Our conversation with Holt Construction CEO Patricia Zugibe

Holt Construction Chairman Jack Holt said that turning the CEO position over to Patricia Zugibe was akin to shifting a performance sports car into high gear. The longtime construction professional’s ability level, knowledge, experience and drive bring a uniquely qualified level of balance to the Pearl River, New York company.

With more than 30 years of experience as a principal owner of development and construction companies, acting county executive and an attorney, Zugibe will shift her energy to helping lead the company’s 100-plus year old legacy. Starting her tenure at Holt in 2014 as in-house counsel, she rose through the ranks.

Most recently, when the world was turned upside down by COVID-19, Zugibe played an instrumental role in developing a game plan that safeguarded the care and wellbeing of Holt Construction employees and families, while continuing to perform business on behalf of its clients safely and efficiently. We sat down with Zugibe to get her take on what the industry means to her and what the future holds.

Give us a snapshot of the construction market today?
The construction industry as a whole has been adversely impacted by the pandemic. Fortunately, Holt is a diversified construction management and general construction firm. Our work in the aviation, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors have remained strong. Where we see a slowdown is in our retail fit out and corporate interiors markets.

In the short-term, I anticipate we will navigate through the first and second quarters continuing to keep our people, subcontractors, clients and all our partners safely moving forward. Holt currently has a diverse capable team. We will continue to build a team of talent with the diversity to enable us to relate to the needs of all our clients. With vaccination programs underway, we expect clients to restart their construction projects. Our volume will increase, and we will be ready.

How did you get started in the industry? What’s your story?
My background is multifaceted. I have owned several construction firms. I have practiced construction law. I have served as a county attorney, as well as an acting county executive for the County of Rockland, New York. I have been at Holt several years, beginning as counsel. It was somewhat of a natural progression from evaluating risk, and balancing that risk with business needs to diving deeper into the business and management of operations.

COVID-19 did push me forward in some ways. The challenges of COVID-19 threw us into crisis mode. When that happens, you work through the situation, you collect the facts and you analyze the best path forward. I did that with our team, and we emerged with a great level of trust and respect.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over the past few years?
Clients are becoming more knowledgeable and sophisticated concerning construction. I see them gravitating to our construction management method, which provides them the greatest transparency and allows for more participation in the process.

Name some of the opportunities available for women in the industry.
The construction industry is growing and continually facing labor shortages, thereby offering women higher paying, long-term employment opportunities and career paths with solid benefits, like paid vacations, family leave, holidays and healthcare. At Holt Construction, 30% of our workforce are women, working as estimators, project managers, directors and other executive-level jobs, as well as in the field.

What challenges remain?
In the construction industry, there are new challenges every day. If you get satisfaction from problem-solving, you will love construction.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
If you choose a position you love, you will be great at it. It will not seem like work.

What advice would you share with women entering the industry?
Recognize that most people are doing the best they can to do their job. Often, they don’t mean to be biased. Our culture has produced the situation. I always try to walk in the other person’s shoes and try to see through their eyes. But we do need to be persistent.

What factors drive you and your company forward?
An advantage we have at Holt is that we are a midsize company with a family culture. We do not have a lot of red tape so we can act quickly with changes when necessary. We implemented safety protocols to keep our people safe early on. Not because it is mandated, but to look after our team and our partners. It is so important to look ahead and be nimble. Be flexible. Sometimes you need to change gears without hesitation.

Biggest item on your to-do list?
I would like to be seen as a role model for the corporate culture at Holt, in which there are no barriers or glass ceilings for achieving one’s goals. To continue developing a diverse leadership team and encouraging staff to bring new thinking and initiatives to help grow the company and expand.

The first thing you’re going to do when everything gets back to normal?
Plan a Holt picnic. Prior to COVID-19, we routinely gathered at company parties and had a chance to get our families together.

The biggest lessons you learned over the past year.
Communication is key. Along with Holt’s Chairman Jack Holt and President Chris Asaro, I spoke with our team every day reviewing all steps necessary to keep everyone safe. We emerged as a much closer and tighter team. We took a similar approach with our clients. We partnered. Many of our jobs were considered essential throughout the pandemic.

We continued to work, utilizing our tight-knit operations and safety team to keep the projects progressing. Holt built a temporary hospital in 14 days with the Army Corps of Engineers. In multiple airports across the country, our team constructed express testing centers. We outfitted COVID rooms within existing hospitals. We could not have done that without keeping an open line of communication with our team and with our partners.

 

 

 

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