Olando Petgrave: ‘Things to Teach Each Other’
Olando Petgrave didn’t take a direct path as he forged ahead from a Jamaican immigrant to a successful entrepreneur and community advocate.
“I was born in Jamaica and lived there until I was 17, and then moved to the U.S. Then I moved to Bridgeport, with my mom and dad, and went to high school there my senior year,” says Olando.
Olando enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps shortly after graduation, where he served eight years, including an extremely hazardous tour in Afghanistan. Olando says that after his service ended and with a growing family, he needed to find a good job — quickly.
“I got out of the Marine Corps, and obviously, I needed a job because I didn’t do enough time [in the military] to retire. I had young kids at the time, and I started out as a locksmith,” Olando says. “That was the first job I began. This was down in Milford because we had moved from Bridgeport. It was my company, but at one point, my wife and my kids lost their medical coverage, and that is how I got into painting.”
Area residents may be familiar with Olando’s painting business, as his truck is often spotted across the shoreline. He does both commercial and residential jobs, garnering a reputation for his professional quality work and his charitable efforts.
Olando says getting into a union was crucial to his success.
“Someone was able to connect me to a military liaison that helps veterans get a job, and they helped connect me later to the painters union,” Olando says.
Olando says he worked hard for seven years developing his skills, mostly undertaking large industrial jobs, such as highways and bridges, including a project for the former Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, also known as the Q Bridge. According to Olando, the union helped support further education and training and helped solidify how to make connections and network, skills he has since enhanced.
“That’s really how I learned painting. Being in the union, every winter, the first three years as an apprentice, they send you to school. They teach you all about chemicals and paints, how to sheetrock, drywall. They really set you up,” Olando explains. “At the time, I didn’t really understand that, but they really set you up and prepare you for business.”
Olando decided to branch out on his own just as the pandemic hit, but unlike many entrepreneurs, he was able to find his niche and excel during a period where many others failed.
He adds that reading is a critical aspect of his success.
“I was still in the union, but we were still able to work because we were essential workers because we were working on the highway,” Olando says. “I’m always reading. And I read a book called The 4-Hour Work Week, and that got my wheels spinning in my head and really thinking about how I spend my time —how much time I spend at work and how much time I spend with my kids or spend at home. And from just reading, … that gave me the courage to leave, which wasn’t easy.”
He adds, “That union job was a really good job. It comes with a pension and security and super stable and good pay. So, to walk away from that, you really need to build up the courage. By reading this book, it really showed me, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ If things get really bad, I can just go back to the union. I am vested, so they can’t kick you out. So, after I thought of it that way, I said, ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen?’ You might lose a little pride because you walked away like a big shot, and your past coworkers might make fun of you a little bit, but I knew I could come right back and still pay my bills. So, it was really a good decision for me.”
According to Olando, in 2019, he and his wife, Inesa, made the decision to move to Madison because of its academic reputation. Olando then started his painting business, Olando & Sons Painting, focusing on residential, commercial, and indoor and outdoor projects. He began networking, and his dream took off from there.
“We moved here in 2019, just before the pandemic. We had done our research, and we had done our searches for a house based on school districts and that’s how we landed here,” says Olando.
“We really came in at the perfect time because everything changed in the housing market pretty soon after that. At that same time, I was starting to get really involved here in the town of Madison. I was networking, people knew me, I was part of the Chamber [of Commerce] by then…I had joined the Rotary and volunteering, and it was a really good transition for me. Much better than I expected. I really hit the ground running after that,” he says. “Networking with local businesses has also allowed me to really connect with the community too.”
Among Olando’s many charitable projects is speaking to high school students about work skills and work ethics. Olando has also tackled a number of charitable painting projects, including painting the Scranton Library and power washing ball fields and the Surf Club, which he does as a way to give back to the community that has embraced him and his family.
“Joining the chamber here in Madison was the best thing I ever did. It really took off after that. I was able to make connections and really get involved,” Olando says. “I was asked to help out at the career day at the high school, coming from my background and being in the military. I felt like my story, coming from Jamaica, growing up with no running water, no electricity, move here to a city in not the best neighborhood…and slowly working my way all the way up to being here in Madison, I really feel like more people need to hear my story, especially young kids because it is a positive one. It doesn’t matter where you start.”
His love of the written word also spurred him to create a book club at the library. The club is on a brief hiatus, but Olando normally holds monthly meetings with local businesspeople to discuss how they can adapt and train their workforce and develop successful goals and plans, as well as network and develop relationships, which he says is key in almost every aspect of business and life.
“This is a great way for me to share these great books I read with everyone. I went to Michelle [Call], who was director of the chamber at that time. She read a lot, too, and we usually would pass books back and forth between us. And one day, we were talking, and I said, ‘We should just start a book club.’ She took me up on it, and then we set it up with R.J. Julia’s so people could get the books through them and get a discount. Then we set up with the library to borrow the book if they wanted and that’s how that got started,” Olando says.
The club typically meets monthly, and Olando says he expects it will start up again soon.
“I learned by talking with people in business much longer than me, but we all have things to teach each other. I love to share my books and my experience,” he says. “It really is about connecting something from the books and relating that to our experiences, and that opens up a whole conversation between us and a whole circle of ideas.”
Olando says his experience is unique and, at the same time, a tale of the typical immigrant arriving in America seeking opportunity.
For more information about Olando’s book club, visit the Madison Chamber of Commerce site, www.madisonct.com. For more information on Olando’s charitable projects or business, contact him at 203-815-6591 or visit www.olandoandsonpainting.com.