The old traction machines

Champion modernization mechanic Juan Fermin

In this Readers Platform, Vantage and Champion executives discuss working together on their biggest-ever modernization.

In 2018, Champion Elevator teamed up with Vantage Elevator Solutions to deliver the largest project in the history of both organizations: a 160-elevator modernization project for Co-Op City in the Bronx, New York (ELEVATOR WORLD, September 2018). The job was a test of the engineering skills, product expertise and project management experience of everyone involved.

Long-Term Partnership

Champion executives knew from the outset that it was going to be crucial to partner with a dependable vendor providing the right equipment for the Co-Op City project. “Running a job like this is like running a company in its own right,” said Champion President Donald Gelestino, continuing:

“We have a daily modernization team of 20 people and 12 maintenance sta.ff on site for just this one job. We have Robert Masterson, president of Modernization at Champion Elevator, serving as team leader for this project, and he has assembled a highly skilled project-management team to help facilitate the task. A project of this scope demands a huge amount of focus.”

With a four-and-a-half-year delivery schedule, that focus also extends within the Vantage engineering and delivery team. Eric Lazear, project executive and regional vice president at Vantage, noted the mutual investment that went into making the project successful. “Just like with any relationship, a long-term project like this requires commitment and dedication — and a lot of communication,” he said. “This is the biggest order in the history of GAL Manufacturing and Hollister-Whitney, Champion’s two selected Vantage strategic suppliers, so we’re eager to show off the great progress we’re making. This is a very exciting job for all of us at Vantage.”

Before GAL and Hollister-Whitney were acquired into the Vantage group in 2017, both businesses had a history of providing Champion with equipment. As members of Vantage, the two companies are now able to serve Champion as a one-stop supplier with a single point of ownership. “Co-Op City really is the perfect opportunity for us to demonstrate the strength of Vantage,” Lazear explains. “We now have the ability to deliver a full range of elevator equipment from one central connection point and manage the entire order from end to end. In many ways, this is just the type of project that Vantage was designed for.”

Three Major Challenges

When considering the sheer scale of the Co-Op City project, Gelestino was well aware of the pressure Champion was going to face. Over the span of his 32-year career in elevator mechanics, operations and business management, he has mapped out — and discovered ways to address — the three main challenges of elevator modernization.


Most elevator companies will be familiar with the problems of project costing. For a building owner, modernization is typically seen as a financial burden, rather than a positive investment.

“For most bids, the owner is quickly drawn to the cheapest option,” Gelestino said, “and that instantly pushes us into a financial negotiation.”

Champion often finds itself competing with companies that are unclear on their margins and price themselves too low. While acknowledging the frustration this can bring, Gelestino said the solution is not always about being cheaper. He continued:

“For us, it’s never just about equipment cost and bottom line, but taking into consideration things like installation synergies, project management and planning, product footprint, quality, logistics and communication. We need solutions that are easy to install and maintain, and dependable. That’s what makes the real di.fference, and that’s what drove our decision to go with GALaxy controls and Hollister-Whitney machines for this project. We know the products, and we know the quality is outstanding. We have confldence in the long-term value of using these products, and we can pass that confldence on to the customer.”


Once a job is agreed, there is never an ideal time to perform an elevator modernization. Contractors such as Champion get tied into tight schedules that are often linked to penalties but still depend on a number of outside factors for getting the timing right. They often need to wait for building owners to make selections, while negotiating lead times with suppliers and inspections with the New York City (NYC) Department of Buildings (DOB). A delayed job can leave the contractor with a team working at less than full capacity, which brings additional costs. Said Gelestino:

“The reality is that things go wrong sometimes. But, what matters is how you respond to those issues when they arise, whether you’re a vendor, a builder or a contractor. For us, the key is to stay flexible, keep communicating and trust in our experience to handle issues when they come along. We always aim to be as accommodating as possible without necessarily sticking a price tag on everything.”

For the Co-Op City project, flexibility has been key for both Champion and Vantage. The realization that any potential issue in the first building would be multiplied by 10 made it critical to find the best solution as early as possible. Robert Masterson of Champion, in conjunction with the Vantage project engineering team, headed up by Regional Field Engineer Josh Simpson, has been providing hands-on support for resolving complex issues onsite and ensuring a timely delivery.

“We needed a partner who wouldn’t just hand us the equipment and tell us to go figure it out,” Gelestino said. “There’s huge value in being able to collaborate and solve issues together. As a team, we become an extension of each other — and that’s the sign of a true partnership.”


Another major challenge is the logistics of the job. It’s crucial to be able to deliver equipment to the building, even with limited access, without causing unnecessary inconvenience to people or damage to the structure or equipment. But, no matter how skilled and experienced a contractor’s team is, there’s always the possibility of an odd curveball. Said Gelestino:

“While we can predict a lot of things, we still see new and di.fferent situations all the time. You just can’t train your people to deal with every scenario they will ever face, so, for us, the biggest key is to have a team that’s empowered and trusted to make decisions in the moment. We want to help the building owner make life easier for their tenants and sta.ff, which means that our people will do whatever they consider to be the right thing at the time.”

That ability to make calm and sensible decisions is the result of an extensive safety training program, a positive company ethos and a team culture that has been deliberately grown and nurtured over time. But, it’s also important to have a supply chain that sets the project up for success. “We really needed a supplier that could take ownership of their part in the project and support the logistics on a local level, which meant that Vantage was perfectly placed with their headquarters in the Bronx,” said Gelestino. “They could offer all the hands-on project management and engineering, tech support, product packaging and delivery.” He noted that his crews could get all the equipment for each elevator bundled into one shipment, ready for collection just half an hour away. “It’s perfect,” he said.

The Future of Modernization

The next seven years will continue to be busy for companies like Champion, as buildings in NYC are increasingly modernizing elevators based on the new DOB requirements for door-lock monitoring in 2020 and unintended-motion detection and control in 2026. Regardless of code changes, however, equipment across America is aging and will need attention to remain safe and e–cient. This means elevator companies will be seeing more large-scale modernization jobs coming up and need to be ready to handle them.

“As far as we’re concerned, the Co-Op City project will give us all the experience we need for confidently handling huge-scale mods in the future,” said Gelestino. “The collaboration between us and Vantage will make both businesses perfectly poised for tackling other, similar projects together — whatever challenges we’re thrown along the way.”

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Åsa Christina Magnusson

Åsa Christina Magnusson

Content consultant for Vantage Elevator Solutions.

Elevator World | May 2019 Cover