Meet the Founder: Michael Grilli, PE

February 15, 2022

After 15 years of working hard to pursue his dream and build a successful career as an engineer, Michael Grilli found himself frustrated. He wasn’t fulfilled by the projects he was assigned, and was looking for something to motivate and inspire him. Mike aspired to create a firm of his own where he could build his ideal team of staff and work on exciting projects. In 1982, he did just that and BETA Engineering was incorporated.

Of course, as anyone who has built a business knows, it wasn’t that simple. From the name (Grilli wanted “Delta”, but it had already been taken – so his attorney registered the company as “BETA” instead), to the capital it takes to get off the ground, every decision had an element of risk. But Mike saw the potential.

Once he had a name and his first client, the Town of Burrillville, RI, Mike hired a friend from his prior firm who had also moved on and was looking for a new opportunity. Ray Marshall (who is now retired but eventually became the Executive Director of the Narragansett Bay Commission) became the second employee on BETA’s roster. Together, they grew the core team: Bill Skerpan, Neal Driscoll and Joe DiPilato, who recently retired after nearly 40 years with BETA; Craig Martin, who managed BETA’s Boston office and the firm’s first large-scale project on Deer Island; and Joe Federico and Joe D’Alesio, currently BETA’s Senior Vice President and President & CEO, respectively.  

Mike went six months without taking a paycheck from BETA. He devoted himself to growing the company, taking no sick leave or vacation time. He always put his staff first, knowing that they had been willing to risk their livelihoods by coming to work for his new firm.  In turn, they formed a loyal team that Mike describes as his extended family.

Ribbon Cutting for MWRA project

As the firm grew, it competed against the biggest engineering consultants in the region. BETA pursued, and won, some of the largest and most noteworthy projects in New England. These cornerstone projects, such as the Deer Island Primary Sedimentation System Improvements project for the MWRA, put BETA on the map and gave the team bragging rights. As a growing business, they were catching the attention of clients and competitive firms alike. Despite the firm’s small size – about seven people in its first year of business – the high quality of work that BETA was producing gave Mike the confidence to pursue the largest projects in the region, competing against giants in the industry. Gambles like that paid off, and the company continued to grow.

Mike is the first to admit that some of his growth strategies were unique – and tenacious. One Sunday morning he woke up early and drove 150 miles to have a cup of coffee with a prospect. On another Sunday, after a Mayor wasn’t returning Mike’s calls, he happened to find himself standing behind him at church – ready for a handshake and quick conversation after mass ended. Mike says some of his actions were shameless, but all were done for the love of this company and the people in it.

With the security of his employees in mind, Mike started to think about a transition plan far ahead of his retirement. He investigated and eventually registered the firm as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan firm in 2000. This decision has implemented a growing stock plan for all of the firm’s full-time employees – giving ownership to all plan participants, and doubling down on Mike’s philosophy of working hard not just for your personal success, but for the success of your teammates.

Now in its 40th year, the company has exceeded Mike’s expectations. While Mike never feared failure, he also never had a vision to grow BETA into anything more than the modest firm he initially incorporated. His goal was to compete on a technical level with the other firms in the region, and BETA has repeatedly proven its ability to do so. Mike gives accolades to Frank Romeo, who succeeded Mike as BETA’s President in 2000, for BETA’s more recent regional growth. Although each had different leadership styles, Frank worked closely with Mike and shared the same core values. This consistency meant the company would continue to grow with the ideals of integrity, client service, quality, and teamwork at its foundation. Currently employing over 160 personnel in a wide variety of engineering, planning, and landscape architecture capabilities, the firm’s portfolio is filled with award-winning and high-profile projects throughout New England.

“The success of the company means the world to me and to the extent that I still am able to help, I intend to,” Mike said in a recent conversation. He is now happily enjoying retirement, while still acting as the Founder and Chairman of BETA and providing strategic guidance to the Executive Committee. He credits the support from his wife Elaine as a key reason for his and BETA’s success. She never questioned his devotion to the firm, allowing him to invest the time and resources he needed in its growth. Also a business owner, Elaine shares the same entrepreneurial spirit as Mike and understood the dedication required to build the company into the successful firm it is today.

Simply put, there is no BETA without Mike Grilli. As we celebrate the firm’s 40th anniversary in 2022, we are grateful for his vision, tenacity, and dedication. As he says, he “rolled the dice and never looked back.” We are so thankful that he aspired for greatness, and continues to inspire us to do the same.