The Road Less Traveled
© 2019 Sharon Alberts, Talus Construction, Inc. firstname.lastname@example.org
I like to think I took the road less traveled. My roots are from a blue-collar neighborhood, where I was taught that “nothing in life is free” and “if you want it, earn it.” My parents pushed me to always get good grades but never mentioned college.
One thing I still feel strongly about is occupational programs in high school, which is ultimately where I got my start. During the afternoons after the school day, I received credit for working as an assistant bookkeeper for an electrical contractor. The small office allowed me to wear numerous hats, from accounting to performing electrical takeoffs. Upon graduation, I replaced the retiring manager of the office where I worked for two years.
Next, I had a taste of civil service in Alameda at the former Bureau of Electricity. Two things there shaped my resolve to prove my value as a working mother. The first was the city refusing the third merit raise my supervisor requested for me: the personnel manager stated, “You will never make the money and benefits in the private sector that you make with the city.” Second, while I had a lot of respect for the new female general manager, after giving my two-week notice, she told me that women with children cannot be effective in management. I still think of her from time to time and wonder if “career over family” left her with any regrets.
My last stop before starting my own business was at a large electrical contractor in Oakland. Once again, I had a female supervisor. That lady was tough as nails! At any rate, for three years I rotated through accounting roles and learned a lot about subcontracts and cash flow. I learned good business practices and made sure that bad practices were not repeated.
At this point in my life, I was a divorced mother of an awesome son. A project manager set me up on a date with a vendor for the company. We married a few years later and began the journey of being Bay Area site utility contractors.
Our company, Talus Construction, has now operated in the Bay Area for 28 years. Some of our higher-profile projects completed over the years are UCSF Children’s Hospital in Mission Bay, Highland Hospital’s new wing and utility services, PeopleSoft (now Oracle), Union Landing Retail, and the new Sutter Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley. A recent project was underground work on the Oakland Army Base redevelopment for the Global Logistics project.
The last few years, the construction market has been on overdrive in the Bay Area. The improvement in the economy has also driven up the number of Talus’s hospitality, biomed, mixed-use residential, and data center projects.
As a general engineering contractor, Talus can take on a variety of tasks that are necessary to build new or renovate existing construction. The work we perform is from the ground down. Full site–development services include demolition, grading, underground utilities, joint trench, and paving. Clean-water regulations have added to an uptick in drainage filtration systems and stormwater detention and holding systems.
As for being a woman in the construction business, I recall many years ago sitting in a sea of construction men during a safety class. One of the guys said his company had set a goal to get 12% females in the field. His buddy responded, “That’s the day I’ll quit.” I still remember the look on his face when I told him I owned a construction company. Priceless! There have also been more than a few occasions when a male colleague has told me that men do not know how to talk to me.
In 2013, however, while on a panel for North American Women in Construction, it was refreshing to hear a young male construction management student say that times are changing and that gender differences are less apparent in the younger generation. I tend to agree with this view, based on the increase in women attending construction conferences and my client interactions.
One of my beliefs has always been to strive for continuous improvement. I managed to take on additional college classes while mothering three children and balancing work and home life. (Whenever I run into my former John Deere salesman, he always recounts having met me with a newborn during an equipment purchase.) After a number of years, I earned an MBA, just ahead of my oldest son’s graduation from college. Along the way, I also became involved with a trade association for heavy civil contractors, where I was the only woman who sat on the board during my service.
As for what’s next, I’m headed to Saint Mary’s College in Moraga for more improvement. Ever forward!
About the Author
Sharon Alberts is president of Talus Construction, a site utility company that serves clients in the Bay Area. With more than 30 years in construction, Sharon has also served on the board of directors for UCON (previously EUCA). She is a former president of the California chapter of Women Construction Owners and Executives, a former BART Business Advisory Committee member, and a current member of CREW East Bay (since 2017).