High-end everything. That’s how one might describe the offices of many of ConopCo Project Management’s recent clients. Upon strolling through its spaces, you may spot silk carpets handwoven in Tibet, millwork crafted of German bird’s eye maple, and a variety of beautifully veined veneers sourced from around the world.
Of course, at $300 per square foot (or triple the typical cost of a corporate office), it makes sense that the stylistic touches would be—to put it lightly—lavish.
“These are families that get what they want,” explains Bill Conopeotis, president, founder, and namesake of ConopCo. When he says “families,” he’s referring to several well-known Chicago dynasties that sought out ConopCo to move or build their new offices. It’s here—among the handwoven silk and bird’s eye maple—that the upper crust can manage their investments, foundations, and charitable trusts.
ConopCo at a Glance
* More than 115 tenant interior projects and more than 30 ground-up suburban developments
* More than 7.8 million square feet of projects, totaling more than $800 million
* Corporate office projects for tech start-ups Echo Logistics and 2080, as well as Orbitz
* New offices for Chicago Public Schools, Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Follet
Such clientele come to ConopCo not because the company is a real estate broker or even a construction firm. Rather, the lean and mean nine-person firm is a well-networked managerial and coordination team, adept at the organizational puzzle of project management. With a focus on corporate office relocation and the aforementioned high-end family offices, ConopCo hires architects, engineers, and general contractors. It coordinates complicated moves. It procures furniture from across continents on tight deadlines. All of this has allowed the company—as led by Conopeotis—to win deals over industry titans such as Jones Lang LaSalle, Cushman & Wakefield, and CB Richard Ellis.
It wasn’t always this way. When Conopeotis founded ConopCo in December 1999, he had to convince one of his contacts, Dean Bostrom, executive director of the Hoffman Estates Park District, to hire him to manage the development of a 100,000-square-foot fitness center. The project gave ConopCo enough revenue to pay the bills for one year. Then came an even bigger coup—one that put the company in touch with the families it works with today: a contract for a $100 million build-to-suit office for billionaire investment manager John Calamos. This triggered a chain of deals that established the firm’s reputation and, eventually, opened the pockets of some of Chicago’s wealthiest business owners and philanthropists.
Naturally, ensuring that these families’ offices are up to clients’ standards—not to mention visually striking—is quite the endeavor. Nevertheless, ConopCo proves time and again to be the perfect company for the task—thanks in no small part to Conopeotis himself. He thrives on the nitty-gritty, often mind-boggling tasks required to make project-management dreams a reality. This can include delivering furniture and millwork from far-flung places and making sure these deliveries happen on time and to specification across several continents.
“Even that weaver from Tibet has a schedule they have to meet,” Conopeotis says. “They need to feel the anxiety—our anxiety—of meeting a tight schedule for a project with two rooms in Chicago.”
Conopeotis brings up another example: convincing a prized Italian architect that his plaster ceilings won’t fly in Chicago, where the skilled labor required for installation (negotiated by trade unions) is dramatically more expensive than in Italy.
Still, Conopeotis works just as well with social media-savvy millennials as he does with architects and suppliers overseas. ConopCo’s latest move, he says, is developing the raw industrial designs of young tech start-ups such as Echo Global Logistics and 2080. This means working with executives 10 years his junior on open-interior layouts, outfitted with connective infrastructure and high-end amenities. Specialty coffee bars, green living walls, and lounge areas are all recreational bonuses where employees can step away from their desks for a game of ping pong.
“There is a big trend in collaborative office spaces with lots of areas for casual conversations; cafés and small enclaves where you can get your laptop out and project a budget forecast right out in the open,” Conopeotis says.
The growth of ConopCo’s portfolio has far outpaced that of its staff. Since American Builders Quarterly last spoke with Conopeotis in 2013, he’s had to add only one new member to his team. The work hasn’t stopped or even scaled back, however. In the next five years, if all goes as planned, the company could launch a number of new university healthcare and institutional museum projects.
Not that there’s some secret recipe behind ConopCo’s success. As Conopeotis points out, the firm’s rise to prominence and collaboration with Chicago’s most elite families owes its credit to hard work, not a stroke of genius or the optimism of private investors. It’s the old Glengarry Glen Ross formula: “Always be closing.”
“We know how to sell and close deals, and we can stack up against anybody” Conopeotis says. “I always tell my clients if they can find a better list of references, then hire that firm. I’m confident that they won’t.”
A respected partner, experience with the complexities involving Family Office build-outs is one of many areas of expertise Billy C brings to his table! Executive Construction is a general contractor whose work is underscored by a highly principled approach to business. We very much appreciate Bill’s leadership on all projects!