Builders Exchange of Michigan: How did you earn your first dollar?
Teresa Farnell: My first real job dollars were in New York City, I went into publishing out of college. It was almost literally a first dollar – the pay was around $16,000/year. That was in 1990 so it was still totally unworkable. I didn’t stay there long.
BX: What drew you away from publishing and into the construction industry?
TF: I am working in a family business, Farnell Equipment Company – my sister and I are third generation. We’ve come a long way from the elementary schools for the baby boomers though. My mom once said that our business is a building block of modern science – and it’s true! We give scientists a place to make their discoveries.
BX: What does a typical day look like on the job for you?
TF: Email first. That’s where the morning fires tend to be raging. I spend about half my day dealing with current construction drama (construction folk know what I’m talking about) and the second half concentrating on finding and snagging new work. We have a lot of repeat customers that call us for new projects, and some terrific salespeople that follow up on new business leads. I do the estimating for the new work.
BX: What’s an exciting project that you’ve completed recently?
TF: We have many! GM’s new Research Buildings, Dow-Dupont just renovated the Midland campus, and Wayne State’s MBRB is probably the most high profile, but that was a few years ago.
BX: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever heard?
TF: If you’re not there, it’s not yours.
BX: What makes Farnell Equipment special?
TF: We serve a niche. We are building the laboratories where the future is being researched, and we try to give our customers both an aesthetic and efficient environment. Doesn’t everyone want to work in a nice place?
BX: If you could master one new skill right now, what would it be?
TF: CAD drawing. I should take a class, as it would be an added bonus to our small staff.
BX: What were your goals when you began your position at Farnell Equipment Company? How have you achieved them?
TF: The first goal was to master the big picture – integrating different internal departments into successful projects. I am now the senior estimator as well as president, so I get to experience jobs from floor plan to fruition. As president, I stay keenly aware of the financials. The downside is there are always jack-in-the-box surprise hits to the bottom line in any job. Every job therefore becomes a learning experience (“I’ll never do such-and-such again!”). Sometimes it’s a rollercoaster but we try to even jobs out to be more like a horse trot
BX: What challenges have you overcome and what experiences have you had to get to where you are today?
TF: Becoming a member of the WBE National Council was a challenge! They are very strict about membership.
BX: What advice would you give to other women who would like to go into the same career field you’ve chosen?
TF: Come on in! The water’s fine. Women solve problems in different ways and the men need us. The construction workplace has come a long way. Also, the industry can be very conducive to family life. No weekends, and trailers close up by 5:00 PM.
BX: What can other members of the construction community do to encourage women to participate in the construction industry?
TF: I get a lot of emails from women at construction companies in very minor positions – assistants following up on bids or seeing if I’m interested in a project. It would be nice if these women were given the chance – and took it – to move up and handle the next level.
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