Our conversation with GI Stone’s Sandya Dandamudi

One of Sandya Dandamudi’s favorite quotes is from Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” It is a statement she continues to passionately embrace every day, especially in a world that continues to throw its share of obstacles for each of us to navigate.

As president of GI Stone, Dandamudi is a second-generation female business owner in the male-dominated stone fabrication and installation industry. Over the years, she has grown the company her mother started to be one of the industry’s most trusted suppliers, working closely with several trusted partners, including Related Midwest, JDL Development, Parkside Realty, Hines, and many more.

Dandamudi is known for her ability to quickly assess and understand a developer’s vision, and how to select, source and fabricate products that create a point of strength and differentiation in the luxury design offering. That, and being able to help her client’s stay on budget.

We sat down with her to get her thoughts on the business today and how women continue to make strides in an ever-changing marketplace.

Give us a snapshot of today’s construction market?
The snapshot is a bit blurry right now due to the pandemic. Adding to the uncertainty is the human toll of anxiety. It is very important to take precautions to keep my employees healthy, but also to keep moving forward. I believe we still have the underpinnings of a robust economy; we just need to be careful navigators.

Luxury multifamily projects are still happening, but hospitality work is on pause. We are currently performing stonework on several luxury condominium and apartment buildings in Chicago, including Sky 360 Penthouses at St. Regis Chicago (formerly Vista Tower), One Chicago (formerly One Chicago Square) and Tribune Tower Residences, to name a few. Many high-end multifamily projects in the city are also in the pipeline, such as the 1.25-million-square-foot development of the former Moody Bible Institute, 19 N. May Street and 1400-1440 W. Randolph Street.

I have always thought that women bring a unique perspective to construction. Not to stereotype, but we have an intrinsic ability to multitask, making us ideal project managers.

How did you get started in the industry?
Accidently. My mother was an interior designer, and through her I have always been exposed to a design perspective that was both aesthetic and practical. As kitchens became more of a focal point starting in the 1980s, so did the demand for stone countertops and backsplashes, so she decided to start GI Stone.

At first, I was hesitant to work for my mother, but now I realize working with her was the best decision I ever made. I found my passion and my center in this industry. Working with organic stone in a highly aesthetic environment, while seeing practical outcomes firsthand was and still is invigorating.

Twenty-eight years later, it is still as fresh as it was in the beginning. While my mother is retired, and I miss working with her, I am grateful that she opened this door for me.

What are some of your biggest takeaways from the past 6-9 months?
Resilience and faith. This year has been a cataclysmically difficult one. On an extremely personal note, I lost my only child to COVID-19 on April 3. He was only 30, extremely healthy and asymptomatic. Some of my employees also experienced tragic events this year, but we have all gotten closer. Our relationships are not merely transactional. We truly understand what it means to be together.

What type of opportunities do you see out there?
This is the time to think out of the box and to be ready to pivot. We have taken this opportunity to explore new technologies in stone, invest in machinery and education, and to reconnect with clients we have not seen in a while. I see no dearth of possibilities. While we are extremely sad to see some of our hospitality work get postponed, we are seeing a surge in rehab, student and senior housing. We are also exploring markets outside of Chicago, and are currently engaged in projects in Texas and Nashville.

While we are extremely sad to see some of our hospitality work get postponed, we are seeing a surge in rehab, student and senior housing. We are also exploring markets outside of Chicago.

Name some of the opportunities available for today’s women construction professionals?
I have always thought that women bring a unique perspective to construction. Not to stereotype, but we have an intrinsic ability to multitask, making us ideal project managers. Our trades are actively seeking women and so are general contractors. I encourage women to explore opportunities around the country, but that goes for both genders.

What challenges remain?
Improving gender and racial equality will always be an effort we need to keep in the forefront, not just in construction, but in all walks of life. Also, we need to look for new ways to construct buildings that are more energy efficient and more conducive to health and wellness.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
No matter what the start date is, the end date never changes.

What advice would you share with women entering the industry?
Don’t look at walls as barriers, but as something to climb.

Biggest item on your to-do list?
Focus on running a successful business and stay the course.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do when things get back to normal?
Enjoy an amazing steak and a great bottle of wine with my tribe in a great restaurant.

 

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