A founder's hobby: Building (model) bridges

A financial architect by day, Mark Filippell moonlights as a builder of landmark Cleveland bridges.

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(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Mark Filippell thinks macro during the day; at night he goes micro. As a founding partner of boutique investment firm Western Reserve Partners, he manages mergers and acquisitions. To unwind, the Cleveland entrepreneur crafts 1:87 scale versions of his city's bridges.

"So much of what I do at work is cerebral," says Filippell, 54. "Constructing bridges - it's relaxing."

Filippell's obsession with building bridges started three years ago, when he and his partners were working 12-hour days to close their first major deal, worth around $60 million.

"I would lie awake at night, stressed, then have nightmares," he says. "My wife suggested I find something to do that would relax me."

He starts by tracking down the original blueprints and then photographing every angle of the bridge. It's no easy feat. His quest to replicate the Cuyahoga Viaduct Bridge required some fast talking to persuade the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority to dig up the blueprints and arrange for the head bridge inspector to monitor the site while he took photographs.

Filippell recently unveiled his latest effort: a red, 72-inch replica of B&O Railroad Bridge No. 464, which took seven months and $400 in materials - including a LEGO nine-volt motor - to construct.

"Model bridges is a kind of art form among railroad hobbyists - I didn't know it was for guys doing investment banking," says Bill Barrow, a special collections librarian at Cleveland State University. "But his are first-rate examples of scale-model building."

When asked about his next project, Filippell laughs and shrugs in a non-committal way.

"I want him to do this lift bridge in Cleveland that moves laterally, like an elevator," says Joe Carson, another managing director at Western Reserve. "But Mark hasn't stepped up yet."  To top of page

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