Perhaps you’ve spotted at one time or another a fleet of shiny, sturdy Ottawa D-Squared Construction trucks barrelling down the road, kicking up a dust cloud.
At the rear of each vehicle is a message on display, in bright, bold letters. It reads: “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done!”
Those conspicuous words are a reminder of what one can achieve through hard work, determination, ingenuity and an unwavering belief in oneself. They’re the story of Ottawa D-Squared Construction CEO Domenic Franco Madonna, a modern millennial success story.
“I can’t tell you how many times somebody told me I couldn’t do it,” said Madonna, 35, during an interview at D-Squared headquarters in the rural suburb of Greely. “If I had listened to any of them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Madonna is a born-and-raised Ottawa entrepreneur and a go-against-the-grain kind of guy. At age 19, he launched his construction company with business partner Charles DePonte. They started in 2006 with one backhoe and a single-axle dump truck.
Today, D-Squared is one of the fastest-growing construction companies in Ottawa. Last year, it grew by 85 per cent.
The multimillion-dollar company has 300-plus employees, 75 dump trucks, 50 pickup trucks, 300 pieces of equipment, a licensed snow-dumping facility and two quarries. It’s in the process of launching its state-of-the-art asphalt plant, at an investment of $18 million. The new facility is expected to open this spring on a 30-acre lot that D-Squared bought on Boundary Road in Navan, near the Amazon warehouse.
As the relatively new kid on the construction block, D-Squared’s asphalt plant puts the company in a position to compete against such heavy hitters as Tomlinson, Cavanagh and Aecon.
“Nobody, and I mean nobody, has attempted to go up against them,” said Madonna. “It's like going from playing in spring training to the Majors, that’s what it is."
D-Squared's portfolio of clients include the City of Ottawa, Public Works and Government Services Canada, National Capital Commission, Ottawa Community Housing and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. It's providing dump truck services for the excavation work on the second stage of Ottawa's light-rail expansion.
“Honestly, it’s been a crazy 15 years for us,” said Madonna, while acknowledging that he’s continually in work mode. “I never stop working. Never. Ever.”
Madonna believes his ability to take risks has helped get him ahead.
“Any opportunity that I thought was a good opportunity, I took the plunge and did it,” said Madonna, who has borrowed millions to purchase land, equipment and vehicles, knowing that their value would appreciate and that the investments would help the business to further expand its operations.
D-Squared has a markedly youthful feel to it, from its two-year-old spiffy office building to its sleek-looking trucks to its employees, whose average age is 35.
“I hand-pick my people and put them in place,” said Madonna. “I lead by example so they do things the way I want things done. As a group, we execute efficiently and grow from every experience and challenge.”
Madonna says he makes it his mission to maintain a positive environment. He frequently shares affirming and encouraging messages on LinkedIn, where he has a robust following.
He has little tolerance for bad attitudes and would rather send an employee home with pay than have him or her create drama in the workplace.
“They can come back the next day with a different attitude or just not come back.”
The self-made and bold businessman has started to harness his can-do mindset to assist and inspire others through hands-on philanthropy.
When the current coronavirus pandemic hit, D-Squared launched its Spread the Love relief effort. It hand-delivered cheques totalling $25,000 to more than 50 Ottawa families, small businesses and individuals who, through no fault of their own, found themselves in financially desperate situations due to lockdown measures.
This month, the company is launching another round of Spread the Love toward The Ottawa Mission. It will help homeless men in a number of ways, including job-creation opportunities.
Madonna, whose own teenage years were turbulent ones, is also founder of the Pave The Way Charity, in partnership with United Way. It runs a free after-school and weekend basketball program for at-risk youth living in Ottawa Community Housing neighbourhoods.
“This is not just about giving out money but also providing love and support and being there for them and encouraging them, inspiring them and telling them that they can do it,” he explained.
“I’m taking all the things that I wanted to hear when I was younger and I’m sharing those positive messages with everybody else. Guess what? It’s working. It’s working really well.”
Five things to know about Domenic Franco Madonna
- He’s the proud dad of two children, ages six and four.
- He won an Ottawa Forty Under 40 award at age 24.
- He started in the construction industry as a backhoe driver, at age 16.
- His father, Franco, loaned him a bit of money and signed a line of credit to help him start his construction business. Madonna squared things up with him within six months “because I didn’t want to let my dad down.”
- When he first started out, he delivered flyers, door to door, advertising for landscaping jobs. The fledgling entrepreneur couldn’t afford to pay for the flyers but Merge Design, Print & Promo owner Brian Tracey cut him a break. Madonna never forgot his kindness and, when he bumped into Tracey last year at Giovanni’s Restaurant, picked up the dinner bill for him and his wife.