ABC’s Young Professional Of the Year Exemplifies the Value of Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone
When Brooke Wenger started at Triad Engineering, Inc.,
Hagerstown, Md., as a marketing coordinator nearly a decade ago, she was terrified of going to networking events. She let nerves and the fear of not knowing anyone get to her, not to mention the idea of having to talk in front of a crowd.
Today, as Triad Engineering’s more seasoned director of business development, Wenger spends the vast majority of her time out of the office attending meetings and events, serving on committees, following up on project leads and building relationships with potential business partners.
“You can’t be afraid of what, or who, you don’t know,” Wenger says. “I still get nervous, but I don’t let it show. Obviously someone thought enough of me to put me in this position, and I do it well.”
She also encourages colleagues to come along to networking events, promising to provide a guiding hand and work through the natural silences that occur when people get to know each other. “It’s not even necessary to talk about work. We’ll find a connection and build that relationship.”
In short, comfort zones lead to stagnancy; pushing outside those boundaries results in growth. Wenger is committed to the latter, and she has the career advancement to prove it. Most recently, she was named Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) Young Professional of the Year—an award that recognizes career achievements, leadership and industry vision among ABC member employees under the age of 40.
“Brooke’s passion for helping others and developing our future leaders is a testament to her devotion to our association and the merit shop philosophy,” says Zak Wolpert, who handles business development for Kinsley Construction, York, Pa., and is chairman of the ABC National Young Professionals Committee. “Her relentless determination has resulted in the formation of a successful young professionals program at the ABC Cumberland Valley Chapter, persistent growth and recruitment for the national program, and support of ABC’s core values and strategic initiatives.”
Adds Bradley A. Reynolds, regional manager for Triad Engineering: “Brooke’s accomplishments at Triad and within industry
organizations such as ABC are impressive and show her remarkable ability to connect. It has been an honor to watch Brooke grow and succeed personally and professionally.”
Wenger learned the value of challenging herself right off the bat as a Penn State graduate. Unsure of how to use her associate’s degree, she answered a newspaper ad for an administrative position with a small land-surveying company, but realized within six months that life behind a desk wasn’t fulfilling. When a field worker called in sick, her manager offered to teach her how to run a rod as a member of the survey crew.
Wenger worked there for seven years, all the while furthering her education: first trying civil technology at a community college and eventually earning a four-year business administration degree from Penn State. Within the company’s close-knit, six-person staff, Wenger had the advantage of direct access to the owner.
“He was interested in giving me the opportunity to learn,” she says. “And from a personal standpoint, he showed me how business owners should invest in people. They aren’t just a dollar sign.”
Armed with a business administration degree, and ready to give up the manual labor side of the industry, Wenger pursued a marketing position with Triad Engineering—a huge jump from a staff of less than 10 to a 150-employee engineering consulting and design firm with seven locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. She embraced the challenge and put her general knowledge of construction sites to use preparing proposals while expanding her skills as a people person.
“At first it was intimidating to think of this as a sales job, but business development at Triad Engineering is really about meeting potential clients and keeping our valued partners happy,” Wenger says. “I meet many people who have been in the industry way longer than I have, so my learning style gravitates toward hands-on, personal interactions. I rely heavily on people whom I view as mentors to help me develop skills and strengthen my weaknesses by meeting with them one on one or asking to tag along to see their methods up close.
“My direct supervisor right now has been a huge supporter and gives me the confidence I don’t always have,” she adds. “I want to be able to be that person to somebody in my career.”
Wheels in Motion
The wheels are clearly in motion on that front. Wenger’s job responsibilities include training and mentoring business development staff and ensuring consistent activities across Triad Engineering’s corporate footprint. And her involvement in industry organizations—from the ABC Cumberland Valley Chapter’s Young Professionals Group and an ABC National Peer Group to the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the Society for Marketing Professional Services and the Contractor’s Committee for the United Way Day of Caring—provide ample opportunities to impact young men and women and promote
“With all the evidence of a generational gap of AEC personnel, I feel some responsibility to help alleviate the situation,” Wenger says. “The younger generation needs to know having a lifelong career in the AEC industry is a very attainable option. If we can mentor and train young professionals already in the industry, we start to close the gap.”
