Sue began her career in the 60s, breaking into the field of technology and entering an industry that was overwhelmingly dominated by men. After earning a degree in English Literature from Brown University, Sue was fascinated by the emergence of new computer technologies and the age of intelligent machines. Knowing that this burgeoning field held the promise of changing the world, Sue enrolled in computer programming classes and eventually landed her first job as a computer programmer for Metropolitan Life Insurance.
From there, Sue joined a manufacturing company to become its only female programmer analyst. With no women as mentors, moving up in the company was difficult at best. When she approached management, she was told she was “not ready for prime time” and that she needed to move at the slower pace of the company.
This only fueled Sue’s determination and sent her back to school to earn an MBA in business and finance from Nichols College. Wanting to stay challenged, she realized that an advanced degree might open more opportunities. That proved true. With her degree in hand, Sue landed a job at Wang Labs, where she was excited to work as a product line manager in the emerging fields of imaging, electronic mail systems, and artificial intelligence.
After the birth of her first child, Sue took a year’s maternity leave. Unused to being out of work, Sue would pack her baby daughter into the car and visit Richard’s construction sites, most of which were small projects in adaptive reuse and restoration, and she grew to love it more each day. She discovered a world of creativity and craftsmanship that couldn’t be compared to the static blue screen of the computer environment.
Returning to Wang Labs after her maternity leave, Sue recognized there was little passion left in her work there and felt she was missing the excitement and fun she had enjoyed in construction. That’s when it clicked! With her MBA in business and finance, and her husband willing to let her take over his company, she developed a solid business plan to grow the business with a focus on larger general construction projects in restoration. She earned her superintendent’s license and fully immersed herself in the field…another non-traditional career choice. It was then that she reached out to the AGC to leverage benefits that would help their company grow. (Although they were DCAMM certified, they only had a small bonding line. It would take a lot of work to grow the business.)
Being a woman on the job site posed its own set of challenges. On her first job as a superintendent, one of her subs, a steeplejack, told her women were bad luck and refused to let her use his swing stage rigging to review the work. Short of flying, it was the only way to review the work 150 feet in the air, so she diplomatically waited for him to leave the job site each day and then operated the rig without him. He went home confident that he was getting enough good luck, and she got to see that the job was properly done.
As a mother of three, work life balance became more challenging. Business owner’s days virtually never end, but Sue says she always found a way to make it work. And her children have grown up being part of the business, from partaking in lively work stories at the dinner table and visits to construction sites, to eventually working for the company in estimating, project management and carpentry.
The company grew steadily, and Sue had to decide whether to continue growing to the next level of general construction, or to become more specialized. She chose to move the company to more niche preservation work, truly utilizing Richard’s incredible talent of fine carpentry and her own business acumen, a rare and powerful combination for a company in this field. The marriage of these strengths has enabled M&A Architectural Preservation to build a strong reputation in its industry and take on numerous prestigious regional restoration projects.
One of her favorites was the Naumburg Suite at Harvard University, where Sue supervised the complete dismantling of an entire Jacobean period apartment within the Fogg Art Museum, and then re-installed it, restored and reconfigured, in the newly renovated and enlarged Harvard art Museum. Some other projects of note included major millwork restoration at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, windows at the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park NY, and the restoration of all of the 900+ windows at the Massachusetts State House.
Now, with more than 25 years under her belt in this industry, the natural question would be on retirement, but Sue says “No, you’d have to drag me out kicking and screaming!” She also says this is the best time ever for women to get into the industry. With so many opportunities and support systems in place, advancement is limitless. She advises women to take every advantage of educational and networking opportunities and to be open to all options. Like Sue, you never know where those options may lead and how you might just have the chance to forge a new path for other women.
Thank you Sue for sharing your experiences and supporting our mission of Building Women in Construction!