It takes vision, commitment and heart to build a successful firm in a traditionally male-dominated industry. And if you ask Carolyn Shames, who has successfully managed this task a few times over, it also takes intelligence and confidence.
Anyone who has worked with Shames Construction knows that when you work with Carolyn, you are working with a professional who takes her clients’ interests to heart. For the past 30 years, she has built a reputation as a hands-on construction professional.
Founded in 1987 by Barry Shames, Shames Construction started building retail store interiors. Within a few years, Carolyn’s management and expertise moved the company to building large, ground-up retail developments. She became the majority stockholder, obtaining woman-owned business status in 1991. Today, Shames Construction is a 100% woman-owned and managed company, serving as one of the premier commercial general contractors on the West Coast.
We sat down with Carolyn to get her insights on the industry today and where the road ahead is taking us.
Give us a snapshot of the construction market today?
This year started with a lot of excitement and positivity. We had plenty of work with some nice, large projects. Since the COVID shutdowns, none of those projects have been awarded to anyone. Heading into summer, I do not see great promise in new projects for the rest of 2020. There still is great uncertainty.
Everyone is still busy with projects they had before everything happened, but that is going to dry out soon. We will be busy into the first quarter of 2021, so I feel lucky. I am a positive thinker, so I feel hopeful we will get back to a good growth position. I am just uncertain how long that will take right now.
I see no limits to what a women can do versus a man. Women need to be willing to put their gender aside and work to develop those qualities more than a man does in this business.
How did you get started in the industry? What is your story?
I graduated in 1978 with an architecture degree. I worked in Denver for a local architect until 1983. I wanted to get into a construction-related job. I went to work for The Southland Corp., as a construction manager building 7 Eleven stores in Arizona, Colorado and Utah. When the penny stock days came upon us, Southland shut down things to reorganize. I was put in charge of maintenance. It was not my chosen career path. I was recruited by Whirlpool as a construction director for a new national rollout they were doing called Whirlpool Kitchens. They ended up pulling the plug in 1989. At that time, the Colorado economy was in the tank and we moved to California.
Shames Construction started building retail stores and interiors until around 1992, when we started focusing on larger ground-up projects and developments. We started building Kmarts, OfficeMaxs and Home Depots, and then other big-box retailers.
Through most of the ’90s, I built up to 40 Home Depots in California. I started building for Walmart in 2000. Since then, I have continued with these two retailers, along with Public Storage, shopping center developers, industrial buildings for Shea, Overton Moore Properties, and eventually Dave and Buster’s. I also worked with a few local California wineries and facilities, and some banks in California. We recently added Kroger to our portfolio.
I moved to Colorado for family and personal reasons, and now run the business from here. Most of our work is still in California, but I am actively marketing for projects in Colorado, throughout the west and Tennessee.
What are some of the biggest changes you have seen over the past few years?
Until the COVID-19 shutdowns, the biggest problem was finding qualified subcontractors with enough qualified staff to partner with to estimate and manage the projects. Truthfully, waiting to see what is coming next is on my list of challenges.
Name some of the opportunities available for today’s women.
I see no limits to what a woman can do versus a man. The only drawback is women seem to have a lack of willingness and commitment as the construction business requires travel, very long hours, and strength of character and confidence. Women need to be willing to put their gender aside and work to develop those qualities more than a man does in this business. They cannot be defensive or insulted by who they are. When they are able to do that, there will be no limits.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Learn how to do your bosses job for them, and you will be irreplaceable and have that job if you want it.
What advice would you share with women coming up in the industry?
Open your mind, learn everything you can, be creative, work hard, and never let gender enter into any actions reactions or decisions.
What is the biggest lesson the past few months have taught you?
To me flexible and strong, and always be ready to change course as needed. Also, cash is key. Always have enough cash to remain strong during economic cycles. Be ready for national election craziness, as sadly it happens every four years.
What is the biggest item on your to-do list?
To manage the realignment of job responsibilities during these uncertain times so that we are limber and ready for whatever comes next.
What is the first thing you are going to do when everything gets back to normal?
Take a vacation, and visit my five grandchildren and their parents.