Employee Spotlight: Supporting Women in Construction

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An interview with Lisa Cooley, Director of Federal Solutions at Gordian

Our Director of Federal Solutions, Lisa Cooley, has concrete in her veins, liberal arts in her soul and data on her mind. She has a passion for building things that last and building up the people around her. For the past six years, she has built up Gordian’s Federal Solutions team and is dedicated to the success of our clients and her counterparts. In our interview, Lisa shares what it is like to be a woman in the construction industry, how she defines and strives for success and some advice for other industry professionals.

“I think women bring a distinct type of leadership that benefits our industry as we explore more collaborative ways of working together to successfully execute projects.”

Lisa Cooley

You’ve been with Gordian for a while. Can you explain your experience, growth and success with Gordian?

I’ve only had one role at Gordian—Director of Federal Solutions—but that role has evolved a great deal since I took it on in 2013.  We have grown from a team of 3 to a team of 8, with additional support staff from product, marketing, customer success, etc.

Prior to being part of the organization, I interfaced with Gordian as a contractor and even as a competitor. I was very wary when RSMeans was acquired by Gordian in 2013, but I quickly realized that Gordian’s investment would be a game-changer for the venerable RSMeans data brand. I also discovered a great culture within Gordian—the best combination of a bootstrap, startup business with the overlay of world-class leadership brought in through private equity funding. Now we have been acquired by a publicly traded company, and it is clear that their disciplined processes will fuel the next phase of growth.

Briefly describe your job at Gordian and an average day.

Oh, it totally depends upon whether I am travelling or not!  I might stay in my bunny slippers until noon, but be fielding calls from 6 a.m., since I inevitably work east coast hours even when I am home in Santa Fe (Mountain Standard Time).  I try to fence off a half hour at 9:30 a.m. EST to make breakfast for my 13 year-old son.

If I am on travel, I am a road warrior running from flights to client-facing meetings, conferences, presentations and such. I aspire to always do something that accentuates the benefits of work travel rather than the inevitable drawbacks—eat at an interesting restaurant, connect with an old friend in my destination or grab an hour between meetings to see a museum or monument (there are plenty in DC which is my most frequent work travel destination). Carpe diem. The life of work, and work of life.

Ultimately, my time is a mix of interfacing with clients and providing guidance to my team, but as my team grows, I am spending more time on the latter and that is very gratifying.

What do you like best about your job and career path?

I feel a little like Alice down the rabbit hole (“curiouser and curiouser”), and sometimes I’m not quite sure how I ended up in the world of data and technology. I am still a construction girl at heart, and I’m passionate about helping get things built more efficiently. But data and technology are the enablers to more efficient construction, so I am delighted to be doing what I am doing now!

What I like is always learning something new—from product development, to GIS and BIM technology, to ISO standards for asset management. It is also incredibly meaningful to lead a group of talented individuals—to understand their strengths, what makes work meaningful to them, and to knit that into a coherent team.

How does working with Federal solutions differ from other industries?

The Federal Solutions team has led the way for Gordian in crafting custom, enterprise data solutions (our work for National Nuclear Security Administration is an example). The needs of enterprise customers are complex, and we must leverage the full range of solutions we have to offer—from RSMeans data to Gordian procurement solutions to Sightlines facility planning expertise. Partnership with other businesses is also a key component to delivering holistic solutions to Federal agencies, and my team is embracing that.

Tell us about being a woman in the construction industry and your work promoting women in construction.

I cut my teeth in the 1990’s, in the old-school general contracting world, where women truly were a rarity.  And yet, I have managed to surround myself with talented women throughout my career! I learned from women (my mother and sister who preceded me as construction industry leaders), I hired women when I ran my own business, and I have had the great fortune to work for companies that supported women in leadership roles (notably, Centennial and Gordian).

I am cautious about making generalizations around gender or race, but I do believe that our industry is better with a diversity of perspectives. I think women bring a distinct type of leadership that benefits our industry as we explore more collaborative ways of working together to successfully execute projects.

Tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do when you’re not at the office?

I love to ski in the winter (downhill at our local mountain or Taos Ski Valley, or cross-country around my neighborhood after a big snowstorm), bike in the summer and travel. Favorite destinations are NYC where my older son is in college, or any location with ancient sites for my archaeologist husband!

Lisa enjoying skiing and time with her family.

What/who inspires you, both in your career and personal aspirations?

I grew up in a family-owned general contracting business, the youngest of five siblings. My Mom and Dad built the business together, and all siblings were involved at some point (my first work experience was answering the phones on bid day at the tender age of 12). It was a collective effort. Entrepreneurial hard work is in my blood, as is the betterment of the construction industry. I am still very much inspired by my parents and what they built, and I feel like Gordian has that same entrepreneurial spirit.

How do you define success?

If we help our customers build better, we have succeeded. On a personal level, if I model hard work and joy in living for my kids, I have succeeded.

Can you give us a piece of advice that you would give others in your profession?

Be curious. Always be learning something new. Be open to all possible paths. There are so many ways to make the construction industry better, in the service of human progress. Your contribution might not be what you expect.