Neil Swidey (thanks, Mackson): Just after 4 o’clock, when John Ferreira was looking the other way, a prankster pushed him into his pool. It’s a gorgeous pool, rimmed by smooth boulders and an elaborate waterfall, and surrounded by golf course-quality turf, all set against the backdrop of 120 acres of his private forest. Still, it’s no fun being tossed into the water fully clothed.
But Ferreira emerged a few seconds later, flashing a big grin. Standing on the patio, a puddle forming around his feet, he pulled off his yellow T-shirt and wrung it dry, as 500 of his employees and their families looked on, smiling.
Outside of his circle, few people know the 47-year-old Ferreira, who grew up poor on a dairy farm in southeastern Massachusetts and never went to college. But he’s a notable figure in New England’s construction and landscaping world, as well as in every corner of Rehoboth, his tiny farming hometown that has turned into a bedroom community dotted with trophy homes, many of them built by Ferreira. He’s the definition of a big fish in a small pond. Yet even after his net worth swelled into the millions, even after he was elected chairman of the Rehoboth Board of Selectmen, he never departed from his daily uniform of a T-shirt, jeans, and work boots.
An hour after his unplanned swim, Ferreira, with sunglasses in his dark hair, walked several acres to get to the far end of his lawn. There, an inflatable kiddie land that would rival any small amusement park’s had been erected for the day. There was a “Bungee Run,” a mechanical bull, and a gladiator pit, which Ferreira stepped into and began jousting with the police chief from a neighboring town. After about 10 minutes, with the police chief sufficiently vanquished, Ferreira stepped out of the pit. He walked by his oversize garage where he stores his helicopter, and then he headed for the patio behind his white, crushed-marble house, to watch the party’s second musical act, a raucous R&B band.
Through the evening, right up until the dazzling 22-minute fireworks show, Ferreira shook hands, slapped backs, and made sure his guests were having a good time and that their cups never ran dry.
The party on this muggy July day was Ferreira’s 2006 summer bash. When he and his wife began the annual tradition of opening their home to his employees and their families 18 years ago, he had a much smaller home and a lot fewer employees. This year, 989 people had accepted his invitation, and there were security checkpoints, guest lists, and bracelets handed out so the crashers couldn’t slip in like last year.
Ferreira is popular with his people. He’s a hard worker who demands the same of his employees, but he’s always run his operation like a small family business and always enjoyed sharing the spoils. Yet, after a decade of his business’s runaway growth, finances had become strained over the preceding year. Ferreira couldn’t understand why, even as his sales volume grew, his profits fell. As he pushed his managers to find ways to pump up the bottom line, he came to the conclusion that his enterprise had simply gotten too big. So he began to reverse course. At Christmas, he cut way back on his usually generous employee bonuses. In January, he began downsizing his front-office staff . In February, he closed two of his landscape supply stores.
But by the time his party rolled around in July, Ferreira and every one of his remaining employees could explain the mystery behind his company’s cash-flow problems with a single word: Angela.