About 20 years ago, construction industry entrepreneur Janet Cunningham shook hands with her fledgling company’s first client. There was much to be discussed, as her company, JBC Associates, provided a number of complex services including scheduling and legal claims consulting. But her male client felt that a different matter was more urgent: “Aren’t there any men in your company?”
She laughed it off. No, there weren’t any men in her company. She’d had to lay off all but her female secretary during the recession of the early 1990’s. Cunningham’s smooth response proved wise: that client is still with her today. Now, she teases him about his awkward gaffe.
Of course, it took more than a sense of humor for Cunningham to lead her company through years of 10 percent annual growth in an industry that’s less than 10 percent female.
For starters, she learned how to land big clients. For several years after her company’s founding in 1988, business had been flat. She’d survived by working on projects that another construction company couldn’t handle. This all changed around 1994, when a pick-up in the economy spurred a flurry of spending on transportation. That year, JBC Associates landed a contract with PennDot. With a major client under her belt, Cunningham was able to build relationships with the Maryland Transit Authority, the State of New Jersey, the City of Philadelphia and others.
Another factor also worked in Cunningham’s favor. For all its challenges, being a woman in the construction industry provided Janet with one major advantage: JBC Associates enjoys the status of “woman-owned business.” This has granted the firm privileged access to top-tier clients, especially government agencies, which set aside a certain percentage of contracts for women-owned firms. Cunningham’s firm also receives free training, seminars and networking opportunities.
These factors have driven JBC associates to expand beyond Cunningham’s original core competencies of scheduling and claims consulting to be become a full service construction management firm. Today, JBC Associates is the 87th largest such firms in the country, employing a staff of 73 and earning $10 million annually.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal (By Carl O’Donnell)