A/Z Corporation has grown from humble beginnings to industry leader
North Stonington — Perry Lorenz believes there's a misconception about his company, A/Z Corporation.
"We do about 600 jobs a year in varying sizes, from very small to large," said Lorenz, the president and chief executive officer of the North Stonington-based design, engineering, construction, operations and maintenance services company. "But the bread and butter of what we do is small capital projects. We obviously support large projects, too, and the reason everybody thinks we only do large projects is because that's what they see.
"So they drive by and say, 'Oh, so you're building a hotel or you're building a new plant or a new office building,' but 80 percent of what we do is under $100,000," Lorenz said.
Indeed, the A/Z Corporation portfolio is extensive, with more than $350 million in "backlog"— jobs that are underway or ready to start.
Last year A/Z's revenues were more than $230 million and over the past five years it has supported more than $950 million of work, much of it in southern New England. Market sectors include corporate, education, hospitality, life sciences and research, manufacturing, mission critical, and utilities and distributed generation. Among the firm's clients are AstraZeneca, Pratt & Whitney/United Technologies, Sanofi/Genzyme, Hartford Healthcare, Amgen, and Brown University.
The business, started by Lorenz' late father, Edward Lorenz, from his home in the late 1960s and initially called A/Z Electric, would quickly grow to include a partner, Tom Mahoney, who was a civil engineer and Ed Lorenz' brother-in-law, and the addition of Ledyard General Contractors. The businesses were based in Ledyard and consolidated as A/Z Corporation in 1994.
Today, A/Z has 450 employees and satellite offices in Hartford, Philadelphia, Hopkinton, R.I., and Westborough, Mass. Throughout the year, its workforce may grow to as many as 1,500, as tradesmen are employed through subcontractors. It has projects as far away as Georgia (design and build of a 100,000-square-foot facility for Aspen Aerogels in Statesboro) and Delaware (the design and build of a combined heat and power facility at Christiana Care Health Systems' 913-bed hospital in Newark), and is looking at future work in Puerto Rico, Colorado and other locales.
Closer to home, A/Z is working on the 14-story, 400-room Earth Tower at Mohegan Sun, a $130 million luxury hotel set to open this fall; and the Thompson Exhibition Building at the Mystic Seaport. Designed by Centerbrook Architects, the unique new Seaport building includes an interior of Douglas fir that was milled, glued and formed in Montreal, and geo-thermal heating and cooling supported by 24 wells each drilled to a depth of 475 feet.
Father took a risk
Some industries, like Pfizer Inc., Electric Boat and Dow Chemical Co., have been A/Z clients for as long as the company has been in existence, about 45 years.
Founder Edward Lorenz died a decade ago, but his son recalls that his father was a risk-taker and ambitious.
"He had a lot of confidence in himself and was not scared to take risks," said Perry Lorenz. "His mentality was, 'I had nothing before and that was OK.' If he had to risk it all to take a chance, then that is what he did."
He settled on the name of his business, A/Z, when he asked a Yellow Pages' salesman how he could be listed ahead of his competition.
The first job he won with Pfizer depended on Ed Lorenz' answer to a single question.
They asked him: Did he have the equipment and ability to re-lamp all their parking lot lights?
"His answer was 'absolutely' when in fact he had no equipment and never did anything like that before at an industrial plant," said Perry Lorenz. "So he went and purchased a used aerial lift bucket truck that weekend with no contract in hand other than knowing they would be giving him a call. Lucky for him they called him back to get a price."
Those were the early days of A/Z, before Perry Lorenz graduated from Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., with a degree in electrical engineering and joined his father and uncle at their business.
In 2001, Perry Lorenz wrote a business plan that changed the trajectory of A/Z.
Heavily entrenched in southeastern Connecticut, A/Z's new focus would be geographic and market diversity.
"We started focusing on other sectors ... and we stepped out in the '90s to Pennsylvania and some other places," said Lorenz. As regular clients moved or expanded to new locations, A/Z followed them, and picked up additional customers in areas such as health care, education and hospitality.
A/Z would design and build a project, manage it, install the mechanical and thermal elements, the telecommunications — whatever a client wanted or needed.
Sometimes A/Z does it all — and sometimes just a piece of a project.
Headquartered in North Stonington
While A/Z does routine electrical and mechanical jobs at Electric Boat, it also does some major ones, like the recent ground-up construction of a blast and paint facility at the shipyard's Quonset Point facility in Rhode Island.
It does construction and management work for Eversource, for Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, and for hundreds of other clients. It has built police stations, libraries, engineering towers, emergency response centers and corporate offices. There's telecom work at the Lawrence + Memorial Hospital Cancer Center, residence hall renovations at Bryant University in Rhode Island, fire alarm upgrades at Norwich Free Academy, and lab remodeling and other projects at Genzyme in Massachusetts. This fall, A/Z will oversee the effort to lift the Watch Hill Yacht Club building 15 feet to protect it from future flooding. It's also working on the Bridgeport Fuel Cell Park and has about $40 million in projects at Yale University.
About nine years ago Lorenz bought the old Analysis & Technology property on the Norwich Westerly Road in North Stonington from General Dynamics and renovated the building as his company headquarters. Recently, he added a gym for his employees.
He likes the location, midway between New York and Boston, and the fact that he's able to retain a local employment base rather than moving to a metropolitan area.
A/Z has grown under Perry Lorenz' leadership — they had about 40 employees and $3 million in annual sales when he started — but he believes his longtime employees deserve to share in the credit.
"I feel very privileged that I have been able to be part of my father's legacy and be able to take it and grow it," he said. "But I really believe that the people I joined with, and many of them are still here, collectively would have led this company into something. Now, would it be different? Sure. Would it be larger or smaller? Maybe. But they absolutely had the passion to drive the company, no doubt about it."
New and exciting projects are ahead, he said, and mentioned the upcoming dedication and opening of the Thompson Exhibition Building at the Mystic Seaport, which he called special.
"That is a personal project for me," he said, explaining that A/Z waived its corporate fee for the job.
"I live in Stonington and this is a community project ... and I enjoy it because it has such a fun buzz to it," said Lorenz, who will turn 53 next month. "Other projects are fun and technically challenging, too, but when you're dealing with centrifuges and turbines, well, nobody sees it."