Published March 18, 2003
Volume 11, Number 3

For Adam Vali of deb Construction, Business is a Family Affair

By George Walsh
Network Editor

As the old saying goes, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. While friends and business associates may come and go over the years, entering the family business can give you a feeling of trust that you may not be able to duplicate elsewhere. deb Construction, where Adam Vali serves as president, definitely qualifies as a family business, and family is something that Vali values highly.

Adam ValiAdam Vali has been involved in deb Construction since he was a youth. “When I was younger, I’d work summers. I started out picking up trash on job sites and doing general stuff and eventually became sort of a junior carpenter, then a superintendent, and later a project manager,” Vali says. “It was just kind of a natural progression to join the family business and eventually run it.”

Vali’s father, Yakub “Jake” Vali is the senior vice president of deb Construction and one of the company’s founders. His sister, Tamara “Tammy” Vali Martin serves as the Vice President. The company, located at 5635 W. Las Positas Blvd. provides general contracting, design/build services, seismic retrofit, highrise restacks, and other construction services, with many of its primary clients in the banking field. Over the course of 27 years, deb has served clients that include American Savings Bank, Bank of America, Charles Schwab, FHP Medical, Hughes Aircraft, IBM, Security Pacific Bank, and the University of California in Irvine.

Vali didn’t decide that working in the family business was the right career choice until after he finished college. “I knew when I was getting my undergraduate degree in physics that I would not make a good physicist. My father already had his construction company going and though he greatly dissuaded me from joining, it seemed like a fun thing to do based on my work during the summer growing up.” After completing his physics degree, Vali went to graduate school at Stanford and earned a degree in civil engineering with an emphasis on construction engineering and management-a perfect fit for the family business. In 1988 he started working for deb Construction full time, ascending to the position of President in 1995. Currently, he divides his time between the company’s Anaheim and Pleasanton offices.

Along with his father and sister, Vali now runs the company and the three of them share the responsibility of managing projects. “My sister is co-owner with me. She’s an architect by trade. So, we are equal partners,” Vali says. Learning to work with his sister turned out to be a bit of a challenge at the start of their business relationship. “For the first several years, there was tension. Then, one day we both came to the realization that if we worked together, it would just make it easier on both of us. Ever since then, it’s been a very good relationship and there’s nothing like having a partner that you can trust completely.”

Vali has also learned a lot from working with his father and much of what he’s learned has to do with accepting his limitations. “Probably the biggest skill I ever developed from working with my father was to listen and not open my mouth if I don’t know the answer,” Vali says. “Generally, it’s always better to listen to the clients’ needs and not slap your gums too much. In the beginning, I thought I was a hotshot young guy and knew all the answers and it turns out that you very rarely know everything. It’s better to stick to what you know.”

Vali’s family ties and loyalties further extend to his roots in India. His father was born and raised there and moved to the U.S. in the 1960s. Vali has visited India a limited number of times in his life, but finds that the Internet has enabled him to maintain relationships with relatives in the “old country.” “The generation younger than me is very email savvy, so it’s made keeping in contact a little bit easier,” Vali says. “As more of them are moving around the world to go to school, we’re keeping in contact more and getting to know each other.” Vali tries to help out his young relations as much as he can. “Most of the relatives who are my age have children that are starting to come to the U.S. to go to college. We’re a good touchstone for them. A lot of times they’ll stay with us for a week or two before school starts just to kind of get acclimated to the country.”

While continuing to be successful and competitive, deb Construction has remained a fairly small company, with between 30 and 35 employees ranging from construction workers to project managers. The company’s size is definitely limited by design. “We’re a general contractor but we work with such a small select group of clients that we really emphasize service,” Vali says. We’ve been able to hold on to the Bank of America account for 17 years. They didn’t stick with us for price alone. That’s really our big emphasis. We try to infuse that from the top down that we will give our clients the service they demand. I don’t want us to be the biggest construction company out there. I want us to be a mid-sized company that’s very service oriented.” The Vali family’s business philosophy has obviously been working. The company has shown steady growth over the last five years.

As Adam Vali has matured, he’s realized that, while there is always more to learn, he has experiences that are worth sharing with others. “I joined a business roundtable group, which has opened my eyes to see that most business owners share the same problems even though we’re in vastly different businesses. The problems are always the same. Exchanging ideas and trying to help each other out is a valuable experience,” he says.

Vali’s philosophy has changed a lot since the summers he spent hauling wood and hammering nails. “The cliches are all true,” he says. “You’re constantly learning and trying to improve how you do things and how you look at things. I’ve learned that I don’t know everything and I’m beginning to learn that you’ve got to open up and ask questions and be vulnerable enough to say to somebody, ‘Help, what do I do here?’ I’m finding that’s very rewarding both ways-in gathering information and in being able to give your two cents to other people to help them solve their problems.” In time, it’s obvious that Vali will assume the role of teacher, much like his father did. And that, in business as in life, is further testament to the power of family ties.

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