Recently, the Briq team was lucky enough to sit down with Brittany Deiderich, Director of Finance and Administration at Industrial Builders Inc. We talked with her about:
Let’s dig in.
Brittany, thank you for joining us. Will you please give us a brief background on your history in the industry and where you are now with Industrial Builders?
“My name is Brittany Diederich, I work at Industrial Builders, Inc. (IBI) in West Fargo, North Dakota. We're a heavy highway contractor and do a little bit of general contracting, but our biggest customers are public entities; Department of Transportation, Municipalities, Counties, etc. So, less relationship centric, more low bid type of construction, though relationships will always be important. I am a third generation owner as of last August. Just a little 15% slice of the company, but I’m really fired up about it. My grandparents started the company in 1953.
When I was prepping to buy stock, I found out that my grandma actually was the first majority shareholder of Industrial Builders. My grandpa got most of the credit for starting the business, but he had been in a different construction venture before and it did not go very well, so they went bankrupt and they had to liquidate their assets. He wasn’t allowed to be named on the ownership documents in North Dakota for a certain number of years after filing for bankruptcy, so my grandma Irenet stepped up and technically founded and was the majority shareholder of IBI until 1958. So that’s really cool; to have a woman-owned/founded construction company in 1953. Not a thing they advertised or really talked about, but my grandma was an absolute boss! I wish she was around so I could pick her brain about it; I never knew that when she was alive.
So the business has stayed in the family since then; they had 4 kids who all worked in the business, two of the siblings are retired or near-retired and then my dad and uncle are still working and are the majority owners and President and Executive Vice President, respectively. My cousin and I are the third generation of the family and are working together to carry this thing forward. It’s really fun.”
What inspired you to join the family business? Was that always your intention or were you persuaded into it?
“When I was a kid there wasn’t much pressure but as I got older (and now looking back) I can see my dad was sort of guiding me into the business. The business was a huge part of our lives; our family functions were business functions and all these big IBI characters were part of my life as I grew up. I thought it was normal to bake cookies for your favorite superintendent at an annual picnic each summer. There were other things; like my grandma Irene talking to my third grade teacher at my parent-teacher conference (my teacher was a family friend) and her saying “I think this one could run the business” A few years ago Mrs Hageman told me that story, which was so neat. So I think the family was dropping hints, but never really a “you’re working here or else” sort of thing.
Anyway, I wasn’t intending to get into the business. I actually picked a college in Denver that did NOT have a construction program, because I was certain if I stayed in the area that I’d end up working at IBI. I really wanted to see where I would end up if I gave myself some space. However, I met this girl named Chelsea in high school and much to my surprise, I really liked her. I say a surprise because I had no idea that I was queer (in hindsight there was some internal denial going on, but at the time I was dead-set that I was not gay). We started dating the summer after graduation.
I had a summer job working in the field as a Rotomill Groundsman at IBI that summer too so I was getting some experience, making Davis-Bacon wages and working a lot of overtime. So financially, it was very cool as an 18 year old. After summer was over, I went to Denver for school, but a few months of long distance (relationship) were too much, so I transferred back home so I could be with her.
So I’m back in Fargo studying business at NDSU and I was working as a server because I wanted to maybe be a pastry chef, and was told if I served I could dabble in the kitchen eventually. So I’m working a fair amount making server wage and not making my way into any sort of pastry stuff and my dad was like “you know, ‘I need someone in the accounting department and I'll pay you $10 an hour.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, that would make paying rent so much easier.’ So yeah, he kind of baited me in, made sure I was relatively competent and then loaded me up with more and more responsibility and here we are.”
How are your family culture and business culture similar? What do you think is unique about IBI?
“The family culture is, well, boundaries get a little funny sometimes. I think that's both a strength and a weakness for us because we do treat our employees like they're part of the family, too. We have about 220 people on the payroll right now. So, most of those are obviously not family members, but our average tenure is 18 years among our core leadership crew and 13 years among everybody else. So, people come and they stick around. You really get to know each other and each other's families. You find out somebody’s daughter is a softball or volleyball star, so then IBI throws a couple bucks to the sponsor tournament.
