall with Louvres, to stainless steel floor grilles for the Frank Ghery Interactive Building. She has done custom work for the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York at Queens Hospital, the Long Island Jewish Hospital and worked in conjunction with Bovis Lend Lease on installing architectural louvers for 111 Central Park North, a residential high rise.
With bids out for several large contracts, Friedman now looks at the skyline and sees a more prominent place for her business.
“I would be thrilled if we had the opportunity to work on the Freedom Tower and rebuilding of Ground Zero. That is my short term goal. My long term goal is to continue to be involved with the rest of building New York City.
“It is a great city and I take such pride in knowing I contributed–even in the smallest way–to building it. I take great pride in knowing I am a part of it.”
COPYRIGHT 2007 Hagedorn Publication
COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group