When Steve Slepcevic was 5 years old, his father asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Young Slepcevic said he did not know. But his father did.
“He said, `You’re going to be a doctor. So tell people to call you Dr. Steve,”‘ Slepcevic, more than three decades later, recalled his father saying. “So people started calling me Dr. Steve.”
But Slepcevic eventually dropped the nickname. The son of strict Serbian immigrant parents never made it to medical school.
Instead, he dropped out of Hawthorne High School in the 11th grade to pursue a career in construction.
“I was probably 15 or 16 when I made my mind up that I loved framing and building and being in the outdoors,” Slepcevic said. “And I don’t think he was disappointed because he saw that I was good at it.”
He also organizes conferences to teach businesses and institutions how to deal with natural and man-made disasters.
Slepcevic organized conferences in 12 cities nationwide last year and expects another dozen this year. Attendance ranged from about 150 to 200 at each event, with representatives from businesses, government agencies, hospitals, universities and other institutions attending.
Speakers discuss such topics as data recovery, evacuation plans, stabilizing a building and dealing with insurance companies.
“I found that the businesses that had their plans in place, they had a better chance of recovering than those that didn’t,” he said. “So I set up a second company that has an educational conference called the Disaster Preparedness Summit. Those who respond quickly and effectively save a ton of money and reopen quicker.”
Slepcevic’s first experience with a hurricane came in 1992, when he went to Florida for a project after Hurricane Andrew. He rebuilt a retirement home owned by the parents of a friend.
“It was my first taste of wide-area disaster recovery,” Slepcevic said. “I had done fires and floods in California but on an individual basis. After Florida, I started to realize I wanted to do more wide-area disaster recovery.”
He went on to do work in the aftermath of other hurricanes and disasters, including the 1994 Northridge earthquake and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 on the Gulf Coast.
Slepcevic said he did about $18 million in renovation work from the Northridge quake and $8 million to $9 million from a massive 1995 Texas hail storm.
The Southern California wildfires have kept him “really busy,” he said.
But he has also lost money on some projects.
“I worked Katrina, and we had an office set up in Slidell, La. We made money, but we also lost money because we had some clients who didn’t pay,” he said. “I’m still collecting.”
Slepcevic was born in Akron, Ohio, the middle child between four sisters. The family moved to California a year later.
At 12 years old, he began to help out after school and on weekends with his uncles, who were general contractors.
“At 12 years old, digging ditches and pouring concrete was the norm,” he said.
By the time he was in high school, Slepcevic often worked until 9 or 10 at night.
“At that time, I recognized he had a gift for it,” said his uncle Batta Vujicic who now owns Prime Development in Westlake Village. “And he loved the field. He made a passionate jump into it. And I thought that was going to hold him on for years to come.”
Slepcevic took his first solo project at age 17. His friend’s parents in Hawaii wanted to build a two-car garage.
In about eight days, Slepcevic, with the help of his friend, built the garage.
“There was no money to be made. They gave me room and board and the flight (ticket),” Slepcevic said. “My whole thing is I wanted to get done and get out there and surf.”
Slepcevic then started his own business and bid on his uncles’ jobs while taking engineering and design classes at El Camino College.
“I was doing framing, windows, cabinets, doors,” he recalled.
By 1989, he had acquired his own business license and named his Hawthorne firm Paramount Construction.
He built homes and shopping centers. He eventually began to complete unfinished construction projects that were abandoned by the owner after a foreclosure.
He also started to work on homes that were damaged by fire or flood.
Slepcevic relocated his business to Rolling Hills Estates in 1999.
In 2002, as his disaster work grew, he began Paramount Disaster Recovery.
He says the disaster work is more satisfying.
“I realized, even going to Katrina and seeing people’s faces of confusion and not knowing what they were going to do, these people needed someone to lead them out of their situation,” Slepcevic said.
Name: Steve Slepcevic
City of residence: Hollywood Riviera section of Torrance
Title: Owner of Paramount Disaster Recovery in Rolling Hills Estates
Education: Dropped out of school in junior year; took some architecture and structural engineering classes at El Camino College.
Family: Wife Tracy; daughters Victoria, 22, and Kaitlyn, 18; and son Noah, 13.
Hobbies: Oil painting, surfing, dancing, storm chasing, drones, traveling.