Builders Exchange of Michigan: How did you earn your first dollar?
Anne Coursey: I picked strawberries for 15¢ a quart.
BX: What drew you to the construction industry?
AC: My parents opened Champagne & Marx Excavating as a partnership with Mr. Frank Champagne when I was 10 years old. The office was in our basement. My sister, Christine Davis, and I played office. Christine also cleaned the office after it was moved to the location it is today. I was born to be in construction. I never wanted to work in the business, I went to college for computer science and was a computer programmer for three years before coming back. Being involved in a family owned business and working as a family drew me to the construction industry.
BX: What does a typical day look like on the job for you?
AC: A typical day starts with a coffee in hand at a morning staff meeting or behind the computer checking emails. You may find me working next to the estimators reviewing bids or next to our office manager going over accounting functions.
BX: What’s an exciting project that you’ve completed recently?
AC: This summer our team worked on an island located in the Saginaw Bay. The construction of higher berms (earthmoving) is a normal task for our team. It was more nerve racking than excitement as our equipment was being barged across the Saginaw Bay over to the island. Our team had to keep an eye on the weather at all times as their only mode of transportation to and from the project was a pontoon boat. My favorite type of projects are parks, athletic fields, or non-profit organizations where we donate the work, as every time I visit or drive by, I feel pride.
BX: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever heard?
AC: Never over promise but always over deliver. My father explained to me that the business was built on integrity. Integrity of the bid. Integrity of your word, staying true to the expectations of the customer. Integrity is who you are. Surround yourself with a team with the same value system you have.
BX: What makes Champagne & Marx Excavating special?
AC: Christine and I are providing opportunities for people in our community to earn a great living. Champagne & Marx is also well known for giving back to the community, in projects that include “Pushing for a Cure” to end MS. We established a foundation for engineering students at Saginaw Valley State University, known as the Marx Family Endowed Engineering Scholarship. We have built for Habitat for Humanity, Emmaus House, and Camp Fish Tales. We have supported many local charities. What makes Champagne & Marx Excavating a great place to be employed is our mind set of ‘You come here to earn a living and go home to live your life.’ We make every attempt to not work weekends. Our team works hard during the week, they need time to recharge and spend time with family. Building trusting lasting relationships extends from our team to our customers and community. Our clients count on our drive, focus, and high integrity and we will remain fair in our dealings with clients, vendors, and partners. Being charitable, honest, and sincere is the backbone to our success and how we plan to build our future.
BX: If you could master one new skill right now, what would it be?
AC: If you were to wave a magic wand and I could have any skill, I’d like to operate and run an excavator like the operators on our team. We have a really talented team. When I watch them operate the excavator, the controls are just an extension of their arms and hands. They can pick up an egg without breaking it with an excavator. I don’t like to ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do myself. In this case, I can ‘drive’ the equipment but NOT operate it.
BX: What were your goals when you began your position at Champagne & Marx Excavating? How have you achieved them?
AC: I was 25 years old when I came to Champagne & Marx Excavating. I didn’t know if I’d like working in the family business. My position was temporary, six months. The goal was to see if I could thrive in the family business. That was 32 years ago. Every time I was asked to do a task, whether it was going to Sear’s for a special tool, making a pot of coffee or a spreadsheet, I promptly did that task. If I saw something that needed to be done, I did it. There is no job beneath me. Armed with a good attitude, I learned all the accounting functions. Then I learned project management and estimating. If you are trusted by your team, leadership is effortless.
BX: What challenges have you overcome and what experiences have you had to get to where you are today?
AC: Working in a family business has its own set of challenges, especially when your parents are your bosses. You work for them during the day and have dinner in the evening. I’ve been blessed with a great cooperative family. When my siblings, David Marx, Christine Davis, and I took over the business from our parents we had been running the company together for ten years. All three of us bring a different skill set to the company, so it was easy to work together. Christine and I now own the business together, and are in the process of buying our brother, David’s stock. He retired three years ago. David was a great mentor to me. He taught me how to estimate projects and took me along to project procurement meetings. He taught me what to look for on a project site, how to decide on scheduling, how changing the operation could make a difference on the projects success. He picked me up when I was down and encouraged me and gave me the confidence to succeed.
BX: What advice would you give to other women who would like to go into the same career field you’ve chosen?
AC: Don’t try to be one of the guys, be yourself. The guys will see right through the act and you’ll come off as trying too hard. If you don’t swear, then don’t swear. Dress for the job you have. If you can wear it to the country fair, don’t wear it to work. Learn while you earn, don’t come in and expect to know everything about the trade. Align yourself with someone to learn from, find a good mentor. Early is on time in the construction trades. The team will discuss the usual small talk and go right into the tasks of the day. You don’t want to be running from to the job site from your car and have to ask someone else what we’re doing today.
BX: What can other members of the construction community do to encourage women to participate in the construction industry?
AC: Reach out and get involved with Women in Skilled Trades (WIST), a nonprofit organization to help women get into skilled trades. WIST was co-founded by Tori Menold and Carol Cool in 2016, and has the support of the unions behind the movement, however they also need business owners and managers of construction businesses to support them. The construction community can support WIST by hiring their graduates. I attended WIST’s Women Build Event this month to answer questions, give potential candidates information about our company and the skills needed to be successful at Champagne & Marx Excavating.
Anne Coursey, with her sister Christine Davis and brother David Marx, own Champagne & Marx Excavating Inc, a commercial excavation company in Saginaw, Michigan. When asked what she can attribute to her success, Anne said “I am not successful on my own. My siblings and I grew this business together.”
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