Features

Michael Voccola – Procaccianti Companies

Corporate VP steers Procaccianti’s East Coast growth strategy

When Michael Voccola was pushing 40 and going back to school to get his law degree, he found himself surrounded by fresh-faced 20-somethings in the classroom of a brilliant professor. One day, the professor handed out a case and asked them all to read it.

She then asked the class, “What would you do if you represented the client?”

One student raised his hand and told her he’d file this legal brief and that legal brief. Another student chimed in that he’d file a different legal motion entirely.

The professor called on Voccola. “Michael, what would you do?” she asked.

“I’d call the other side and get this thing resolved,” Voccola replied.

That wasn’t the answer she was looking for, the professor told him.

“I know,” Voccola replied, “but that’s how it’s done in the real world.”

“It seems like every job I had, every week was like four years of college,” Voccola says today. Now corporate vice president and associate general counsel at Procaccianti Companies, a Rhode Island-based national real estate investment company, he leverages that real-world experience to help keep the corporate gears turning smoothly.

In his 20-plus years with Procaccianti, Voccola has seen the business grow significantly and transition from a paper-driven modus operandi to a reliance on the latest technologies. He’s also grown close to his colleagues, whom he credits for much of his success.

“We have an incredible group of people who work here that I depend on, and to some degree, they depend on me,” he says. “We’re able to fashion administrative policies and procedures that make everybody’s job easier, and to better facilitate our rapid growth.”

Handling scenic marina deals

Voccola oversees everything from contracts and vendor agreements for all Procaccianti’s hotels and properties to governmental relations issues. He even started the company’s growing insurance division and built out its licensing and permit operations.

One project for which Voccola has been handling all the due diligence and contracts is Procaccianti’s push to buy, remake and rebrand marinas across the East Coast. It’s a niche business that gives the company another revenue stream, Voccola says.

“Boating is a very elastic economy, so we’re able to take advantage of the elasticity in pricing and whatnot,” he adds. “We can make a lot of improvements to the properties that we buy, and consequently, enhance the revenues accordingly. And that has proven to be a successful strategy.”

There are Procaccianti marinas on Block Island and in Jamestown in Rhode Island, one in Port Jefferson, New York, two in Islamorada, Florida, one in Savannah, Georgia, one in Scituate, Massachusetts, and one in Little Torch Key, Florida, among others.

“The first thing we do is bring whatever services are lacking to the boaters, make sure they can access all the things they need—electricity, dumping and water,” Voccola says. “We provide mechanical work and storage. Many of the marinas that we acquire don’t have those elements but have the potential for them. So, we try to create revenue streams within each of these properties through renovated restaurant and bar facilities, events, children’s areas and so forth.”

Enabling Neon Marketplace expansion

Voccola has also been assisting with the growth of Neon Marketplace, a small but growing chain featuring the unexpected pairing of an upscale cafe selling fresh food and multiple gasoline and diesel pumps and Tesla charging stations in one facility. The first location opened in Warwick, Rhode Island, in 2021.

“We developed it from zero based on the vision of our CEO,” Voccola says. “It’s always a learning process, but we’re very happy with the rollout. It’s been very well-received by the public.”

Customers enter the cafe area to find a large pizza oven front and center. As they walk around, they can smell pizzas cooking and see fresh sandwiches being assembled.

Procaccianti currently has eight outposts of Neon Marketplace in operation, for which Voccola helped secure municipal approvals and handled the logistics of development. It has six more in the works, and it’s looking to open 30 total within the next few years.

From Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Providence, Rhode Island, to Seekonk, Massachusetts, Voccola and his colleagues are trying to change the way New Englanders look at gas station convenience marts.

“It’s unlike any other gas station operation that sells food,” Voccola says.

Going back to school, again

Before he earned his J.D. from Roger Williams University, Voccola received his B.S. in marketing and business from Boston College. He launched his career at one of the busiest real estate developers in southern New England, Downing Corporation, now known as Churchill & Banks. Voccola started as an intern during his last summer of college and rose to vice president within his six years.

“I was able to cut my teeth with people and organizations that were very active in real estate development, and that was a hell of an education,” Voccola recalls. “When I went later in life to get my law degree, combining those things was a true one plus one equals three experience.”

He joined Procaccianti on Aug. 1, 2001. A month later, 9/11 made it seem like a bad time to be in the hotel development business, but in fact, Voccola says, the drying up of travel in the immediate aftermath of the attacks didn’t hold the company back. Rather, Procaccianti went on a buying spree.

“Prices were low, credit was good, cash was available and there wasn’t as much institutional hospitality ownership as there is now,” Voccola explains.

He quickly found himself leading all kinds of acquisitions at a frenetic pace. And today, those experiences form the basis of the lessons he teaches at his old law school, where he leads seminars for second- and third-year law students, as well as for established attorneys seeking continuing law education credits.

“It was important to me that the students know what happens when you leave law school,” Voccola says. “I’m doing another one this spring at the law school—that would be number 10—and ultimately, I’ll teach there when I retire from here. Because I enjoy doing it.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer II 2023 Edition here.

Published on: July 6, 2023

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