'Professional Success Is Really About People'

To cap off Women in Construction Week 2023, CE interviews Holcim's global head of solutions and products.
By Rachel E. Pelovitz
March 5, 2023

Although women represent a small percentage of the construction workforce (hovering between 9% and 11%), they can have an outsized impact on the industry’s success. Case in point: Jamie Gentoso, global head of solutions and products business unit at Holcim and president of Holcim’s building envelope division. To cap off Women in Construction Week 2023–running from March 5 to 11–Construction Executive recently interviewed Gentoso about her career in construction.

Gentoso holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in business administration, both from the University of Michigan. Prior to her current role, Gentoso was chief executive officer of U.S. cement operations for Holcim and also served as senior vice president of concrete for Sika USA.

Construction Executive: How long have you been in the industry?

Jamie Gentoso: I’ve been in the industry for over 25 years. In college, I worked for a construction management company in a junior project engineer role for 2.5 years to help pay for school, and construction became my first love. I joined Holcim right out of college in technical services, left to work for other material suppliers (primarily construction chemicals and waterproofing) and returned to Holcim U.S. in 2018.

CE: How do you navigate being a top executive and a woman?

JG: First, I would say that no matter your gender or sex, being a leader, spouse and parent is difficult to navigate. For women, I think this can be exceptionally difficult, because we tend to fall into traditional gender roles and “do it all” personally and professionally. I’ve learned to give myself grace and just focus on what is most important at work and at home.

CE: How did you get involved with Holcim and why do you stay?

JG: Even after I left Holcim initially, I always worked alongside them in the industry, even acting as a vendor to them; Holcim was my largest customer. Holcim has always been committed to developing high-quality products and solutions that stand the test of time and contribute to a healthier planet. When I had the opportunity to return as chief executive officer of U.S. cement, I jumped at it.

In my current role, I’m so proud of the company’s commitment to people and the planet. Holcim is truly investing in making our company a better place to work as well as in our product line to provide more sustainable materials–specifically, my building envelope division’s commitment to bringing more solutions into the portfolio through innovation and growth, both organic and through mergers and acquisitions. I feel like I have a real purpose at Holcim.

CE: What drives your passion for the industry?

JG: The industry offers so many opportunities for those who are ambitious, hardworking and want to make changes. Early in my career, I learned about the tremendous impact the built environment has on the earth, both in the manufacturing of building materials but also throughout a building’s life. I’m passionate about working to build better with less and to reduce the overall impact of the built environment.

CE: Have you ever faced challenges as a woman in the workplace?

JG: Of course, but in the end, I think they made me a better person and better leader. We all confront difficult situations (no matter gender), and working through them forces you to grow. Perhaps I’ve encountered more than others, but, again, it’s made me better, stronger and more confident as I confront the next challenge.

CE: How have you managed those challenges?

JG: Initially, I tried hard to fit in and be “one of the boys,” and it took me some time to find my voice (and to wear skirts and heels!), but eventually I learned that just being me, not like everyone else, was actually my superpower! Finding the courage to stand out can be difficult for anyone, but I found I had to push myself to speak up or take my own seat at the table. It paid off as I often voiced a different solution/opinion, which adds innate value to any organization or team. Diversifying the workforce is personal to me, as I’ve often felt like an “only” throughout my career. I believe that greater diversity and inclusion within the construction community is a key opportunity for growth and improvement in an industry that has largely feared change and valued “doing it the way we always do."

CE: How do you de-stress?

JG: Working out is my greatest distraction and de-stressor. It’s a time when my mind lets go of all the worry and has to focus on winning in a different way. I love to run and also enjoy Peloton.

CE: What does success look like to you?

JG: Personally, it’s about continuously getting better, improving and doing more. There never is really an end goal. Professional success is really about people. The success of any business is dependent on having the right people in the right places. Our teammates should feel motivated and excited by the work we’re doing, while also contributing positively to our communities and the planet. This is my most important role. With the right teams in place, we will be successful and will have a positive impact on our communities and our planet while delighting customers and investors.

CE: If you could have lunch with one deceased person, who would it be?

JG: Walt Disney. He is someone who never gave up on his dreams, no matter the obstacles he faced. He was also a true innovator and not afraid to take risks.

CE: What has been your top achievement?

JG: I am so very proud of the work we have done to grow solutions and products at Holcim. I’m particularly proud of how we have grown the building envelope division so quickly via both M&A and organic investment. In less than two years, Holcim Building Envelope has grown to over 3,000 teammates, and, by 2023, we expect revenues to reach over $4 billion, achieving our goal two years ahead of time.

My commitment to all people has helped to make me a successful leader. I’m dedicated to recruiting and retaining more women and minorities, which helped Holcim Building Envelope to be recognized by Newsweek as one of “America's Greatest Workplaces 2023 for Diversity.” I want to inspire young women to understand their potential in this industry. This industry is open to everyone, regardless of sex, ethnicity, background, etc. The sooner our industry is more representative of society, the stronger we’ll be and poised to build even better.

CE: Are there changes you would like to see in the industry?

JG: The industry needs to shift into high gear and commit to decarbonizing the full value chain of building materials and further drive the use of lower-impact solutions in construction. This investment in the future of our planet requires buy-in from all industry stakeholders, and we strive to be an agent of change. This includes R&D and financial commitments that don’t immediately add to our bottom line.

Additionally, the construction industry needs to find ways to attract workers in general–we face real issues in attracting talent in all areas of the business, from professionals, skilled trades to more traditional office jobs. I personally take any opportunity possible to get in front of young people and sing the praises of the construction industry and its full array of opportunities.

CE: How do you inspire your employees?

JG: As a leader, my role is to share our vision, align on our shared purpose and make sure everyone is working toward the same short- and long-term targets. In the end, our success comes down to our people working together as a unified team with a shared purpose. Getting the people right is absolutely the most important component of being a leader and then getting them to rally around a common purpose that drives them–and I know we’ve done exactly that here at Holcim and specifically the building envelope division.

by Rachel E. Pelovitz

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