When Ron Bercume passed away in 2021, his daughter, Nicole Bercume, said there was never a doubt that she would pick up the mantle of leadership in Bercume Builders, the company he started almost 40 years ago.
But it was a winding road that brought Nicole to that point, along which she settled in Florida, got married, built a law career with her husband, Andrew Bass, had kids, and returned home to Hadley.
Before her father succumbed to pancreatic cancer in October 2021, Bercume was already helping him build the final seven homes in a 28-home development in North Hadley called Shattuck Estates and Sapphire Estates; when he passed away, she stepped in and worked with the company’s longtime subcontractors to finish the job. By that time, she had already decided to stay on and continue Ron’s work.
“My dad had created such a fantastic company,” she told BusinessWest. “It would be a shame if it didn’t continue.”
Today, those 28 large homes on Crystal Lane, Indian Pipe Drive, and Nikki’s Way stand as the last success story in Ron’s career and the first in Nicole’s new one. Beyond that development, she is currently building her third house on a lot on Colony Drive, right across Shattuck Road, with a goal of creating a constant flow of residential projects, and even expanding the business beyond her father’s traditional focus on Hadley and Amherst.
“My dad had created such a fantastic company. It would be a shame if it didn’t continue.”
“Forty years is a long time,” Bercume said as she and Bass took BusinessWest on a walking tour of the development. “My parents started it together right when I was born, and they just went from there. Once I got older, I realized how talented of a businessman and builder my dad was. It’s not just that he would build homes; this was all wooded land, so he would design the actual subdivision. He would design the roads, and that takes a lot of skill.”
When he died at age 81, “he was still plugging away,” she added. “He always loved to work. All his subs worked for him for a long time. All the guys have known me since I was little, and I was very lucky to have learned from my father.”
Bercume had interest in the family business, but in her early 20s, the timing wasn’t right. “He was still working aggressively, and at that point, he was doing everything himself, so there wouldn’t have been a substantial role for me.”
So she went to college and law school in Florida, met Bass, and moved back to Hadley in 2015 and passed the Massachusetts bar. She started working at a firm in Northampton, while Bass started his own firm; in 2019, they bought a building on Route 9 in Hadley, which today houses Bass/Bercume Law Offices. Bercume handled the firm’s real-estate practice, while Bass handled the litigation practice.
Bass started out in consumer-protection work, particularly around Massachusetts’ lemon law. “That was really strong, so I started doing those cases all over the state; they mostly went to litigation because the dealerships wouldn’t resolve the cases, so that’s how I got into litgation,” he recalled. “After I got rolling, I got into construction litigation because Nicole’s dad had a lot of cases, so litigation became my core focus.”
Cases in that realm include land-use issues, contracts, and purchases of land; at one point, Ron settled a notable case with Tofino Associates of Hadley over a roadway issue in the Amherst Hills development near the Belchertown line.
Bass was recently recognized by Lawyers of Distinction as one of the top 10% civil-litigation attorneys in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, over the past couple years, Nicole was transitioning away from the practice into her new role leading Bercume Builders. “My father did teach me everything; once we had our kids and moved back here, that’s when he taught me everything.”
Ron typically built large homes with “classy, simple interiors, not a lot of clutter,” Nicole said, noting that homes in the new development start at 3,000 square feet, and typically feature open floor plans, high-end appliances, and maple flooring — and each was built in just four months. After her third house on Colony, she said she’s on the cusp of buying more land to develop a subdivision like the Shattuck/Sapphire project.
At a time when it’s still uncommon for a woman to lead a building firm (see related story on page 25), Bercume doesn’t particularly care if people question her abilities, noting that the subs who worked with her father for, in some cases, decades know what she can do — and they know she’s committed to her father’s values.
“My father really had such a great process. Even if you didn’t like my dad, you definitely respected him because he was an astute businessman, and he was just on top of it.”
“My dad’s greatest skill was that he had good taste; he picked out all the plans himself. People always say you know when a home is a Bercume home because they’re attractive and clean and classy-looking,” she said. “Construction defects were never an issue for him because, the second there was a problem, my dad, who could never sit still, would take care of it.
“He always did higher-end homes for whatever the era was,” she continued. “He liked big homes; the bigger he could build, the more fun it was for him.”
And when she got her Massachusetts construction license and reaffirmed her working relationships with those longtime subs, she knew it would be fun for her, too.
“My father really had such a great process. Even if you didn’t like my dad, you definitely respected him because he was an astute businessman, and he was just on top of it. All his subs respected him, and that transferred to me nicely. He taught me a lot, so I know what to expect from everyone, and it was very fluid.”
It’s just another way Bercume Builders has been a generational success story — one that occupies Nicole’s earliest memories, when she’d visit Ron at job sites. “And now, our three kids are always on the job sites with us.”
Because it’s never too early to introduce them to the family business.