I worked construction during my college summers, which helped pay the tuition and room and board. After graduation, I gave it up to pursue a career in journalism — although to this day I appreciate the life-forming lessons (showing up, taking orders) that my summer job imparted.
Brothers Mark and Paul Rasevic turned their summer, weekend and night jobs into successful careers.
Mark gave up a Catholic University teaching position in philosophy to build his landscaping business into one of the Washington area’s largest. He and Paul, who runs a tidy construction business, manage employees across dozens of projects. They also run one of the area’s largest snow-removal businesses.
Together, the Rasevic family of companies employs 32 workers and grosses close to $15 million a year, turning a nice profit for each brother. They also parcel work out to hundreds of subcontractors.
The brothers are the sons of Serbian immigrants who came to the United States after World War II. The middle-class family grew up in the District’s Tenleytown neighborhood. Their father worked for Voice of America.
The synergy between the brothers is a natural evolution from their days as youngsters.
“Mark and I worked together as children and then young adults,” said Paul, 44. “We cut grass, raked leaves and shoveled snow for neighbors. We have essentially worked together all of our lives.”
The Rasevics’ not-so-small group of family enterprises are known as Rasevic Landscape, Rasevic Construction, Rasevic Snow Services. They even have a separate company that sells road salt and winter-weather chemicals.
Their four companies are headquartered in a industrial area along River Road in Bethesda. But they cover a lot of territory. They have two equipment yards in Silver Spring and one on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Mark’s landscaping firm designs gardens and handles maintenance for the residences of some of the areas wealthiest and most prominent individuals. It also serves the U.S. Botanic Garden at the foot of the Capitol, Arlington National Cemetery and Tudor Place, the historic residence in Georgetown.
Paul develops land and renovates, expands and builds multimillion-dollar homes, primarily in lucrative lower Montgomery County and Northwest Washington.
At 47, Mark has the more unconventional résumé. Starting in 1987, he attended Duke University, where he studied biology and philosophy. A friend introduced him to a weekend job working for a landscaper, where Mark earned about $10 an hour to help pay his expenses.
He fell in love.
The landscaper “had these elaborate projects that would take months,” Mark said.
He learned about plants, and the chemistry and biology behind them. He also learned how to execute an idea and turn it into a pond, waterfall or path. He learned how to use equipment, grade dirt with a Bobcat, plant flowers and trees, seed lawns.
After graduating from Duke in 1991, Mark did graduate work in philosophy at Catholic University, eventually teaching courses at $2,000 a pop.
For most of the 1990s, Mark split his time between Plato and petunias. He built his business organically, through word of mouth, then dove full-time into the business in the late ’90s.
Rasevic Landscape Co. grosses $1.2 million to $2.5 million a year. The size of the jobs vary from $5,000 to more than $1 million. He has about 15 full-timers, and three-quarters of the business is maintaining and building gardens for private residences. Some have been clients for 20 years.
“One of the keys to being a good landscape contractor is to have a Type A personality, but with an asterisk; you need to be detail-oriented but have broader bandwidth,” Mark said.
In other words, the best landscape architects are meticulous with their designs, but they also bring a creative eye toward adapting and improvising their plans during installation.
Paul, a carpenter by trade, was a business major at the University of Maryland with a knack for fixing and building things.
“I started painting houses in 1990 as a sole proprietor to pay for school,” he said. That evolved into residential renovations to kitchens and bathrooms, home additions and then light commercial work.
Rasevic Construction Co., incorporated in 1996, built its first home from scratch in 2003, replacing a weekend house that had burned down near Solomon’s Island. Around 20 more homes have followed, mostly high-end structures priced between $2 million and $5 million. Paul said he does interior work for medical offices and restaurants as well.
One of the best things about the Rasevics’ various businesses is the synergy.
Mark can send his landscapers to do work around Paul’s construction projects, handling drainage and landscaping. Paul’s construction laborers can help on Mark’s landscaping jobs. Both businesses can supply supervision to the snow-removal business. Removal is the big revenue driver, delivering more than $10 million a year, on average.
“Diversity helps,” Mark said. “It’s not having all your eggs in one basket. When the housing market crashed in late 2008, people stopped building big gardens. Then you had to change gears a bit.”
The brothers had always made extra money shoveling snow, so it was a natural evolution to start their snow services arm in the mid-1990s.
“We had some equipment and thought this was a way to keep the equipment moving in winter,” Mark said.
The snow business took off, giving the construction and landscaping employees from summertime real employment during the winter. It helps retain employees, who might move elsewhere during the slowdowns.
Rasevic Snow Services keeps 136 sites clear for its 53 clients. It employs a pretty scientific operation, with its own customized software system to direct all hands on deck for big operations.
The company needs the sophistication. Some of the clients are “high-priority” government agencies that cannot afford to have icy parking lots or entrances.
“If you can provide a comprehensive, detail-oriented, zero-tolerant snow-removal service, then you can fill a unique niche,” Mark said.
The Rasevic strategy is to blanket parking lots and public spaces with chemicals before the storm arrives. If chemicals don’t do the trick and the company “needs to push” snow, the Rasevics go with their four-wheel-drive pickup trucks with plows and salt spreaders.
“We are known in the industry as a zero-tolerance company,” Mark said. “You don’t wait for ice or any snow.”
Paul said the family of companies gives the Rasevics and their employees plenty to do.
“It’s a game of singles, occasionally a double,” said Paul, who builds between two and four homes a year. “No home runs. Lots of strikeouts. You try to win more than you lose so you can keep the doors open and support 30 families.”
I admit that some days, I think about what would have become of me if I had stayed in the construction business.
I might have done well, but I would definitely not have had as much fun as I have had in journalism.