Virginia Tech Magazine
Fall 2007 [ Feature ]

We've all heard them, probably even used them at some point: "like father, like son"; "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree"; "a chip off the ol' block."

Such platitudes could perhaps be accurate in describing engineering executive Leo Vecellio Jr. (civil engineering '68), whose father, Leo Vecellio (civil engineering '38), is the namesake of Virginia Tech's Vecellio Construction Engineering and Management Program, along with the program's Vecellio Professorship of Construction Engineering and Management, in the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

With such a powerful pedigree, this son has done well to emulate his father. Nonetheless, Vecellio Jr.'s commitment to strengthening the family business and his indisputable success at its helm ultimately place him far beyond tired clichés.

The family business

Co-founded in 1938 by Vecellio Sr. with his father, an Italian immigrant, and brother-in-law, Eugene Grogan, Vecellio & Grogan began as a small construction firm in West Virginia. Carefully cultivated over the years, the firm grew substantially to become the flagship company of the Vecellio Group, a family of major development and contracting firms that now ranks among the largest heavy/highway construction firms in the nation.

Comprised of Sharpe Brothers, White Rock Quarries, Ranger Construction Industries, Ranger Construction–South, and Vecenergy, with company headquarters in Beckley, W.Va.; Greensboro, N.C.; and West Palm Beach, Fla., the Vecellio Group boasts some 1,600 employees--and a reach that extends across the United States and into Europe.

Vecellio Jr. now oversees the conglomerate, which is consistently ranked among the country's top 200 contractors and top 25 heavy/highway contractors, as listed by Engineering News-Record. The group's mining operations make it the 17th largest aggregate producer in the United States, and its primary site, White Rock Quarries in Miami, ranks as the second-largest producing single-site quarry in the nation.

"I'm very pleased with the way we've been able to grow the organization, both geographically and into related lines of business," Vecellio says. "This diversification allows us to be much more resistant to the economic cycles of any one market segment. As a result, we are a better employer to our employees, able to avoid the typical boom and bust of the construction industry with its cycles of hiring and layoffs."

Among the company's most exciting ventures of late is its new energy division, Vecenergy, which provides services and products in the petroleum, fuel, and alternative fuel industries.

The division is focusing on biodiesel, a renewable, alternative fuel made entirely from vegetable oils, plant oils, or animal fat--not fossil fuel--that burns cleanly in regular diesel engines and produces fewer emissions. Vecenergy BIDA--a partnership between Vecenergy and Diodiesel de Andalucia (BIDA)--builds and operates biodiesel plants based on what Vecellio describes as "a highly advanced production method protected by worldwide patents. This method uses one of the industry's most efficient processes for producing biodiesel--a continuous production process that accepts any combination of available feedstocks simultaneously," he explains.

The use of biodiesel is well established in Europe, and Vecenergy, by invitation of the Spanish government, broke ground in March for a biodiesel production plant in Leon, Spain, which will be the largest bio-diesel operation in the country. Ever mindful of an ecologically sound opportunity, the company is planning a similar plant in Central America and is looking at myriad other opportunities for expansion, eventually including the United States, Vecellio says.

The business of family

Vecellio's decision to attend Virginia Tech was based on the career path he had mapped out for himself. "I knew I was going to join the family construction business so that allowed me to concentrate on the courses I knew would be most helpful," he says. "Virginia Tech provided a very solid foundation for my career, particularly in soil mechanics and structures."

Left to right: Michael Vecellio '01, Leo Vecellio Jr. '68, and Christopher Vecellio.

Before joining the family business in 1973, however, Vecellio earned a master's degree in civil engineering and construction management from Georgia Tech and then served as an officer in the Air Force, managing construction projects in Southeast Asia and in support of the U.S. space program at tracking stations in the United States and around the world.

Today, although he's fully invested in running the family business, Vecellio always finds time to give back to his alma mater. Like his father, he's a member of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering's Academy of Distinguished Alumni, as well as its Committee of 100, a widely regarded and respected alumni group comprised primarily of management executives and entrepreneurs who are, in the College of Engineering Dean Richard Benson's words, "active participants in advancing the progress of the college and providing for its needs."

And speaking of "active participants," joining Vecellio in the family business are his two sons, Michael (management '01) and Christopher, an alumnus of Brown University. "With their expertise in engineering, business, and law, Christopher and Michael have spearheaded some additional directions for the corporate group, not only growing our construction businesses, but also adding to our aggregate mining and distribution operations and expanding into new opportunities in the petroleum and energy industries," Vecellio notes.

"I'm very proud to see our two sons join the business and begin to excel as the fourth generation of family-owned and -operated management," he adds. "Most businesses never make it to the second or third generation, so I'm particularly proud to be transitioning to our fourth.

"We are very excited about the Vecellio Group's new energy division and its numerous opportunities for growth," Vecellio admits. "Vecenergy's well-integrated operations complement our expanding heavy/highway and mining activities, while further diversifying and strengthening the entire group."

Much the same could easily be said of the Vecellio family, too.

Visit the Vecellio Group online at

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