We make decisions, inside and outside of the actual work we do. We do things for each other that if it was like a cut and dry corporation, they'd probably say, ‘This doesn't agree with our bottom line so we're not going to make that decision.’ It’s nice that we make the decision because it's the right thing to do.”
You recently published an article on being LGBTQ in construction and diversity in the industry. You’re an active member on D&I initiatives for various associations. How did you begin taking an active role in this initiative?
“Bruce Orr is now the chair of CFMA’s D&I committee and he wrote a piece on LinkedIn that was really cool about his daughter considering joining the industry. And he talked about being in the industry as a black person when he was younger, a little over a decade ago, and kind of the way that he was treated as kind of an outlier that was being welcomed in. And how that became a double-edged sword where you feel pride because you're included, but you feel shame because people make comments about how ‘you're not like the others’ which is so demeaning to a part of your identity. It’s on Bruce Orr’s LinkedIn so you should check it out; it’s a wonderful piece of writing. It hit me because I’d heard the same things; “oh well you’re not really flamboyant” or “you don’t look gay” or whatever. Where someone is talking out loud and realizes you’re a decent human despite this part of you that they had written off because historically, they don’t care for “those” types.
And so I commented and said something more personal than I probably should have on a professional platform. He said he was impressed by my sincerity and invited me to be on the committee, I accepted, and here we are!
It’s kind of interesting because being part of the family business and leadership here has given me a lot of opportunities. It's been a catalyst for making change because change happens so slowly in this industry. Because I'm part of the family, I can push the envelope a little bit harder without worrying about major repercussions (I’m joking but, what, my dad’s going to fire me?) and on things that are really important, I can stand my ground knowing that. I’m trying to bully my way to make positive change a little bit faster and use nepotism for good here!”
How are things looking for the LGBT community in construction right now? What is the climate like for queer people in the industry, and what would you maybe want other people in the industry to know?
“You're never going to make any progress if the people that are working in an industry are not passionate about what they're doing. Historically, we've been selective that you have to be passionate and you have to be this certain stereotype, which is typically a white male or whatever. We can't do that. We can't be exclusive like that. We're in a workforce shortage and we need any brilliant mind that we can get. And so obviously, as a leader, I'm working on making our company more inclusive and trying to make that known. If you’re brilliant and you share our core values (respect, accountability, honesty), I want you to be part of our company. That’s a very straight-forward concept. And we are making strides; I am super-psyched IBI is sponsoring FM pride this year. So, that's also kind of a big deal for us because our logo is going to be on everything. Some people said, ‘It's kind of a political statement,’ and I'm like, ‘It's not a political statement though. It's about human beings. And you're just saying that you support all humans, which is cool.”
Which is cool.
“So, yeah. One person can only go so far, but I feel like you are pulled to people who are similar to you, and it becomes part of your culture. So, my hope is if I keep setting the example of an inclusive place, that our company will be a really safe space for LGBT individuals.
Our industry is very rough around the edges, but the thing about it is every person when I've gone into the field, when I've hung out with crews… They're all very good people. Last summer, I spent a week working in the field. I just worked in the field as a laborer for a week and hung out with all these guys who didn't know me or that my family owned the business.
They may not be perfectly politically correct, but there are corrections that can be made, and you can speak to them in a way that is honest, sincere, and direct. They listen and you don't have to attack them. You can just talk to them. And they'll say, ‘I never thought about it like that.’ And then it just slowly changes. So, I don't know how to go about it. I know the industry is getting better. I think most companies feel that way. I think it's becoming a better place, a safer space.
And it's just a satisfying industry. When you get the work done, it's really fulfilling. We have more in common than we think.”
Words of wisdom on how people in the industry can get involved or support?
“The first thing I would say is, listen. Even if you feel like you know everything, listen to somebody else's perspective, always give them the benefit of the doubt, and just always be honest, I guess, is my best advice. If you listen and if you're honest and sincere, even if you can't give someone the answer that they may want to hear, they'll know at least where you're coming from. Change is so slow and it is so painful. Sometimes it just creeps along. But if you're honest about what you're trying to do you'll get there sooner than you think you would.”
The Briq team would like to thank Brittany Deiderich for joining us!
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