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From Home Business to National Success

by: Jessica Hoover
With 50 years under its belt, Raimonde Drilling Corporation (RDC) has been providing drilling and subsurface sampling services since 1971. RDC’s services include vertical and angle drilling into soil and bedrock formations for a variety of purposes, from mineral exploration and environmental investigations to geotechnical engineering and offshore drilling. The company currently works on projects across the country, but it didn’t start out that way. RDC went through its fair share of challenges before becoming the success that it is today.
Humble Beginnings
Five decades ago, a young couple, Frank and Lucille Raimonde, started the company out of their home with seven children and little money to their name. Frank set to work fabricating his first drill and going out to find drilling projects, which proved to be difficult at first. He worked long days, was concerned about when the next project would come, and whether he would collect what was owed to him.

“When he [my dad] went out and tried to get work, that was his hardest thing,” said Anne Leslie, current President of RDC. “Who was going to give him work, give him an opportunity? With my mom’s support, they just got a project here and there and started working for some engineering firms. It was difficult for him to collect because there was the threat of not paying. There weren’t any repercussions.”

While Frank was traveling for work, Lucille handled the invoices and payroll, collected receipts, answered the phone, and accepted deliveries out of their home, all while taking care of the seven children.

“Growing up imagine how hard it was – raising seven kids in your house, running a business out of your house, with your kids and doing the business, and having deliveries in the driveway – I don’t know how my mother did it,” said Leslie’s sister and Secretary at RDC, Fran Caputo.

As the children became old enough to work, they also began helping with the family business.

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“As we got older – as kids – we helped out,” Leslie said. “We washed the sample jars in the garage and had an assembly line, cleaning them so that they could be reused and eliminate the cost to buy sample jars. We would also spend our weekends washing the trucks and washing all the mud, washing our dad’s dirty clothes when he came home from out of town.”

Opportunities and Challenges
As the years went on, RDC’s office upgraded from the house to the basement as more of the children moved out on their own. In the 80s and 90s, the company worked on projects such as the Chicago Freight Tunnel for fiber optic utilization, the alignment of the MWRD Deep Tunnel Project leading to the McCook and Thornton Reservoirs, and the Great Chicago Flood project.

“As time progressed in the 90s, we thought, ‘Well, what’s our biggest weakness? Our biggest weakness is cash flow,’” Leslie said. “There was an uncertainty of when the next project was going to be and when you were really going to get paid. We thought about what would bring the best certainty of cash flow, and that was contract blast hole drilling. It has a steady flow of income every couple weeks, so we purchased a million dollars’ worth of equipment and gave that a go for a solid six years.”

In the early 2000s the company was awarded an offshore project with Bechtel, and Leslie developed a safety manual for RDC’s offshore operations.

“Bechtel’s safety department thought that was just the best that they had ever seen,” Leslie said. “It kind of completed our circle: focus on the customer, diversity, focus on safety, to provide quality service, and work on maintenance.”

In the mid-2000s Frank and Lucille decided to retire, and RDC moved to the current office in Addison, Illinois. In 2006, RDC was certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise, which led to many more challenging, yet rewarding projects. RDC worked on the O’Hare Modernization Program, Army Corp of Engineers projects, and was part of a Discovery Channel program focusing on geology called “Prehistoric Chicago”.

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Despite RDC’s achievements over the years, there were many times when the company was down to its last 10 cents, according to Leslie.

“Our financial struggles happened a lot pre-2010,” Leslie said. “We just had to cut costs often, holding our paychecks, and cease spending. But it was really the close ties with the mining companies that really helped us out. Like, ‘Hey look, if I give you a discount can you pay us in a couple weeks or 10 days?’ In conjunction with that, our vendors are key. Their patience with payment is just as critical to our solution to survive the situation. That’s why this whole 50th celebration was not just about one person or just about my dad. It is such a combined team effort of our vendors, our customers, our dedicated employees, that comprises the history of lessons learned.”

The Legacy of Frank Raimonde
In 2015, RDC and the Raimonde family endured some hard times with the passing of Frank. Even after his retirement in 2005, Frank remained a constant presence in the company, bringing coffee and doughnuts to the office and picking Leslie up in his tinted, black Lincoln to take her to jobsites and meetings.

“My dad would press and instill in me, ‘Anne you gotta be out there every day,’ and he wanted to go along too,” Leslie stated during a speech for RDC’s 50th anniversary celebration. “He would pick me up – always 20 minutes early – in his black Lincoln, and we would go wherever the crews were working. We would observe, like we were on a stakeout: smoking, drinking bad coffee, and eating junk food he shouldn’t have been eating. But he gave me so much insight, and treasured moments.”

Leslie said that it was one of the darkest moments of her life when her father passed. It was difficult for her to focus on or plan for a project, and her grief took her mentally away from work. Coincidentally, shortly after Frank’s passing, Leslie received a call to complete the last phase of a project at Thornton Quarry that had been stalled for three years.

For 10 days, she sat outside of the tunnel where RDC was drilling for 16 hours a day, keeping watch in case there was a risk of flooding where she would have to evacuate the workers from the tunnel.

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“RDC has so much history at Thornton Quarry including the reserve study in 1991, feasibility study in 2007, Hanson Aggregate acquisition, grout curtain in 2011 to 2014, the filming for Discovery Channel, and tunnel drain holes in 2015,” Leslie said. “Sitting there, it was so emotional because if my dad was still alive, he would be sitting with me. We would be eating all kinds of junk food, bad coffee, and smoking with a pile of butts on both sides of the windows, just watching and chatting about everything under the sun.”

On the last day of project, Leslie was leaving the jobsite at 5:30 a.m. with the sun beginning to rise over the quarry as she drove home. She felt the sunrise was a sign from her father to remind her to slow down and to not always rush to the next thing.

“I was thinking everything is going to work out, I’ve just got to allow it to,” Leslie said. “And pause to watch the sunrise and sunset along the way.”

Leslie said the outpour of support from friends, family, employees, customers, and vendors was instrumental in the company moving forward. RDC has since added new employees, a couple of new drills, and is now on their third generation of family in the business, with Leslie’s son, Ryan, joining the team. Looking forward to the next 50 years, Leslie said she foresees a lot more fun, a lot more holes drilled, and some welcomed challenges along the way.

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