In 2012 Mike retired after 27 years at SMC.  In 2013 Pinto switched careers after 22 years.  In 2014 Pete D went to half time after 27 years and Bob retired after 21.  And now, in 2015, Derrill has decided, after 24 years, that he will be changing career and life emphases and therefore moving on from SMC in April.

Five people, a total of 120 years at SMC.  Wisdom, talent, skill, and institutional memory galore.   Big chunks of the heart and soul of SMC, out the door.  Gone

But not all gone.  Each remains close by.  Mike  has continued to serve on our board as Benefits Director (required of all companies registered in Massachusetts as Beneficial Corporations) and managing our equity fund and pension with Siobhan.  Pete D continues to be the foreman for our Small Jobs & Maintenance Group.  Derrill will continue to do our photography and chair our Charitable Contributions Committee, and will remain on the board and replace Mike as Benefits Director in a year.

But nonetheless this is Massive Change, and it will continue unabated in the years to come as we navigate our planned transition from Generation One to Generation Two.  That is who we are today, as we enter our 40th year.

Hmm . . . SMC without Derrill.  That bears examination.  He’s quite a guy.

As Derrill studied architecture in the 70’s, he also studied and taught photography.  A summer in Bogota, Columbia living with a family and learning Spanish foreshadowed a major aspect of his future life.  After graduating from architecture school in 1980, he went to work as a carpenter, and then found his way to the Mosquito Coast in Honduras, where he worked for the UN in a refugee camp overseeing temporary resettlement villages and designing building infrastructure.  Soon after this he met his future wife JoAnn in Boston.

You could say that for the next decade he led a bifurcated life.  Or you could say it was balanced.  Six months of carpentry, six months in Central America doing volunteer work and human rights documentation.  Six months here, six months there.  Over and over.  “It was,” he says, “one of the most visceral periods of my life.”

As his work in Central America began to wind down, in 1990, he began a one year trial at South Mountain, (his brother-in-law Jim was running our shop, and still is) mixing carpentry with a few short trips to Guatemala (by then it was in his blood, and hard to shake!). JoAnn moved to the Vineyard from Boston, they got married (within 500 feet of where they would later build their house in Aquinnah), and Derrill stayed at SMC, doing carpentry for another four years before moving up to the office and picking up a pencil and a T-square again.

During the next two decades Derrill worked on the design of many of our finest houses and established long-term relationships with many treasured clients.

In 2001 Derrill and JoAnn adopted Jacob, who was diagnosed with autism three years later.  A whole new chapter began.  “In 2010, after working with many programs that were ineffective for us,” Derrill says, “we began to work with the Autism Treatment Center of America (ATCA) to establish a play-based therapy program for Jacob, and a re-orientation for us as parents.  This was a life-saver.”

Many of you who are reading this helped make possible an ATCA 2011 residential intensive for JoAnn, Derrill, and Jacob.  Jacob said his first words there.

Along the way, Derrill has consistently been an active force in the island community, both in his town, Aquinnah, and island-wide.  He chaired the Aquinnah Housing Committee and Community Preservation Committee.  He was a captain in the volunteer fire department.  He has been an important part of the  Vanderhoop Homestead restoration and the Gay Head Lighthouse move.

He came down from the wilds of Aquinnah to be a founding board member of both the Island Affordable Housing Fund and the Island Housing Trust, and a prime mover and board member for the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority and Greenough House. For all his important affordable housing efforts, Derrill was recognized this year by the Commonwealth when he shared the Kuehn Award for Community Preservation.

And now the twin threads of Jacob and affordable housing have drawn him back home, where he can spend more time with Jacob’s homeschool program and pursue the perfect compliment – affordable housing work from a home office.

When he departs, Derrill will take with him oh so much that we will miss.  But he will leave behind far more.  His relentless commitment to humanity, kindness, compassion, justice, and design has made an indelible imprint on the South Mountain DNA.  His heart will always be with us, and his continuing photography, charitable contributions, and board service will be a constant reminder for us to never forget the “Derrill part” in our work and our thinking.

Personally, I love the strong memories that linger from the many yeasty design collaborations Derrill and I sailed through together, from affordable housing neighborhoods to some of our favorite all time houses, like the Mazar house below.

Hmm . . .  SMC without Derrill.  Tough one to imagine.

And the others too.   Each has been hard to say farewell to, and each remains a part of who we are.


September was a month of recognitions for South Mountain.

I’m always of two minds about awards and prizes. 

They feed the perverse (in my view) competitive impulses of our culture and our education system.  The implication is that there are winners and losers – the worthy and the less so – when our attention should focus on each of us doing the best we can.  All deserve to be recognized for their unique accomplishments.

But some awards have special meaning because they embody learning opportunities and inclusiveness at the same time as they hold some achievers out as particular examples.  During the past month SMC has received two of these.

The Great Place to Work Institute named SMC as one of the 50 Best Small and Medium Workplaces.

And the B-Lab named SMC as one of their “Best for the World” companies for 2014.

The processes that led to these two recognitions are worthy of examination.  I will try to do that in a way that is not overly self-congratulatory, with the knowledge that I am likely to fail.

When Great Places to Work first contacted us two years ago and asked us to go through the application process, we looked at it and went “Whoa.  This is hard.  A ton of work.”  And we declined.

This year we looked at it again.  Two things occurred to us.  The first is that we felt that the work to assemble the information they require would be a useful exercise for us – the introspection demanded would point to new and better ways we can improve who we are and what we do.  A learning opportunity.

The second was our appreciation for the heart of the process –  an anonymous survey they conduct with each of our employees. Submissions go directly to them; we do not see them.  We thought it would be interesting for our employees to have that opportunity to express themselves freely about the company.   We liked that everyone has a voice; it’s inclusive.

