Nan Langowitz ‘Startling’ results

Construction ranks as the third largest segment of the top 100 women-led businesses in Massachusetts, according to a recent study published by Babson College and The Commonwealth Institute.

The study results, at least in terms of the growing number of women in top decision-making positions within the state’s construction industry, were somewhat surprising to the study’s author but not to many who work in the construction field.

“It was not something I would have predicted, and it’s very startling to see there are women-led businesses in what has traditionally been a male-dominated business or thought to be a male-dominated industry,” said Nan Langowitz, author of the study.

Langowitz, who is director of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Babson in Wellesley, has been a member of the school’s faculty for 10 years.

The study, conducted over a nine-month period that began last April, included surveys completed by more than 212 women-led businesses throughout Massachusetts. Only businesses headquartered in Massachusetts were included in the study, with the further requirement that the company’s chief executive, owner or top decision-maker be a woman.

The companies included in the listing were ranked according to their revenues for 2000. The top 100 companies were divided into 16 different industry categories, with technology and professional services leading the distribution and construction-related firms owned or led by women ranking third with 17 percent.

“We were interested in trying to find out about the motivations of women to lead their firms and what kinds of challenges they see both for themselves and for their businesses as they lead their companies,” said Langowitz.

Lois Silverman, director of The Commonwealth Institute, a Boston-based organization that works to assist women entrepreneurs, said she hopes the study will help more women recognize that there are places for them to go for answers to their business questions and more role models available.

According to the study, the top motivations for ownership among women included personal achievement and personal autonomy. Customer satisfaction and company culture ranked as the top two issues concerning women business owners on a daily basis.

Maryanne Cataldo, chief executive officer and president of City Lights Electrical, a Boston-based company specializing in electrical construction, said that most of her company’s business is repeat business, something she attributes to the emphasis her company places on customer service.

Cataldo, who started City Lights Electrical in 1989 after the company where she was working went bankrupt, said she initially scooped up some of that firm’s smaller accounts and snuck into the market on the maintenance side.

“We grew the company in our image, first as a customer-service oriented company, something that didn’t normally go together with construction,” she said.

Cataldo entered the construction field after graduating from college and seeing a sign that read, “Do you want to be an electrician?” Because the pay was good and she was willing to learn, Cataldo took the job and said she has found “lighting the world” a very fulfilling career.

Over the past 12 years, Cataldo has grown her company from $250,000 in revenues to more than $17 million in 2000, using a team approach on all of her projects. Some of City Lights Electrical’s recent projects have included being awarded the contract to electrify the MBTA’s new Silver Line and lighting the Ted Williams Tunnel in Boston.

Building Relationships

Although many women included on the list did not seem surprised about the prominence of construction-related businesses in the survey, a resounding theme among all of the women interviewed was the difficulty in receiving funding for their businesses as compared to their male peers.

Sara Stafford, president of Stafford Construction Services in Wakefield, said acquiring funding is the hardest challenge faced in her business, and that there is stronger scrutiny by lenders for women-owned businesses.

Open since 1993, Stafford’s company focuses on projects involving interior construction, including plastering, metal framing and drywall.

“I had been in the industry for many years on the supply side,” she said. “An opportunity came to me when they were building the new FleetCenter and that was my first job, installing all of the doors and hardware at the FleetCenter.”

Overall, Stafford said she has found construction to be like any business, with success lying in establishing good relationships. She added that she has found construction to be a business that has continued to become more open to women.

“I started in construction in the late ’70s when there were so few women,” Stafford said. “Now there are so many that have come up over the years, that it’s really great.”

A.R. Belli, a Newton-based, family-owned company that since 1969 has specialized in road and utility construction, is headed by President Linda Belli Wigren, daughter of the company’s founder.

Belli agreed that the most difficult challenge is in obtaining financing and said the hardest part of breaking into the construction business is having the necessary capital and cash flow because of the high wages that must be paid and expensive equipment that must be purchased.

However, Belli said that while 10 years ago she would have been surprised that construction was a leading industry for women, today she is not.

“The future is very bright for women in construction, and there is still a lot of opportunity despite the recession,” she said.

Construction Third on List Of Women-Led Businesses

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min