Case in point: Directly after receiving the Young Professional of the Year Award at ABC’s Leadership Week in Dallas, a young woman participating in the ABC Student Chapter Construction Management Competition told Wenger she was an inspiration for all women in the industry.
“She stood there and waited for me—just to say that,” Wenger recalls. “I wish I wasn’t so overwhelmed right then and had a longer chance to chat with her. But that moment will stick with me forever.”
Fortunately, Wenger has a lifetime to mentor the most important person in her life: her 5-year-old daughter Braelyn.
“I’m proud of being a working mother and hopefully a good role model for my daughter to see she can do anything she dreams. I strive to share all I can with Braelyn so she learns there are no limitations other than the ones you set for yourself.”
Meet the Finalists
ABC’s Young Professional of the Year Award recognizes member company employees under the age of 40 who embody the bright future of the merit shop construction industry. Three finalists were selected from more than 30 nominations based on their career achievements, leadership, and vision for enhancing the commercial and industrial construction industry. Here’s a look at the runners-up to 2016 award-winner Brooke Wenger of Maryland-based Triad Engineering, Inc.
Andrew B. Lopez
Cajun Industries, LLC
Baton Rouge, La.
From intern to executive: Cajun initially hired me as a college intern after bartending at an event. I have become a leader in the organization through hard work, dedication and merit. Without a shadow of a doubt, my story would not have happened if Cajun did not value the merit shop philosophy.
The biggest accomplishment of my career was the successful founding, growth and development of Bennett Builders, LLC. My partners and I took a small initial investment and built a merit shop general contracting business averaging $20 million to $30 million in annual volume while staying true to our core values. The business ultimately was sold to a large international oil and gas company in 2013, serving as its conduit to the North American market.
Not afraid to speak up:
I have tried to use my influence to challenge employees, inspire the younger generation and educate the community on the virtues of ABC, which my grandfather first instilled in me as a young boy. I have consistently lobbied pro ABC legislation in the Louisiana Legislature, and in 2011 testified in front of the state House and Senate labor committees in favor of an open competition bill that Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law.
Intended impact during the next decade:
My hope is that through service to the industry I give more than I take, educate more than I ignore and inspire more than I discourage. As an active member of ABC, I aspire to help preserve one of the last true free enterprise industries in this country.
Gaylor Electric, Inc.
Putting others first:
In 2009, I sold my family’s business to Gaylor Electric in order to create more opportunities for my valued employees. Being able to provide my team members with the tools, education and support to become what they aspire to be has continued to be a personal motivator. Seeing those around me find success and reach their full potential is my greatest professional accomplishment.
A merit shop mindset:
My family found ABC to be one of the only trade associations that aligned with our vision and values. In 1996, I committed to ABC’s four-year electrical apprenticeship program, where I honed my views about performance, integrity and merit. Today, I’m honored to be chairman of the ABC Indiana/Kentucky Apprenticeship Trustees. I take pride in supporting a philosophy that encourages open competition and awards individuals on their personal merit.
Facilitating professional development:
In 2013, I helped design and implement an individual craft assessment program that calculates areas of field knowledge and includes a training program to enhance skill sets. I also led the development of an 11-month supervision management program. By developing individual education plans for every employee and assigning personal mentors, Gaylor Electric can cultivate a future of inspired management.
Intended impact during the next decade:
My goal is to help recruit and develop high-quality individuals through trade education and technology innovation. I know firsthand that a trade can change your life. A career shaped by years of passion and perseverance should never be viewed as settling.
Nominate your company’s most promising leaders for the 2017 ABC Young Professional of the Year award. Visit youngprofessionals.abc.org
for more details.
Joanna Masterson is senior editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit constructionexec.com or follow @ConstructionMag.