Gus Michael Vratsinas
BSCE 1967, MSCE 1968
When Gus Vratsinas was 6, growing up in Little Rock across the street from where the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences was being built, he became fascinated with the workers and the process of construction. Particularly, he was curious about that fellow peering through the eyepiece of an instrument mounted on a tripod. “Somebody told me that he was the civil engineer,” Vratsinas said. “And from that time on I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. So when I went to Fayetteville, I enrolled in civil engineering.” Since then, he has never lost enthusiasm for building things throughout his 36-year career in the construction business.
Today, Vratsinas is chairman of Little Rock-based VCC (Vratsinas Construction Company), which he co-founded in 1987. The company has grown from humble beginnings into being the country’s largest builder of malls and other retail projects. “I believe that old adage, ‘Find a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ So I still get up in the morning every day full of enthusiasm and excitement about building something.”
Even before he arrived on the Fayetteville campus in fall 1962, Vratsinas worked on survey crews as a helper on weekends during his high school years. He worked his way through college the same way. “It just always appealed to me, and it seems like I’ve always done it,” he said.
Vratsinas said his college years were some of the best years of his life. A big part of his experience at the U of A was participating in the Army ROTC, which led to a tour of duty as a captain with engineering duties in South Korea from 1968 to 1970. “I was very fortunate not to be sent to Vietnam,” he said. He completed his Army duties later at Valley Forge, Penn., and in the active Army Reserve.
Upon his return, Vratsinas took a job as project engineer for Little Rock’s Pickens Bond Construction Company and Kelley-Nelson Construction Company, and climbed the ranks through project manager, vice-president, executive vice-president, and served as Kelley-Nelson’s president from 1983 to 1986.
Then one Friday he resigned, feeling somewhat out of step with the company. The next Monday he woke up and got ready to go to work. His wife, Irene, asked where he was going, and he replied, “I’ve worked every day in my life and I’m going to go somewhere and before the sun sets I’ll have an office somewhere.” And he did. “I sat in my office for a few days,” he said, “and then the phone rang and then I had some work to do.” Shortly thereafter, he founded VCC with two partners.
At about this time, Vratsinas also got busy in civic and philanthropic activities. “I’ve always felt a strong sense of duty and the need to give back,” he said, “and I think that comes from the gratitude instilled in me by my parents.”
Vratsinas, the son of Greek immigrants, feels he is living the American dream. His father, John Vratsinas, came to the United States at the age of 12, arriving at Ellis Island for legal processing into the country and then heading for Fort Smith, Ark., where he had some family. With the onset of the Depression in the 1930s John returned to Greece for a while, where he married Fotini Sipsas. In 1939 they returned to the U.S. with one daughter in tow and settled in Little Rock, where Gus was born a few years later. Vratsinas said his parents’ legacy to him included the values of tradition, patriotism, charity, dedication and vision. His father died when he was 17, but he certainly would be proud of his son’s accomplishments.
Gus Vratsinas’ American dream has been realized in numerous ways and recognized through a variety of honors and awards. His construction company, VCC, with offices in Little Rock; Irvine, Calif.; Atlanta, and Dallas, is nationally acclaimed, and Vratsinas seems most proud of the fact that “we have never missed a project’s opening date.”
In 2000, he was designated a Life Board Member of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, for which he has volunteered since 1986. Also in 2000, Vratsinas was named to the University of Arkansas Engineering Hall of Fame. In 1985 he was the Arkansas Society of Professional Engineers’ “Engineer of the Year,” and he received the Silver Beaver Award from the Boy Scouts of America. He has volunteered for the Boy Scouts for 24 years. In 1999 he received the Arkansas Philanthropy Award, and he was named to the Leadership 100 by the Greek Orthodox Church of the Americas. In 2004, Vratsinas received the Congressional Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which recognizes Americans of different ethnic backgrounds who have made a significant contribution to society. “That award is very special to me because my parents came through Ellis Island,” Vratsinas said. “I took my whole family to New York for the event, and it was a great honor to be part of it.”
Written by Sean Harrison