By Mark Apostolon
Juan Barroso rolled out the blueprints for the massive 15 million dollar renovation project, he is in charge of – which will transform four rundown, dilapidated, inner-city San Jose schools into technologically advanced centers of learning – and pointed to his name, and the name of his architectural firm on the schematics. “When people see my name or the name of my firm, I want them to automatically have in their heads that any construction project Derivi Castellanos Architects takes, we’re going to succeed at – beyond anyone’s expectations. We do big commercial projects: casinos, wineries, office buildings, and what’s particularly gratifying to me, schools – K-12, community colleges, and magnet schools. As a businessman, you have to decide if the project is worth it or doable. To decide that, the best tools for an architect are your ears; you have to listen to your client. You also have to know and accept the challenge.” So when challenges arise, as they do, Juan Barroso has acquired the well-deserved reputation of being a problem solver who can overcome any obstacle in the world of construction, and find a way of making it all work.
Dedication and a passion for his work why in 2012, Silicon Valley Business Journal named Juan Barroso one of the area’s top 40 professionals under 40 while at Blach Construction, where, at 29, this UC-Berkley graduate climbed the corporate ladder to become its youngest chief estimator ever. He also proceeded to transform the company’s approach to sales and how it met clients’ needs. “I’m a civil engineer. What I do is I’m a project manager. So, I first listen to the client, understand their vision and their needs, because it all starts with customer service.” The result? Within three years, under Juan’s leadership, operations were expanded to Monterey and Sacramento and the company’s volume and sales hit record levels during the height of the recession. So while other companies were struggling, Juan had Blach Construction experiencing up to 35% increase in funded projects annually.
But with all his success, there was even more that Juan wanted to accomplish. He had a concept of how he would like to run the company if it was his. That was in 2013, about the same time he learned that one of the architectural firms he had been dealing with for years was for sale. Derivi Castellanos Architects in Stockton had been open since 1979. It had a solid reputation in the business as a small reliable firm, and now its owners were looking to retire. Could this be the once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity Juan had been looking for? Should he take the chance and go out on his own?
Taking chances, and looking for opportunities is something that runs in Juan’s family. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico where his father, Juan Sr., was a lawyer and his mother, Elia, a registered nurse, Juan might have lived his whole life there had it not been for one thing, “My father was active politically, and for reasons due to that, he decided to start a new life in the United States, even though it meant his law degree would be worthless in the States.” Ultimately relocating to King City, life would now be very different for Juan. His father became a specialist in the year-round care and maintenance of the vineyards in and around the Salinas Valley. “Not that we knew it, but we were raised poor, but we always had enough to eat.” And his mom, Elia? “Mom is very determined. When she wants to get something done, it gets done.” That work ethic and desire for new accomplishments is a family trait and why his four other siblings are engineers and doctors. “Mom’s retired three times, and she’s still working.”
So, while the idea of buying Derivi Castellanos Architects may have been exciting for Juan, how would Stephanie, his new bride of only six months react? Stephanie had been a middle school teacher for 15 years before joining Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts as Regional Director of Graduate Admissions which had her traveling to various conferences. As it so happened, it was while at one of those conferences, for the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators, that Stephanie met Juan, the man who had a passion for building schools.
That was in 2011. Now he was telling her he was quitting his lucrative job at Blach to go out on his own? “My reaction was, ‘yeah, okay honey. What can I do to help?’’’ Then, Stephanie laughs with a big smile on her face,”okay, maybe that wasn’t my first reaction. But he convinced me.” And the rest, as they say, is history…
In just two years, Juan took the small architectural firm and grew it by more than 1/3rd, adding a second office in San Jose, with a customer service approach built around the client. “I was finally able to implement my full concept. First thing I did was to keep the team together then expand it. The Stockton job market was right at the time, with a highly skilled workforce that was underutilized. And we grew. Fast.” Stephanie soon joined the team as Director of Client Relations and Development, and their involvement didn’t stop there.
“It’s important for us to be a good corporate citizen with an active commitment to community involvement,” Juan is very quick to point out. That is why they are involved with over 15 different non-profits including Sunday Friends where Stephanie volunteers her time, a diverse program where Juan and Stephanie award deserving students Macbook computers, and a new educational project Juan and Stephanie have created where they will be offering paid internships at their firm to two high school students every year.
“I’ll tell you,” Juan points out,”it’s fun to do a big project, a casino, a winery – they’re challenging and high profile. The greatest satisfaction is when a project is complete and everyone’s satisfied. But what even feels better are the school projects we do. You build a brand new school in one of the poorest areas, or completely renovate school buildings that should have been torn down years ago – when we do that we’re making an impact. When teachers and students walk into a new, clean school that has been built to meet their needs, it has a broad impact. It transforms the life of everyone involved. The teachers, the students. It changes their mind set. And test scores follow. It creates teamwork.”
And it’s teamwork that keep Juan’s architectural firm growing as well. “The Derivi Castellanos Team is on board with our company ethics.” Those ethics start and end with Juan as Stephanie is quick to point out ,”One leads by example. It’s about the client, but it’s also about the community, the way you choose a project and why – which is why the school projects are so important to both of us. It’s about believing in your community. The Team knows it, and sees it. And we follow Juan’s lead.”
By Mark Apostolon