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History of GEM
GEM Plumbing and Heating, Lincoln, Rhode Island, was started in 1949 by Gloria and Larry Gemma. Larry operated out of his home garage with one truck, providing plumbing and heating service work. In addition to raising their nine children, Gloria dispatched calls to Larry from their home.
“It was just him and whomever he could get to work with him on different jobs,” Larry remembers. “And when we got old enough to work, we went to work. And it’s been a labor of love ever since.”
In 1982, upon graduating from college, Larry, Lenny and Eddy officially joined the business with each son investing in his own work truck.
“We knew the industry before we got into it,” Larry says, “but until we graduated college, my father was still, essentially, a one-man show.”
By 1997, GEM had doubled its workforce to more than 40 employees while continuing to develop a large customer base in the service division as well as taking on larger construction jobs.
“We were all very entrepreneurial,” Larry adds, “so we never pictured ourselves working for anyone else.”
Over the years several other family members joined and are actively involved in daily operations as the company expanded into offering full-service residential and commercial HVAC and plumbing and electrical services. Brother Anthony, for example, handles legal matters. Liz Gemma, Lenny’s wife, is the chief financial officer. Jenn D’Ambra, executive vice president of operations, is Larry’s stepdaughter.
GEM currently employs 450 with about 200 trucks offering services throughout Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. It is expected to end the year with more than $50 million in revenue, with about 60 percent coming from commercial work and the other 40 percent from residential. The business has locations in Lincoln, Rhode Island; and operates Massachusetts locations in Walpole and Wakefield.
“The management team here is second to none,” Larry adds, “A lot of people say, ‘How do you grow a company so large?” and the answer is, it’s the employees; its not the owners.”
While the founders have passed on, Larry says their lessons remain.
“My dad just taught us that if you treat your customers better than you want to be treated, then you’ll never go hungry,” he adds. “And he would get up at 2 a.m. if somebody called him. He didn’t question it. He just went out.”