Michael Biviano and Vincent Giagnorio started CEEJ Developments in 2005 just because they wanted something to keep them occupied. As Biviano tells it, they were two semi-retired mates who wanted to stay involved in the business world, but didn’t want to be thrust back into high-pressure jobs like the ones they had both left. Biviano came from the world of real estate, and Giagnorio had been running a publishing/multi-media company. The two met when Biviano, still working in real estate, sold Giagnorio’s home. The pair started their venture with a first priority of enjoying what they were doing, with their second priority being to do something they could say was cool. Money came in third on the list. Twenty-two years after the company’s founding, they still have little interest in making it a goliath, preferring instead to stick to the hands-on, small staff approach that has made them successful.
The first purchase Biviano and Giagnorio made was a large tract of land near a beach. They developed that land into 74 townhouse blocks. Since then they have become specialists by default, completing projects of hundreds of blocks of townhouses and entire display villages. CEEJ Developments “competes with the big boys” says Biviano, but has no interest in selling out or becoming syndicated. Without a board of directors decisions can get made quickly. If they find out about a piece of land they want to buy, they can make the decision to do so without waiting for a board to okay it. Without an expansive staff of hundreds, Biviano and Giagnorio don’t have to wait to find out about issues. Instead, they can tackle them as soon as they come up.
“We’ve had opportunities to be bought out, but we’ve never wanted to change our dynamic… the penalty for selling out would be far too big,” explains Biviano.
The small size of the company is a benefit for their clients. People know they will have a quick turnaround time on decisions, and they also know exactly who they are dealing with. CEEJ Developments also continues working with clients after they’ve moved into their new property. For three months after move-in, clients of CEEJ don’t have to call builders if any problems arise, instead they can call CEEJ and they will coordinate any necessary fixes. This is a service Biviano says is unheard of from other development companies, and helps establish CEEJ’s reputation as trustworthy and easy to work with. That, and the fact they make payments on time – another attribute they say is rare in the construction industry. Doing so builds trust with their construction industry partners, and also guarantees them good service. For example, one of CEEJ’s developments once had a water main break on a Sunday morning. They made a call and had it fixed by 10 AM largely thanks to the fact the repair team knew they’d get paid promptly.
While CEEJ has a stellar reputation, they haven’t won any industry awards. Biviano is frank about why they haven’t – they haven’t tried. Instead, CEEJ relies on their reputation and customer word of mouth to attract clients. The firm also benefits from Biviano’s work as a consultant in which he offers trainings to franchise and real estate groups, as well as runs a free YouTube channel that offers advice. In doing so, he comes across leads for properties that are available to buy. It’s this kind of real estate savvy that has helped him lead CEEJ to success.
Biviano brings the real estate savvy, but Giagnorio brings the financial acumen. The two skillsets complement each other, and though disagreements between the two are rare, they are quickly resolved thanks to the different strengths Giagnorio and Biviano bring to the table.
So what’s next for Biviano, Giagnorio and CEEJ Developments? Hard to say, says Biviano, as it all depends on what’s out there for them to buy. Every year is different for the company.
“Some years will be virtually dormant, some we might sell 30 in a year, some we will sell 400,” he explains.
Biviano also notes the outsized role banks can play in the construction industry, as they control how much money can flow into projects via loans. But the construction market continues to go up, and CEEJ has a large project on the planning boards right now. They are developing 150 townhouses in Sunshine, just outside of Melbourne CBD, a project worth $100 million. In speaking about the future of the company, Biviano is optimistic about Melbourne CBD and the surrounding areas, saying it’s an area in which CEEJ would like to do more work in the future.
If the reputation they have established is any indication, once they’re established in the area they shouldn’t have any trouble expanding further. Biviano is adamant that reputation is everything for his company, and all successful companies. He wishes the development industry had a better reputation for honesty and integrity on the whole, observing most people view it as a group of wealthy sharks. Cultivating honesty and integrity has certainly paid off for CEEJ Developments, and what started out as a way for two mates to keep busy has turned into a thriving multi-million dollar business.