Dave Veale interviews Jennifer Darling, President, Darling Construction as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.
Watch the interview…recorded on Dave’s flip-cam:
So how does a woman break into the male-dominated construction industry and end up running the number one residential construction company in New Brunswick?
Jennifer Darling is a thoughtful and direct leader. She sat down with me and shared her thoughts on making tough decisions, who inspires her and the lessons she has learned in running her business.
Darling Construction is a Saint John-based company specializing in residential housing and has more than 50 employees.
Q: Jennifer how did you get into the construction business?
A: I think it was just a natural progression, really. I started real estate with my husband Scott after I graduated with my business degree. We did real estate together for four years and then I took a leave for children. And I didn’t want to go back full time, so Scott’s father, who owned Darling Construction at the time, offered me a part-time position, which worked out perfect for our family.
And then as the kids got older, my duties increased and I wanted to spend more time working. Bob was getting older and didn’t want to have so many hats to wear, so I bought the company from him.
I think I went back part-time when my son Isaac was two and he’ll be nine – seven years.
Q: In seven years, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
A: When I first started, I would stress out and I would just really worry about deadlines and if someone wasn’t there and how that affected everything else. I would take it home with me and really get worried.
I’ve mellowed and now I just know you really can’t control everything, especially with being in construction.
Weather plays a big factor in it. You know if it rains at all, no one is showing up for work because you can’t work. So you don’t always get to make that schedule perfect and I really let that go.
Q: That was the big lesson for you?
A: Big lesson for me, because I’m a control person.
Q: What are some of the hardest decisions you have to make as the owner of a construction company?
A: I want to keep everybody working. We changed our company around this year. We are doing a lot of homes “in house,” (which means) we did them ourselves.
Some people think that could be stressful, carrying so much inventory. But our goal is to keep our guys working full time. So I think it’s managing to get everybody (putting in) a full time week. Everybody relies on their paycheques, so I want to make sure that everybody works.
Q: I’m guessing there are probably not a lot of women working in this industry. What are the advantages that you, as a woman, bring?
A: You’re right, there aren’t a lot of women in this field, as I learn every year, when I show up for the (industry) golf tournament. There was myself and my mother-in-law, who is also invited, and then it is men.
But I have to say I really enjoy working with a bunch of men like this. They’re not high-pressure usually. Everyone is pretty relaxed and I think they are open to having a woman to deal with. I don’t think that bothered them at all. They knew I was willing to listen, probably.
Q: Listening is important?
A: Very important. And I think that I was upfront that I didn’t really know everything, but I was willing to listen to how employees wanted things done and then try to accommodate that, where I think sometimes if a man was in power, they don’t want to admit …
Q: Their ego gets them?
A: Right, they don’t want to admit they have no idea how it’s to be done. Where, I have really no problem telling them.
Q: OK, so it’s about being honest with what you know and what you don’t know. Being very candid with that. Something I know about you is you’re also direct.
Q: So if you’ve got a problem, you’re going to talk to people about it?
A: Yes, absolutely.
Q: I think people in general like that. But I’m guessing that really works in your environment.
A: Yes it does. And again, if I made a scheduling mistake, then I’m very good at saying, “You know what, that was me.” I don’t think men do that all the time.
Q: Is there a person who has been a real impact on you in terms of how you approach leading a construction company?
A: Scott’s dad Bob is who I worked with at the beginning.
I saw how he handled the guys and there was a little bit of just learning and not always telling them.
He was always really good at having them come in the office, having the open-door policy, which I still have as well. I think that’s important. Everyone wants to know they can drop in.
Q: Do you think that approach is typical, from what you see in the industry?
A: Well I don’t really know. I know what some of the subs (sub contractors) tell me about how it is to deal with somebody else and I think it is a little bit different.
But I think overall, people that do work with us are fairly happy with the way things go.
Q: One last question: What style of home do you think is the best?
A: I think that is determined by your lifestyle and the stage of life you’re in.
Q: For you?
A: For me it’s a two storey because I want my kids upstairs in bed while I’m downstairs.
Q: So what do you think it would be in your next stage of life?
A: I would probably think a bungalow – less to clean, less to take care of.
Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. His column appears every other Thursday.
Published Thursday June 3, 2010 in the Telegraph-Journal
Photo:Kate Braydon, Telegraph-Journal