Meet Nancy Brinkerhoff, AWCI’s First Female President

Don Procter / July 2019

Pictured: Nancy Brinkerhoff with members of AWCI’s chapter in Northern California, the Wall And Ceiling Alliance

 

“Being the first woman president of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry following its centennial celebration is quite the honor. I will do the best job I possibly can to advance the industry and the association,” says Nancy Brinkerhoff, CEO and president of Ironwood Commercial Builders in Northern California. “I started my company in 2007 during the beginning of the great recession. Was this a bold, risky move? Yes it was, though it was a great risk. My partner (my husband of 34 years) and I were willing to take the risk, dive in and determined to make it work,” she says.
    
Ironwood self-performs drywall/metal framing, lath and plaster and fireproofing. The company has recently taken on general contracting in the federal market, which works well with its self-performing divisions, according to Brinkerhoff.

Solid Advice
Many contractors across the United States like Ironwood face different challenges today than a decade ago. When she started the company in 2007, the San Francisco Bay Area and most of the country was in a recession. “It was a bad market,” she recalls. “Everyone was fighting for the same job, and the margins were low. Today, the big challenge is workforce: getting and keeping qualified good people.
    
Brinkerhoff advises young contractors trying to build a solid reputation to “never overpromise. You need to do what you say you are going to do. You can’t go into a project and make 25 excuses when things go wrong about what happened.

Presidential Goals
Brinkerhoff says one of her priorities over the next 12 months as AWCI’s new president is a membership drive for new contractors and those companies with younger leaders. “The main goal is to take this association to the next generation,” she says.
    
We have a number of member contractors who are passing the helm to their children and/or younger executives—a good thing says Brinkerhoff. To take AWCI to the next generation, Brinkerhoff believes the association also needs to reach out to small business contractors led by young, progressive minds. Young blood is good for the industry, she says, partly because they readily adopt new ideas, technology and ways of operating a business.
    
“We would like to implement sponsoring new companies’ registrations that can’t otherwise afford to come to our convention, so they can attend and see the value of this association,” Brinkerhoff says. “I believe there are hundreds of companies that could be part of this organization, but for these contractors to take a dedicated amount of time away from work to come to our convention, they need to know and see the value of the information they will gain and the opportunities from networking nationwide.”

The Tech Curve
While technological advancements can, on one hand, increase productivity, on the other hand it can come at a financial cost too high for many contractors. “Larger contractors are generally industry leaders and generally have the funds to incorporate advanced, new technology,” Brinkerhoff says.
    
AWCI can help members of all sizes catch up to the technology curve. As a founding member of the Wall And Ceiling Alliance in Northern California, she has been part of an initiative that allows member-contractors to use a virtual reality headset to walk through a Building Information Modeling Collaborative Ultimate Building Environment (BIM CUBE) with their clients in a warehouse section of WACA to evaluate the design of their projects. “You can redesign as you walk through,” she says. “You can even place the studs.” WACA staff runs the program.
    
According to a recent article in WACA’s quarterly magazine, The Technical Corner, “Recent research supports … that while demand for BIM appears to be growing, particularly among owners and general contractors, wholesale acceptance by trade contractors continues to lag. A 2017 study by Dodge Data & Analytics found that while 46 percent of the general contractors or construction managers surveyed who were using BIM were using it on more than one-half of their projects, only 30 percent of surveyed trade contractors were doing the same. Interestingly, the same report found that, in general, trade contractors were comparatively more comfortable with the complexities and functionality of BIM programs than architects and engineers. According to the survey, trade contractors believe BIM’s best attribute is its ability to provide the latest version of a design and view using that trait as a means to avoid costly rework once a project commences.”
    
Brinkerhoff says Ironwood will use the BIM CUBE on an exterior contract it is doing for the federal government. Most companies won’t have the budget for in-house technology like this. “It is a good example of how associations like WACA and AWCI can benefit their members,” she says.
    
Other technologies benefit the industry—including prefabrication, an area to investigate as the industry moves forward, she says. The shift to OST (on-screen takeoffs) bidding has proven to be “five times faster” than bidding from paper drawings—a smart investment for contractors of all sizes.

Workers Wanted
Regarding the shortage of skilled labor, there’s no easy solution to building a young group of workers in the field. Re-visiting recruitment efforts in high schools is one place to start. Efforts to draw young women—“an untapped resource”—into the field are also important, says Brinkerhoff, a member of the National Association of Women in Construction.
    
“It’s the trades that need to recruit,” she says, noting that there only three women in her field crew of about 80. “Women need to hear that this is a market that they can excel in. We need to improve our women’s outreach. They should know that this is a fulfilling and exciting potential career path for them.”

Personal Involvement
In addition to the NAWIC, Brinkerhoff is active in a number of wall and ceiling associations. At WACA she is the secretary-treasurer, and she is a former president of the Bay Area Builders Exchange. She is also a trustee on the Plasterers’ Pension Fund and chairperson of the Plasterers Health and Welfare. At AWCI, Brinkerhoff participates in the Women’s Business Forum in which female executives meet to share company matters, including problem jobs and potential solutions.
    
Brinkerhoff is honored and excited to be part of AWCI and looks forward to bringing new and innovative ideas to the organization over the next year. We at AWCI look forward to bringing in new members and know they will find the organization and its resources a great benefit available to contractors nationwide.

Don Procter is a freelance writer in Ontario, Canada.