Sisters carry on a construction company built by their father and grandfather

Andreas Milano

Michelle Aristeo Barton has worked in the family business, Aristeo Construction, for her entire career, starting when she helped answer phones on the weekends at 7 years old. “I’m pretty confident my dad had people call in on Saturdays just to give me something to do,” she said. Now, after […]

Michelle Aristeo Barton has worked in the family business, Aristeo Construction, for her entire career, starting when she helped answer phones on the weekends at 7 years old.

“I’m pretty confident my dad had people call in on Saturdays just to give me something to do,” she said.

Now, after serving in numerous roles across the company and earning her MBA, she is president of the company, one of the nation’s top 10 general contractors in manufacturing.

Her sister, Anne Aristeo Martinelli, spent 16 years outside of Michigan in leadership roles at strategy consulting firms and as a retail executive, and she decided to return when her father told her in 2017 that he was planning to retire. It was time to change gears and move her family to the Detroit area.

Their father, Joseph Aristeo, and grandfather, Agostino Aristeo, founded the company in 1977. “They had a $10,000 loan and a truck, and three months into it, our grandfather passed away,” said Aristeo Martinelli. So their father, his brother and brother-in-law, and a close friend were the founding team that grew the company.

Like their grandfather, who immigrated to the U.S. from Italy, and their father, the sisters share an aggressive spirit, Aristeo Martinelli said. “And we’re trying to build on our family’s legacy,” she said. “But family is a pretty expanded definition” that includes all the dedicated teammates who have helped move the company forward, she said. When Aristeo Martinelli joined the company, working with family was new to her, so she had to adjust as she figured out how to compartmentalize. “Do we not talk about it at family dinners? Where do work and life meet?” she remembered thinking.

The company’s projects range from major manufacturing projects, including the recent Stellantis Detroit Assembly Plant, to renewable energy projects and work for higher education institutions. Aristeo Barton said she likes being part of a team that figures out how to do something that seems impossible. “We just finished up some work with a wind tunnel that was the first in the world of its kind,” she said. “Construction in general is really fast paced, really dynamic, and very demanding. And I think that attracts a certain breed of people.”

Aristeo is the largest Women’s Business Enterprise National Council-certified general contractor in the nation. The company is one of the top 200 general contractors in the nation, and it has won numerous awards, including the 2019 Toyota Excellent Supplier Award for Construction, Machine, & Equipment, and the 2020 Stellantis North America Indirect Diversity Supplier of the Year Award. “We’re at a very unique scale and vantage point, and we really want to welcome more women into the field,” said Aristeo Martinelli.

To do that, the Aristeo sisters have been mentoring other women-owned businesses, including several in the construction field, through the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council. “To hear some of the success stories that have come out of the women business owners, it really inspires you,” said Aristeo Martinelli. “There’s so much perseverance that they have, and so much grit, particularly if they’ve been challenged by the pandemic.”

The company’s success has been a team effort, Aristeo Barton said. “There’s a deep purpose and connection that we all have in trying to move this business forward and perpetuate it. Our goal has always been to leave it better than we received it.”

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