Upclose: Nancy Juneau, CEO Juneau Construction Co.

Nancy Juneau is CEO of Juneau Construction Company, a general contracting and construction management firm specializing in higher education, hospitality and recreational facilities as well as historic renovation. The company is one of the largest female-owned general contractors in the Southeast, and ranked as the largest woman-owned construction firm in Georgia. Revenues in 2010 are estimated to be $85 million.

During the last 25 years, Juneau has become a leading voice for women in the construction industry. She is a past Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) board member, and she’s a frequent speaker at National Association of Women in Construction meetings. She also mentors young women ascending in the ranks in the construction and architectural industry. Juneau created a new scholarship, The Beare-Jones Fund, in honor of her mother, Marjorie Beare, at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School.

Q: Did you plan on being in the construction business?

A: No. I went to the University of Georgia as an education major and I’ve yet to teach a day in my life, much to my mother’s dismay. When I was at UGA there was no way I would ever imagine that I would be in this business. But my entire business career has been in the construction field and I’m a firm believer that all things happen for a reason.

Q: So how did it start?

A: I was newly married and my then father-in-law was a structural engineer and he gave me a job answering the phones. I loved it. I loved the people, the research, figuring out what projects to pursue. I ended up helping out plugging the numbers in for bids. We moved to Florida and a temp agency placed me at a construction company answering the phone. Eventually, they fired the receptionist and hired me. I realized I loved this business and never looked back. I started working in the marketing department and then was promoted to business development, which was pretty much unheard of in those days.

Q: Did being a woman cause any problems?

A: The company I worked for was a large family-owned Charlotte [N.C.]-based business and I would be the only woman at a lot of the meetings. I was taking notes at one meeting and someone asked me if I would get him some coffee. I said no, but if he were getting some for himself that I took cream and sugar in mine. Now it’s pretty common to see women engineers or construction consultants or project managers but back then it wasn’t.

Q: Why do you love the business?

A: I think it’s just in my chemical make-up. It’s stressful, demanding and you have to get it right. I like the preparation involved. I’m just hooked.

Q: How did you start your company?

A: I got divorced and had known Les when we were both in Florida. We both came to Atlanta. I was working for Heery International and he was with Holder Construction. We married. Les always wanted to own a construction company and we decided to go for it. We’re good partners. I have the expertise that he doesn’t have, like business development and estimates and he knows the construction part.

Q: Is it difficult being the CEO and your husband the president?

A: No. Les is fine with that. I’m better at outreach and talking with people than he is. At the office, people treat us the same and we like it if our employees challenge one of us. We don’t want ‘yes’ people around us. We don’t, however, argue or challenge each other at the office. If we have a business disagreement or difference of opinion, we work it out at home and then come to work united.

Q: Do you get a lot of business because you are female-owned?

A: We have gone after a lot of that business but we have never gotten anything. Those projects are generally too big for us alone so you have to joint venture and we’ve never been on a team that’s won. I thought I would get more opportunities because of the female status, but it hasn’t turned out that way.

Q: How’s business?

A: Of course, it’s been down, but we’re pursuing opportunities based on the strengths of our staffs. We do about six to eight projects a year and they tend to be in the areas of universities with student centers, dining facilities and housing. Even in a recession, students need housing. We just finished a $42 million housing project at UGA. We’ve done a lot of hospitality projects such as the Ellis Hotel. We have an office in Valdosta but we are also expanding into Tampa, Florida. We know the area and subcontractors and think in a year to 18 months we can develop it into an exciting business.

Q: Why was the Ellis Hotel in downtown Atlanta so special?

A: Of course, the Ellis Hotel used to be the Winecoff Hotel, [the site of] the deadliest hotel fire [on Dec. 7, 1946]. It was such a unique project with all that history. The whole team really wanted to respect the project and the lives lost.

Q: Do you think your children will take over the business?

A: I don’t know. Our eldest is doing an internship in California in international studies, so I don’t think we’ll ever see him again. Our middle child hates math, so the chances aren’t good.

Q: Why do you do triathlons?

A: I had always had a thought in the back of my mind how fun doing a triathlon would be. I grew up swimming competitively so that part was going to be easy. I also enjoyed running and had been running recreationally for a while. A number of years ago two of Juneau’s construction engineers asked me if I wanted to do a sprint tri with them (I really don’t think they had any idea I’d say yes). So after training for three months we drove to Augusta and competed and I was hooked. While I have had to take time off over the years (training can be time consuming) I love not only the competition and challenge of getting better but it’s a great outlet for my crazy hectic schedule.