How I Made It: Stephanie Y. Drake on Her Fateful Journey To Heading Her Own Construction and Real Estate Services Firm

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How does that translate in terms of the projects that you work on?

I envisioned at the beginning having renowned organizations like the Smithsonian and NIH as clients, not just because of their names but their missions, their visions. To have them as clients was one of my initial goals and it actually coming to pass.   You can try telling your customers about where you’re trying to go, but at the end of the day, their primary goal is to get their job done.  So on their construction projects, I plant that seed everytime  we provide good quality work and get things done on-time and within budget.   Being in construction, it often carries a negative connotation with it. Some think construction means change orders, contractor ripping you off, among other things. That is where I think Drake differentiates itself and why we are blessed to be amongst Smithsonian’s preferred short list of small business contractors.

We do a lot of interior work for them and have had the privilege of working in most all the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC, including the National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, Hirshhorn.  So going back to your question, when we are able to expand our relationship with such a reputable organization beyond a project, and cement a long-term relationship, as we have done, that’s how our projects translate into success.

How does Drake maintain its niche’ as a small business?

Though major contributors to the GNP, it is a known fact that small businesses, due primarily to a lack of infrastructure, find it difficult to compete in the marketplace. Understanding that very vulnerability, and because of my understanding of finance, I continue to work religiously to build Drake’s infrastructure for purposes of both sustainability and competitive advantage.  That coupled with providing top service and doing quality work,we are able to advocate that small business is good business.

Drake has extensive interior renovation experience; we’ve done playgrounds, design, build projects, and we’re doing energy efficiency retro fits, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing projects.  We’re a general contractor doing whatever our clients need us to do.  There are certain agencies that make the most sense for us and that’s how we’re better able to define niche’ products and/or services. We get a lot of repeat business because of that.

How has Drake Incorporated managed to weather the storm of the recession?

Like everyone else, we have been affected by the recession particularly in the last year.  I go back to my initial statement, I am well versed on the financial side, but with our decline in revenues this year I made the difficult decision not to lay off and to weather the storm.  This truly was about faith for me. This was the same faith that I had during 9-11 when I left corporate America, and hadn’t started my business yet. Even with all the reports about where the economy stood, I trusted and believed, and figured worse case I could go back to corporate America.   I hear where the economy is and to be quite honest, the last seven to eight months has probably been the most challenging for us in a while. Though we received a number of awards throughout the year, a large number of projects hadn’t started. Of course, if you can’t start, you can’t bill against it. Nonetheless, we still had to pay our monthly overhead expenses. So clearly we have had some challenges financially, but the good news is, we are on the upswing because projects are starting.

I’m an open book and they appreciated that.  Letting them know, asking that they trust my judgement, and giving them a growing pipeline report to prove it all helped. So as a result they’re still standing with us, we didn’t lose our lines of credit or any financial resources that would affect our ability to perform. Moreover, our existing and new clients are showing up at the right time. In the last two months, we’ve seen a healthy increase. We’re back to turning a profit again. We’ve made it to short lists for a number of projects. Our approach is to be very creative and strategic centering on who will be our target audience in the short- and the long-term. Including prospecting for new IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quality) contracts. For example,we have a past, positive track record in labs so we pursued and was recently short-listed for an IDIQ at a University medical center.  That’s one of our niches.  The goal is to employ more people.  That excites me. This supports what [President] Obama says which is that small business creates the most new jobs. For a $3 million project, [Drake] and others like us, will likely create three to four jobs. So that’s a good thing, and those are the types of standards which are in line with our vision.

How large is your staff?

We currently have 13 people, and we’re looking to immediately hire about another four because of our recent  five-year contract with the Social Security Administration in Baltimore. We won’t stop there. However, I still see “small” in our future eventually growing to 25 to 30 person staff and our growth being supplemented by teaming.

What does the future hold for Drake Inc. and for you Stephanie?

Obviously we have our financial goals to ensure a healthy growth,  but I also want to be very ‘conscious’ of our purpose. Drake will be a vehicle for job creation, and giving back, leaving a legacy.  For the strong values and work ethics that the unsung heroes of my life instilled in me, I want to ensure that those ethics, commitment to community, employee growth and personal development, remain strong foundations of this company, including providing a legacy vehicle for the people who have and will contribute into this company.  It is my goal to pursue my calling at a global level and explore opportunities where we can partner with local governments and other organizations to meet the specific construction, infrastructure needs including housing, education, and workforce development. I foresee Drake, Inc. playing an integral role at that level.  But that is a work in progress for now.

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