The Long Journey to becoming a Woman-Owned Construction Company

Becoming a woman-owned business means a lot to me. It has meant a lot to me since I was little, since before I even knew that I wanted it. I always wanted to be a CEO, not really of anything particular I just knew that I wanted to be in charge. My father was CEO of a large environmental engineering firm and I watched and admired him growing up. He used to bring me to his office and as his company grew, I grew up as well.

It seems like it’s been a long road to get to where I am, but I know that I have a long road ahead. I have four years of experience but it honestly feels longer. Right out of college my father and I wanted to start a company overseas in Hungary, I spent three months there just to find out the market wasn’t quite ready. So I came home tail between my legs, feeling as if I had somehow failed. I started to work at my brother’s small construction company, helping him with odds and ends. I wound up restructuring his scheduling and calendar system, building a new website and taking over his accounting system. Not only did I have to learn website coding, and completely teach myself accounting and financials, I also got my first introduction into the construction world. But, I never thought of it as a long term thing. So when i got offered a job at an M&A start-up, I quickly left that little construction company to pursue what I thought would be my future. I spent a year at the M&A start-up before I realized how little the company valued me and how much of a failure the venture actually was. Tail between my legs again, I quit. At 23, I was left jobless and living at home with my parents with no prospects.

Then my brother approached me. His little construction company was not doing well. He was stressed and overworked and did not know how to make it better. He asked me to join onto the company and help him run it. This was his baby, he had formed it right out of college with dreams of building and running his own company.

Two years prior to this conversation, I remember asking him what he saw his company becoming. His simple answer, his eyes overwhelmed, was that he wanted his company to stay small, to stay local, and he did not want growth. I then realized we would be taking separate paths in life. 

But as I stood there in front of him, he seemed ready for that growth and change that overwhelmed him just two years ago. I saw a spark and a willingness in him to work together as a team to build and grow this company. I started right away and dove into the intricacies of the company. I quickly realized the extent to which this little construction company, for all intents and purposes, was failing. It probably would have been easier to just start my own company rather than try to rescue this company that had been consistently losing money, over-drafting the company bank account, bouncing payroll checks and had no protection against liability.

& I knew it was going to be a long hard journey. The first year of working at the construction company I put in a consistent 60 hours a week and did not take a paycheck. I dumped all of my savings into the company to assure that payroll checks would not bounce and my workers could get paid. I stressed out and had more panic attacks in that year than in my whole entire life. Running a company with little to no experience proved to be harder than I anticipated.

Fast forward to present time, just three years later. I went through so much and every experience, worry, setback, failure, embarrassment, tear, dollar, was all worth it. And I know it will continue to be worth it. This journey is far from over, there will be so many more setbacks, and failures to come. For the three years of experience that I have, it feels like 3 times as many. I started as a lost Vice President of a small company and I am now majority shareholder and CEO of a growing profitable company.

I started as an equal partner with my brother but our roles in the company soon became clear. His interest has and will always be out on the jobsite. Part of the reason this company was doing so poorly when I started was because he had lost touch with the part of the company that he loved, running the jobsite. He was so bogged down with insurance requirements, cash flow and financial management that the business was no longer fun for him. He doesn’t love running a business and he never will. He loves directing equipment and being out with the workers. He is now able to do what he loves every day.

And I am able to do what I love, what I have always dreamed of doing. I see so many great things for this company. I have believed that it could be great from the first day that I started and failure was never an option for me. And now, this company is finally starting to become the company I always knew it would be. We are currently bidding on a million dollar job that we have a very good chance of winning. If you had asked me two years ago if I imagined this was possible I would have laughed at the thought of it. I (we) have come a far way.

My day to day activities consist of putting out fires, dealing with any legal issues, negotiating contracts, looking over bids, managing the estimating team, running the office staff, taking care of the insurance needs, balancing the daily cash flow, paying bills, talking to our website designer, going to a public bid openings, analyzing the project sales chart, looking for news jobs, going to networking events, meeting with City departments and doing everything in between. I act as head of estimating, the CFO, accountant, legal department, human resources, insurance, contracts, business development. I act as the face of the company, marketing department, cheerleader, and I set the company culture. At times it’s overwhelming but I feel like I am right where I am supposed to be. They say the two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why. I feel as though I have figured out why.

I have always been passionate about women in business. I am also very passionate about women pursuing “non-traditional” careers including leadership positions. I meet very few women in the construction industry and I am mainly surrounded by men. I want to change that stereotype. I believe the industry as a whole will benefit from having a more equal workplace. I want to prove to women that you can be CEO of a successful construction company. In my business, I try to hire women to fill non-traditional roles and frequently send myself and my female intern out to male dominated bid walks or public bid openings just to shake things up. I want to show people that there are women in construction and we are winning bids. I want this company to become a large company, I want our name to be known, I want to build a company with a great reputation and I want to do it as a woman owned business.

These past three years have been rough with potential lawsuits, cash flow issues, insurance audits and bills, IRS mishaps, workers compensation claims, disgruntled employees, hard terminations, small claims courts, cosigning my life away to buy equipment, and in essence learning all parts of a running a business by myself. Lest to say, it’s been a bumpy road. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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