Regardless of the career path, the surest track to success is dedicating oneself to the craft.
Anthony Ortiz is a 39-year-old project manager for Gateway Plumbing and Heating, in New York City. He recently passed his Master Plumber’s License exam, and loves just about every element of his work. But his future wasn’t always so bright.
“I came from a troubled household,” said Ortiz. “I never had a father figure, and a lot of my family members have been in and out of jail. Most never graduated from high school. I knew early on that I needed to separate myself from that. Sadly, that means that I’m not in contact with many of them anymore. But this just had to be.”
Ortiz began working at Costco after high school. He became an expectant father by the age of 21. The circumstances in the months to follow were pivotal.
“This plumbing career was not chosen, it just presented itself at the right point in my life,” said Ortiz. “I had to stop thinking like a kid and start thinking like a man, father and provider. Most, if not all of the credit is due my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time. Her friend’s husband introduced me to Gateway, but beyond that, it was her support that helped me make the transition.
The joke when Ortiz started was that he didn’t know what a Channellock was. But Gateway’s owners Dave and John Cataneo took him under their wing. He tagged along on all variety of jobs, inevitably learning the ropes. Other contractors that bumped into Anthony over the years have commented on the remarkable transformation they witnessed over the 18 years he’s been with Gateway.
Above: (L-R) John Cataneo and Anthony Ortiz at a large home under renovation in NYC.
Anthony recalls crossing a mental threshold early in his career. He knew he had to provide for his young family, so he vowed to give the job 100%, every day, and really make the craft his own.
“I was pretty handy as a kid, so the work came naturally,” he said. “I soaked up knowledge like a sponge. Being paired up with a variety of mechanics offered me the opportunity to adopt their best attributes and practices and store that experience in my own mental toolbox. I’m really blessed to have had so many good teachers over the years. I wanted to succeed, and learning was the only way to do that.”
These days, his job title changes all the time. He’s a project manager, a foreman, a mechanic and a mentor. He loves everything about the work, almost.
“This work is great, but I’m still not fond of tearing out and carrying old boilers,” laughed Ortiz. “That probably won’t change, but there are plenty of things that make up for it. It’s really gratifying to step back at the end of the day and look at what I’ve built, what I’ve created.”
That passion is something he’s passing on to his son, Derek.
Like Father Like Son
Derek, at 18 years old, is following in his father’s footsteps, whether he’ll admit it or not. Anthony brought Derek along to work from time to time while he was still in school. Derek joined Gateway full-time last June, and has been learning since. Anthony prefers not to be his son’s supervisor for the time being, allowing him to get a feel for the job on his own.
“When Derek finished school, he was faced with the decision to go to college or go to work,” explained Anthony. “Ultimately, he joined the trade and is slowly hitting his own stride, especially when it comes to hands-on work. He recently mentioned to me that he wants to begin taking classes at the union trade center, so I feel as though that means he’s making this a career, much as I did.”
“He won’t give me the gratification of saying so, but I think what drew Derek to the trade initially was knowing the he didn’t want to struggle in life,” said Anthony. “He knows the life that I’ve been able to provide our family, and he wants the same for himself.”
Above: Anthony Ortiz and his son, Derek, both work for Gateway Plumbing and Heating. Derek, Anthony’s son, works on piping a large hydronic system.
A Career Change?
“Eight or 10 years ago, Anthony found himself in a unique situation,” said John Cataneo, co-owner of Gateway Plumbing and Heating. “We had him on a job in West Village, working on a heating system at a modelling agency. The ladies there took a shine to him, and wanted to clean him up and see if he was model material.”
“Now, Anthony is a good looking cat,” laughed Cataneo. “If Alex Rodriguez and Tom Brady had a kid, that would be Anthony. Anyhow, they pulled him off the job and took photos of him.”
Cataneo doesn’t recall how far Anthony went with the modelling idea, but ultimately, Anthony wasn’t comfortable with it and decided it wasn’t for him. So his career in the trades hadn’t been derailed.
“We half-jokingly, half-seriously encouraged him to pursue it,” said Cataneo. “But you can imagine the amount of razzing he endured for a while afterwards!”
Passion to Share
While he’s not being dragged away by modelling scouts, Anthony’s favorite type of work is hydronic systems. It’s here that he finds the joy of working with his brain and his hands.
“I like installing boilers,” said Anthony. “I really practice what it means to ‘make it your own’. Whether that’s molding your own lifelong career or just installing a single boiler, it applies. For example, I do certain things with near-boiler piping that you don’t see on most jobs. I like to make my installs unique, and put my own signature on them, so to speak. I tell young techs, ‘make it look good, make it yours, and have pride in what you’re doing.”
Anthony’s advice to young hopefuls – much like the advice he’s given his own son – is to take the job seriously. Give it 100% of your effort every day and educate yourself in as many ways as you can. Get certifications, stand out from the crowd. Education and experiences will provide opportunities.
Because he started out in the trade “as green as green gets,” he also has advice for business owners and managers.
“I’m the product of great leadership and patience,” he explains. “I think some contractors are afraid to hire people with zero experience. But if you hire a greenhorn based on character and drive, you start with a clean slate. There are no bad habits to un-learn. Mold people into what you want them to be. It may take longer, but it will likely be worth it. Throughout my career, David and John Cataneo have always led by example, and I’m proud to work for them. We all have to start somewhere, and the learning never ends anyway.”
“Looking back at this career that has been so good to me, and may prove to be good for my son, I realize how grateful I am. I’m grateful for all the mentors I’ve had along the way, and I’m grateful for my wife. If I hadn’t met her, I don’t know if plumbing would have even been a thought for me. It feels like so many things came together at a time when I really needed it.”