MN: Warrior Group Construction is the largest general contractor construction company owned by a woman or minority in the United States. Tell us about strategies you used to grow your company.
GW: In the beginning, Warrior Group started doing a little of everything in the modular space. We did temporary construction trailers, portable classrooms and even some permanent [structures]. Our markets were the federal government, school districts and contractors. As to our strengths in the market, we didn’t really have any.
So we had to evaluate what we were doing and ask ourselves, “What can we do that other companies aren’t?” The answer to that question was permanent modular construction (PMC). That is when PMC came to the forefront and we made a name for ourselves. Our first large PMC at Fort Bliss in El Paso led to contracts in Colorado and then more in Texas at Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston, where Warrior Group built the largest permanent modular facilities in North America.
At that time we really had no competition in this space and many strengths, such as our knowledge of modular construction and relationships with manufacturers. This allowed us to grow to a subcontractor role, partnering with large construction companies because we were still too small to be a general contractor.
As Warrior Group worked on larger and larger projects, we needed different skills from our people. We had to have project managers who could manage relationships with owners and ensure the project stayed within budget; we needed people who knew about foundations and engineering and estimating. This led eventually to Warrior Group becoming a general contractor. We also had the staff in place to pursue conventional construction projects and we became more than a modular builder.
Now in this down economic climate when the construction market has been drastically reduced, we are doing more joint ventures with other general contractors and working as a super sub-contractor.
MN: What was the biggest challenge you faced as a business owner?
GW: As a business owner, I have faced many challenges and I’m not afraid to admit that Warrior Group made mistakes as we grew. But I believe mistakes are the stepping stones to success when you learn from them.
When we were a small business starting out, the biggest challenge was cash flow and figuring out how to consistently keep the cash coming in to keep the business going. I think that is always a challenge for new companies.
Recently, we have faced a shrinking construction market and how to transition to stay competitive in this business environment. We are consistently evaluating the market and the competition to determine where we fit strategically. This has required us to downsize the company, but carefully without compromising our core capabilities. The challenge is to keep the right people with the right skills in place. To do that, we also have to understand what markets the company will be working in, which has changed with the economic downturn. As we consider staffing, we have to be sure to retain the people who have multiple skills that will work in these changing markets.
MN: When did you realize that you had a viable business and what did you do to celebrate this milestone?
GW: I think we knew we were established the first time we had a large general contractor contact us to work on a project. When you are a small business and a female-led company in the construction industry, you have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously. So when a developer, architect or general contractor asks us to participate with them on a project that is a measure of success. It took several years of hard work before that started happening, but now Warrior Group has partnered with five of the largest general contractors in the region on proposals or projects. We certainly popped the champagne cork when we were finally noticed by the big players.