Maura Hesdon is a regional leader in making the construction industry more diverse and accessible: co-founding a camp introducing construction careers to school-age girls, creating the NAWIC Philadelphia Foundation to mentor young women, and collaborating with Drexel University, the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Housing Authority on workforce development.
Maura, who has overseen 44 projects valued at more than $1 billion, was the guest speaker at GBCA’s Coffee Chat, aimed at helping young professionals. She discussed how she climbed the ladder in a male-dominated industry and the lessons learned along the way.
Tell us about your journey.
I’ve always been interested in construction. My uncle had a general contracting firm and my mom was head of Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia when they were building a new hospital. Shoemaker was a contractor on the project. Even though I had a business degree, not a technical one, they took a chance on me. I convinced them that my business mindset would help them be successful.
One of my secrets to moving up was becoming a well-rounded professional. I always worked on multiple projects and asked for more things to do. Rotating projects and responsibilities helps you understand what other people have to deal with and what they need to be successful in their jobs.
What’s your advice for leveraging professional organizations to propel your career?
Pick one or two things that you’re passionate about and get involved. It doesn’t have to be in the construction industry, it can be a community organization.
Do pay attention to who is involved and the connections you can make. At the same time, have a giving mindset. Ask yourself, “How can I connect others to the individuals who can help THEM?” Also there are organizations where you can jump right into a leadership role if you’re interested in that which will help you to develop skills such as presenting to a group and decision making.
Years ago there weren’t a lot of women in construction. How did you manage to gain respect?
My hurdles were more because of my youth than my gender. As long as you can present the things you know confidently and be humble enough to ask for help on the things you don’t know, you’ll be okay. From my perspective, it’s important to be the best you can be, no matter who you are.
What skill sets advanced your career the most?
Communications for one. Young people struggle with picking up the phone but talking things out is the best way to gain understanding. Also, have a big picture mindset while focusing on the details. Small decisions can have an avalanche effect on a project so understand the financial, time and potential for rework impact of the choices you’re making in the field.
What is the best thing younger professionals can do to help their management?
Make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep your clients and your subcontractors happy. Keep the perspective that we are all seller-doers. It may seem over-simplicated but do what you are asked to do and not what you think is the best thing to do.
Where do you see the industry going in light of COVID?
First, we really need to pay attention to changes in real estate. Figure out what markets will be growing and be cognizant of how those markets are funded. Second, be flexible. During the last downturn in 2008, Shoemaker did something very different and took on a mechanical master services agreement. Last, realize that some of the COVID precautions like remote inspections and remote drone flights are going to stick around. These technologies will change the way we do business forever.