So we decided to do it.

The work was useful, and it was nice to be named, but the most rewarding part of the process was that the Institute provided us with a selection of anonymous quotes from the employee survey.

Here are just a few:

“I have never before worked at a place where it seems that 100 percent of the people love their job. Turnover is almost nonexistent, and I felt so lucky when there was an opening for a position. I truly like to spend time with the people I work with every day. “

“The goal is to get your job done the best you can, but family comes first. “

“This company has a great reputation because we give back to the community. It makes it a place where everyone is proud to work.”

“There is a very strong sense of all-for-one and one-for-all. 

“The people that work for the company are what makes it so unusual. When I first started working for the company, everyone was so nice, helpful, genuine and laid back that I thought something must be wrong. After a couple of weeks, I realized that’s just the way everyone is.”

“We have extraordinarily good and generous mental and health benefits, and outstanding opportunities are given to employees to shape and change their job descriptions and roles within the company. “

“We are an employee-owned company. Personally, this makes a big difference! Having worked in ‘corporate America,’ I know that the difference is real and profound. It is so great to have a say in everything, from the big decisions to the small.”

“It is a ‘choose your own adventure’ experience. Dream it and make it happen.”

Here is the full write-up that Great Places did about South Mountain.

B-Lab is very different from Great Places.

 It is a non-profit  that certifies companies as “B Corporations” based on a variety of factors including corporate accountability and transparency, treatment of workers, community practices and environmental practices. Their rigorous process includes in-depth examinations of company practices and documents. SMC received B Corp certification in 2008.  We have been re-certified twice since then, and over 1100 other companies have been certified to date in the U.S. and 34 other countries.

Until now, we have had no real standards to differentiate good work from good marketing.  B-Lab provides exactly that.   B-Corp designation is like LEED Certification among developers and the Fair Trade designation among product suppliers.

The “Best for the World” designation is applied to the highest scoring of the companies that have gone through the certification process.

One of those is SMC.

So there they are.  Two nice recognitions.  Two pats on the back.  We all need them from time to time, whether we like it or not (which we do!).




Pete D’Angelo came to work at SMC in 1987.  Five years later, he became an owner.  For the past decade or so, he has had the complex job of planning and managing all of our small jobs and maintenance work.  In any given year we do repair work and small improvements/additions to roughly 50 different houses that we previously built or renovated.  It’s an important service. Co-owner Peg McKenzie manages the office end.  Pete manages the field.  Two carpenters and a collection of subcontractors support their efforts.

For 18 years he has also managed our indescribable annual Chappy golf tournaments.

When Pete came in recently and told me he had decided to retire, my heart sank.  He’d be hard to do without.  All that institutional knowledge, all that can-do problem-solving, all that relentless dedication to improvement . . .  and those pithy, irreverent hilarious e-mails and comments – just gone?  Just like that?  Are you kidding?

Yes, just kidding.  He’s not retiring.  But it was close.  It’s hard to express how pleased I am that he’s staying on half time, continuing to do all the most important stuff that he does, continuing to care for all the houses and clients we’ve put heart and soul into and continuing to add his always-entertaining offbeat commentary.

For many years, during discussions of upcoming company events, Pete said that we should all go to a Red Sox game together.  Here’s one note he sent when we asked people in the company for suggestions for company events:  “What the fuck? Trip to Fenway. We rent a bus. Stop at Jordan’s and load up on furniture cause it’s gonna be free, stay too long at the Cask and Flagon, catch a game, tattoos on the way home. Now that’s an event!!” Nobody ever listens to his pleas, but this time, as we contemplated his upcoming end of ownership and shift to half time, it seemed like a good time to listen. Continue reading »


We do not have a new Production Manager. We do not have one at all, but we intend to. We need a new Production Manager, and we have embarked on a quest to find the right person for a big job.  The responsibility:  to translate design intent into cost-effective, efficient construction and to further systematize design integration and construction processes company-wide.

What does that mean?

It means making certain that our designs are thorough, that our buildings get built as designed, that we maximize quality and efficiency and minimize errors, that the right amounts of the right materials arrive at our jobs, that scheduling is right on the money and people have sufficient time to do the job they are assigned, that we stay on budget, that the detailing is impeccable, that our buildings work the way buildings are supposed to work, that we exceed our clients expectations time after time, and that our estimating, scheduling, tracking, and building systems are capable of supporting and encouraging all the good things in this very long sentence.

It means we are hiring someone to spend 100% of his/her time doing exceptionally well some essential aspects of our work that I now spend less than 20% of my time doing adequately at best (some might say that even that is an embellishment!).

This is not the first time we have made this attempt; during the past five years we have tried and failed three times.  That’s a lot of times to screw something up.  We have learned from our failures; this time we plan to succeed.

The qualifications are rigorous:

• College degree (Construction management or related degree preferred)

• Five years experience in a similar position in the construction industry

• A leave-the-ego-at-the-door, company first, deeply collaborative spirit

• Excellence in the use of office and project management software such as Excel and Filemaker

• Love of numbers

• Great written and verbal communication skills

• If not a Martha’s Vineyard resident, willingness to re-locate here.

We are engaging in a thorough and deliberate process.  We will leave no avenue un-explored as we seek the right person.  We have even hired a recruiter – something we’ve never done before – because we think there’s a possibility he will help us to reach some people we may not otherwise have reached.  It’s an experiment; there’s nothing to lose (except some money).

If you know anyone who might be interested, and suitable, let them know about this opportunity, or let me know who you have in mind.  The full job description is on our website at