In honor of Women in Construction Week, we spoke with Lisa Ballantyne to uncover her best career advice and find out how she got into the construction industry.
As a child, Lisa Ballantyne was told she could be anything she wanted to be. With a natural aptitude for mathematics and science, Lisa left Boston after graduating from high school and went to Tulane University in New Orleans. Each summer, while studying for her BS in Civil Engineering, Lisa would return to Boston to work.
In her Junior year, she interned with a construction company that her uncle worked for. Stationed at a field office for the Central Artery Tunnel Project on State Street, this was her first taste of construction — and she was hooked. Ten days after graduating from Tulane, Lisa started working full- time as a project field engineer on the same project.
I learned that I was far more passionate about seeing the work put in place then I was designing how it would work.
In 1998, Lisa took a role with Turner Construction—citing the move as the one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
While working at Turner, and with the company’s full support, she started pursuing her MBA at Simmons College: working during the day, attending classes at night, and loving every minute of it. Three years later, she graduated with her MBA in hand. She spent 14+ years in Turner’s Boston office, eventually being promoted to General Manager, then Vice President—and all before the age of 33.
After working at Turner’s HQ in New York, an opportunity arose for Lisa on the West Coast. In 2014, she made the move and became General Manager for the Bay Area, before having her husband and two sons join her in early 2015 — and, in her words, they’ve “been having fun ever since.”
Her sons understand that their mom’s second love — after her family — is her work.
My sons know: school comes first, and hard work is called ‘hard’ for a reason — but with support, encouragement, perseverance, and a lot of fun, anything is possible.
What does an average day look like for you right now?
The great thing about my job at Turner is that no day is average, nor is any day typical. My day can include visits to jobsites, meetings with clients and designers, or team meetings with our staff — whether on challenges we are facing on our sites, or opportunities for our people. Sometimes I may be in San Francisco; other days in the east bay and Oakland; and still others in Silicon Valley. Every day is different and always dynamic.
What (work related thing) keeps you up at night?
Ensuring that every single worker and team member returns home every night in the same (or better) condition than they arrived. Construction is innately a dangerous industry. Though we are on jobsites every day and our people are great at what they do, we can never for one moment take for granted that the work being performed can pose a danger. Our ability to think about, talk about, and plan for risks allows for execution that is safe and of the highest quality. We need to live injury free every day.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
When I was in Boston I worked for Charlie Buuck, a Senior Vice President. Charlie is legendary in Boston for being the best builder in the city. Not only was he a great builder, he was a great leader with a unique style. He had so many small pieces of advice over the years, and none that was ever very complicated. Yet they remain catchphrases that I continue to use in my everyday professional life.
“Make a decision, then make another decision.” Don’t focus on making mistakes, or worrying that you will. Make a sound decision based on information and doing what is right. As the situation reveals itself or changes, make another decision. Your career is a number of decisions that you keep making.
“Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” As a leader, days can be uncomfortable — there are challenges, there is conflict, there is pressure — the more comfortable you get with all the different feelings and conditions, the more comfortable you get in your position.
“Ask questions, listen, be humble.” Enough said.
What trends are you watching in the construction industry?
The tactical issues that contractors are always asked about are escalation and market pricing. Much of this has to do with commodity pricing and availability of skilled workforce, as well as the larger global markets. Specifically, in the Bay Area, many of us are concerned with the availability of talent for the growth in this market. Specially, we are constantly speaking with programs on the number of graduating engineers and construction managers. There continues to be a need for more focus of STEM in early education to continue to feed the pipeline of talent that many of us would love to hire after graduation.
Why should a person consider a career in construction?
Construction is a people industry as much as it is a product industry. The people that are involved in completing these amazing projects are diverse in their skills, in their background, and in their talents. It takes many people coming together in the right environment to create a lasting product. The process of delivering a building should be as fun as the finished product is beautiful.
In partnership with our clients, design partners, trade partners and vendors, we are building structures for the future. You learn so much about other industries being a partner in building their facilities. Every building is different, every structure is different, and with every new project — a better way to build.