This is Part 2 of our career “stories” from my peers in the construction industry. The question I get asked most often is “How the heck did you end up in construction?”. These stories are about women who had a family connection or background in transportation and construction. They highlight the lessons learned along the way, and show that who we surround ourselves with has a lot to do with where we end up. We want to hear about the unique talents women in construction bring to the table. So, if you are working in the industry or thinking about a career path in this direction, reach out and let us know more.
I was born and raised in Alaska, from a family who made their living in the very industry I now have my career in – construction. I moved to Colorado in high school and had no question that after, I would go to college. I started my freshman year with the intent of getting an elementary education degree. Halfway through that first year, I switched my major to business management. I had no idea “what I wanted to be when I grew up” so that felt like the safest degree I could get at the time. Four years later, I was the first in my family to graduate with my college degree – a bachelors in business administration with an emphasis in management.
I struggled to find my place in the career world after college. Due to my outgoing and social personality, I continued to find myself in sales roles. None of those roles satisfied me – I wanted to find something more, something I could find passion in. A family friend pushed me to come to work at United Rentals. With no other job prospects at the time and feeling at a dead end, I gave in. Four years later, here I still am. I have found that purpose and a passion I was looking for. The construction industry is small, everyone knows everyone in some capacity. With that, comes a sense of family. Because of that, I take what I do very seriously. Providing trench safety knowledge and training to our customer base is more than “sales” – it’s more than renting out a product.
We are educating because we care. We are a teammate to our customers, helping them solve issues in order to increase production and most of all, keep everyone safe and going home the same as they came to work. Yes – the days are long, we are always on call and everything is an emergency but being in this industry, is worth every second of that. Shelby Hone – Trench Safety Specialist United Rentals Trench Safety
Construction has always felt “familiar” or comfortable to me. My dad started his own masonry company before I was born, (short-lived) but ended up laying brick for 40 years. Retired as a Foreman less than a decade ago from the Brick Layers Union. My mother was the first female cop in southeastern Wisconsin in the mid-70s. She worked with only male officers her entire 25 year career.
My 2+ years with CO811 have been the best fit for me in my 19 years of professional work history. Safety and preventing damages/injury is innate to me, (but didn’t realize it until I landed this job). Neeley Duran – Damage Prevention Liaison Denver Metro Division Colorado 811
I got my start long before I even knew I would be in this business. My dad ran a heavy truck finance and lease company in Fargo North Dakota for 40 years so I was around the business all of my life. But I never thought I would work in the same business as my father. In 1996 I was a month from graduating from Arizona State with a business and finance degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had worked as a bank teller while going to school and was robbed at gunpoint so I knew I didn’t want to do that anymore. I grew up in Fargo North Dakota so I really wasn’t a big corporate person, I didn’t want to just become a number. So I went to my parents to see if they had any suggestions. My dad made a suggestion that I go and interview for a finance job in Denver Colorado. My dad said there was a Freightliner dealership in Denver that is hiring for a finance and insurance rep. The owner of the dealership was a salesman at the dealership that my dad worked in Fargo, and the person that ran the finance and lease company was also a gentleman that used to work for my dad is Fargo. So my dad knew they were looking to hire and grow their finance business. I flew to Denver for the interview and got the job. May 31. 1996 I left Phoenix to start my journey in Denver Colorado.
I started out in the front office learning the difference between a tractor and a truck. Before taking this job I thought a tractor was a green thing that plowed fields named “John Deere”. I had a lot to learn. My new position was logging repairs and tracking work orders on the used truck inventory. I tried to learn as much about the transportation business as possible. I answered phones, made copies completed title work and anything else I could get my feet wet.
In 1997 we became a Select Truck Used dealer. I was given the opportunity to move into a finance and insurance position. I worked in a small house with 8 sales guys while our new building was being built just adjacent to the small house. My office was right next to the bathroom which definitely built character one way or another. There was a swamp cooler on the wall in my office. Everytime we turned it on dust and dirt would blow all over my desk for about 2-3 minutes. I worked with owner operators, vocational and new start up individuals. This was a very crucial part of my learning experience. Working in a small house with 8 sales guys will build character like it or not. One of the salesman told the customers I was his “little sister.” I build some amazing friendships with fellow co workers and customers. I have very fond memories of those times. My dad always told me that I would be more successful than a man in the same position. My dad has been very instrumental in my growth and success in the business. In 1999 we moved into the new building, we had hit it big. I was going to get my own office away from the bathroom and upstairs all by myself. Well that didn’t last but a few weeks and I was back downstairs. We had trouble hiring and maintaining a full time receptionist. So I got the pleasure of working on the same floor as everyone else. Which was OK because it was lonely upstairs all by myself. All of this was ok, I liked what I did and who I did it with.
In late 1999 I was given another opportunity. I was asked if I wanted to move over to the lease company. I talked it over with my dad and he gave me the courage to make the move. He has always said “Women will be more successful in a man’s world. A man will remember a woman walking into their office to talk about financing trucks and trailers more than another man.” This was going to be a national program allowing us to work with body manufactures all around the country. I jumped at the opportunity and was so excited for the next journey. However from late 1999 – late 2000 we struggled finding someone to fill my position. I spent and got the pleasure of going back and forth between the lease company and our used truck department. Again I never complained because I got to spend time again with all of those great people that made me who I am today.
Finally late 2000 I was able to really jump into my new position. We started calling on any and all manufacturers from Canada to Florida and California to New York. We lost more new vendors than we retained. It was the losses that made us all stronger and more hungry to get this new program off the ground. It was shortly after that that we were able to really get the ball rolling. I continued to work in the roll of lease and finance rep for the west coast over the course of 18 years until another opportunity arrived.
2018 I was asked if I wanted to move into a managerial position. I was so scared as I had never managed anyone before. After much thought and guidance from my mentor and largest supporter my dad, he told me “go for it”, so I decided to go for it. I now manage 3 other individuals and we work the west coast. We have a portfolio of just shy of $80 million and we are on track to do $100 million in 2020. All I can say is my dad was right! It started out as a job and 23 years later it has bloomed into a career. Cassie Bergo – Trans Lease Inc.
So, if you are a young woman looking at construction as your potential career path, take a look around you and try to connect with programs and resources at your school, other outside programs such as Transportation and Construction Girl (https://constructiongirl.org/), Associated General Contractors Construction Careers Now (https://www.buildcolorado.com/), ask your family and relatives if anyone they know is in construction, check out community college programs and college certificate programs (there are many out there) and don’t give up! There are so many career opportunities in construction, positions from the back office (accounting, administration, engineering, estimating, project management) to the field office (apprentice trade programs, field workers of all types, coordinators, field engineers, surveyors, foreman, superintendent and so on).
Transportation and Construction Girl (Hoya Foundation) is in the process of creating videos with women’s stories about the industry and how they got their start. Look for more information about the videos in 2020, I promise they are stories of great inspiration.
About the author
Terri Olson is an investor and Vice President with OE Construction Corp., a commercial excavation and underground utility contractor. She has worked in the construction industry for over 13 years and brings over 25 years of experience in building and running technology companies. Running a construction company is a lot like a tech company, nothing is ever the same, every day is a new adventure. Her son, Chris Olson, is the founder of OE Construction Corp. and started working in the construction industry in high school. He founded the company at 19 years old and his passion for the people, the equipment, the work and the challenge to excel has kept him going. Chris has brought in new technology over the years and we are now 100% machine control when building large sites and his expertise in working with GPS and drones has taken us to the next level in earthwork, pretty cutting edge and exciting.