Glasstra Aluminum Inc.

If you’ve ever landed at Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, you might have noticed its striking architecture, with sweeping wavelike designs, curved glass and complex angles that evoke a body at sea. It’s a style of architecture that lets visitors know without a doubt they’re on a Caribbean island.

It’s also the type of project that Glasstra Aluminum Inc. co-founder and President José Trapote likes to take on. 

“We always look for the most difficult projects, the ones that are unusual,” Trapote says. “We like those that require intelligence and engineering. Actually, all the buildings we’ve done have been that way.”

Founded in 1978 by Trapote and his brother Adolfo, Glasstra Aluminum and Glasstra Manufacturing Inc. – part of the same corporation – have supplied high-quality aluminum and glass for dozens of major projects in Puerto Rico. The company’s portfolio includes the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s main office building, with its impressive wall of arced glass; the Hotel Conquistador, a luxurious resort overlooking the ocean from the island’s east coast; all the terminal buildings at the international airport, and even the control tower.

With only about 100 employees, Glasstra is a small, yet highly skilled company with a family business feel to it (there are only two shareholders). But the Cataño-based company, which specializes in the manufacturing, engineering and installation of curtain walls, store fronts, windows and doors in industrial, commercial and public buildings, has continued to grow during the past three decades because its clients are unquestionably loyal.

“My first emphasis is to always bring intensity to projects,” Trapote says. “The second one is honesty. We have always been honest with our clients and our employees. And we’ve surrounded ourselves with very capable people.”

Working from a tiny office back in 1978, Glasstra’s first contract was a small, five-figure one with RJ Reynolds in San Juan. The business grew, and over the next decade, the size and scope of projects increased, too.

“That’s how we began, with small jobs; we were a small company. But soon our projects were worth $100,000, then $200,000 and then $300,000,” Trapote recalls. “We had been in that location for eight years, so we moved to a larger facility. That’s when we started to get the really important contracts.”

Today, Glasstra averages about $8 million in annual sales, and some projects are valued at more than $10 million. Trapote’s brother Adolfo retired three years ago and Julie Ann Martínez came on board as vice-president and comptroller. Workers still design, assemble and manufacture as many components as possible in-house.

“There is an important element of courage in the great projects,” Trapote says. “One has to be courageous to tackle new and ambitious projects. I think that as a company, we understand this, and we understand that our success has come because of this.”

The most complex project Glasstra has tackled so far is the Puerto Rico Convention Center. With 580,000 square feet of space, the convention center is the Caribbean’s largest, and one of Latin America’s most technologically advanced.

Its three levels are capped by a towering waveform roof nearly thirteen stories high, and its curvy glass curtain walls are a critical feature to enhance the center’s acclaimed ocean views. It is a remarkable architectural achievement and an example of why Puerto Rico’s biggest construction firms continue hiring Glasstra.

“We want to continue being the No. 1 company in Puerto Rico for these types of projects,” Trapote says.

Another component to the company’s success is its location. “It’s easy to work in Puerto Rico,” he says. “There is an abundance of quality labor, well-trained supervisors and employees who are dedicated and remain faithful to the company.”

The financial turmoil that many companies began to experience after the 2008 global economic downturn has only recently begun to have an impact on Glasstra. However, in terms of revenue, December 2009 marked the end of the best year the company has had to date.

Trapote admits his company is seeing a bit of a slowdown recently. New contracts are down this year, and the company has had to reduce personnel and spending in response. But new contracts are being negotiated and last year’s strong performance has provided sufficient reserves to weather the storm, he says.

“For us, the crisis started this year,” Trapote notes. “Just as we’re the last ones to start working on a project, we’re also the last ones to feel the effects of an economic downturn. But we’ve got a few projects in the works.”

In the meantime, the company’s reputation, past performance and ability to tackle the most complex projects ensure that Glasstra Aluminum will continue to enjoy long-term growth and success. “The fundamental components for us are intensity of work, love for the job and a sense of pride when the job is done,” Trapote explains. “Being able to say, ‘We built that’ is the payoff.”

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