If a single inspiring story could be told about a hometown Hispanic-run firm transforming itself into a global enterprise, it might well begin in Miami in 1939.
That is the year Willy A. Bermello set up his architectural practice. And as Florida grew, his firm grew with it – the first location was complemented with satellite offices elsewhere in the state. And, with successive projects, the company became a regional authority on land-use issues.
Seven decades later, the Florida training has produced a much greater harvest. Under the leadership of principals Luis Ajamil and Mr. Bermello, privately held Bermello Ajamil & Partners has catapulted to international renown as an architectural, engineering, and construction firm, lauded both for its design and project management.
Bermello is an international firm nearing the completion of projects on six continents and derives around 40 percent of its income from abroad. By contrast, in 2006 the company reported that $6.6 million of $33 million in sales came from overseas projects.
"What makes us successful is our understanding of how to handle local markets – wherever 'local' may be," says Ray Fernandez, acting director of architecture at the company's New York office.
"A shipping terminal built for a cruise line will have many of the same features no matter where it's set down. They need to turn a [suitcase] around in four or five hours. They need a certain amount of space for each phase of an operation. They must adhere to fire codes. From studying foreign markets, we understand what must be done to do the specific job right and to plan and develop whatever else may be suited to a new market."
Two items from the company's newsletter just weeks apart highlight its diversity – and flexibility. The first congratulates Carmelita Flores of the company's Dubai office for having received accreditation from the United Arab Emirates Civil Engineering Department of Ports. The second notes the company's opening of a new, Long Beach, California office from which Bermello will handle its burgeoning Southern California clientele.
The company's U.S. payroll now numbers 250, among them 70 architects and 30 civil engineers, and a slew of interior designers, urban planners, and construction management personnel.
Among the firm's more exotic projects is Dubai Maritime City, a 500-acre reclaimed land area consisting of at least 45 residential- and office-tower projects to support a population exceeding 125,000. It is complemented by two other Dubai projects: Jasmine Gardens, a luxury residential resort community, and The World, a land reclamation and development project conceived by Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai and minister of defense of the United Arab Emirates.
Much of the company's New York office is focused now on the refurbishing of that city's port, revitalizing terminals, and performing structural upgrades.
"Do you know what makes us international in our New York office?" Mr. Fernandez asks. "I have colleagues here from Panama, Taiwan, China, Iran, Colombia, Korea … and Philadelphia. We began as a company that spoke Spanish and dealt with Miami, then the rest of the state. Today, we're speaking whatever language is 'local' and seeing the entire world."
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