BTH Construction Delivery: How 'unicorn' entrepreneur is building her business

'Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it'

 

BY: Lucy May of WCPO News
POSTED: 6:00 AM, May 3, 2017

 

CINCINNATI -- Bridget Harris was at her first internship working for an architect in Cincinnati when the boss asked if she would ever consider starting a business of her own. "I'm like, 'No. I would never own a company,'" she remembers telling him. "I just laugh about that now."

 

That response seems silly because she ended up starting her own construction management business less than a decade later. Since launching in 2010, BTH Construction Delivery has grown from a sole proprietorship to a company with three owners and an additional employee.

That growth has come in the male-dominated construction industry despite the fact that Harris, 35, is a young, black woman.

 

"My lawyer actually called me a unicorn one day," she said. "He said, 'I've never met anyone in your industry that looks like you and is a woman.'"

 

Harris has been successful because she is "teachable and humble and hungry to learn," said Vincent Terry, director of the Covington and Cincinnati office of Moody Nolan, an architecture firm where Harris worked before starting BTH. "I definitely encouraged her to go out and take Cincinnati by storm," Terry said. "She had this degree of trust that surrounded her."

 

Harris has worked on a number of high-profile local projects, including The Banks, JACK Cincinnati Casino and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Clinical Services Pavilion.

Harris helped build Current at The Banks. She said she expects the city of Cincinnati's focus on contracting with more companies owned by women and minorities could help open more doors for her company, too.

 

"When I have conversations now talking about having a construction company and being minority- and woman-owned, I hear people get a little bit more excited because I can help meet a quota for them," she said.

 

The accidental entrepreneur

For her part, Harris doesn't think much about her race or gender. Then again, she has seen the world differently ever since she was a kid. "I always wanted to be an architect," said Harris, who grew up in College Hill. "When I was a little kid I would draw pictures of houses in section. I would cut the house straight down the middle and draw it that way. I've always seen buildings differently."

 

That came in handy after Harris graduated from Walnut Hills High School and went to Tennessee State University to study architectural engineering. Starting out, she didn't realize how different that major would be from architecture, but she learned quickly and stuck with it, she said. After graduating in 2005, she returned to Cincinnati and worked for a local architecture firm for about a year before going back to school to get her master of architecture at the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

 

After getting her master's she worked for a year at another local firm before the Great Recession hit. She got laid off as a result. "That's pretty much why I started the business," Harris said.

 

Her father, a civil engineer, had always told her to spend a year "on the ground" early in her career. So she figured starting her own business would give her that opportunity, and she got a job to work as a consultant on The Banks.

 

Working past the raised eyebrows

Despite the pressure, Harris found she loved the work. "I really loved the pace of it," she said. "It was just electric."

 

After working for a year at The Banks, Harris got another job preparing architectural plans for a house. That's when she decided she would either have to look for another job or focus more on building her business. "I hadn't had to go out and look for work," she said. "It kind of kept coming to me."

 

She focused on her business until 2014 when she decided to interview for a salaried position

with Childress & Cunningham, a local architectural firm. She had such strengths in the construction side of the business that the firm's two owners discussed partnering with her to help grow BTH, said Allan Childress, a principal at Childress & Cunningham. He and Larry Cunningham became Harris' business partners in BTH in 2016, with Harris retaining majority ownership of her company.

 

"Our firm is getting to the age where you start to think about the ascension of the firm," Childress said of Childress & Cunningham.

 

Childress and Cunningham decided the construction services part of their firm could grow best through a separate business led by Harris, he said. "She has a natural talent for leadership, tremendous people skills, and she just needed some people around her that she could learn a few more things about the business from," Childress said. 

 

So far, he and Cunningham have been impressed with the way Harris wins contracts and leads projects in the field, where most of the people she works with are white men who are older than she is. "I do think you can kind of see it in people's eyes sometimes when you announce that she's going to be the project manager," Childress said. "There are some people who maybe kind of raise an eyebrow a little bit."

 

Too busy for maternity leave

But Childress doesn't think Harris will have any trouble building credibility in the industry over time, he said. Neither does Terry. "I think Bridget is strong enough to see through the challenges and meet her goals and get the job done," he said. "She has that determination."

 

That will come in handy. Harris is not only building her business, but she and her husband also are raising twin baby girls. The babies are about four months old, and Harris has been balancing work and motherhood almost since the day they were born. "I never actually took a maternity leave," she said. "Not a week went by, not a few days, where I was not getting phone calls about the business."

 

It's a lot to juggle, Harris said, but it's not impossible. She hopes that more young women, especially women of color, will explore careers in the construction industry. For those who are considering it, her advice is: "Be brave."

 

"I think that if you're interested in this industry," she said, "don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it."

 

Harris certainly hasn't.

BTH Construction Delivery is being Inclusive...

PRESS RELEASE


Cincinnati, OH, October 24, 2017 – BTH Construction Delivery is excited to announce the addition of two Vice Presidents – Allan Childress and Larry Cunningham. While Bridget Harris will retain majority ownership of her company, the extensive experience and expertise which these new partners bring will enhance the firm's capabilities to meet the specific needs of its clients. 

 

“We are thrilled to add Cunningham and Childress to the BTH team. With proven track records of over 30 years of experience in the industry, each of these men bring incredible design and construction expertise which will be a great compliment to what we are already doing,” Harris said. Childress has an in-depth understanding of this complex field which is evident in the way he designs and manages projects. With an eye for detail, Allan contributes heavily in the areas of design, quality standards, and specifications. Similarly, Cunningham has an intricate knowledge of the architecture and construction industries and his areas of expertise include code research and analysis, being responsive to budget and schedule, and overall project management.

 

“I am very excited to join BTH at this incredibly important moment in the organization's history,” said Childress. “Bridget has a natural talent for leadership, tremendous people skills, and I'm very impressed with the way she wins contracts and leads projects in the field. Being a minority woman in a field where most of the people she works with are white men who are older than she is, this could be a challenge. But, Bridget has risen to the challenge and she is certainly having no trouble gaining credibility in the industry.”

 

The addition of Cunningham and Childress has already enhanced the capabilities of BTH Construction and is proving to be a valuable asset to the firm's clients. The skill and knowledge of these two men coupled with the experience and leadership of Bridget Harris creates a compelling team for the future of BTH Construction!


About BTH Construction Delivery, LLC – MBE, WBE, SBE

 

Founded in 2010, BTH Construction Delivery is a minority woman owned full-service Construction Management, Design-Build, and Integrated Project Delivery firm in Walnut Hills. Be it new construction, renovation, or an addition, at BTH we develop solutions with cost control, efficient scheduling, and high quality results. Understanding the value of our client's input, we create opportunities for the owner to take a more active role in the construction process. At BTH, the success of your project is important to us and we strive to exceed your expectations in creativity, execution of details, and the bottom line. Further information can be found at www.bthconstruction.org

 

Contact:
Bridget Harris – President
bth@bthconstruction.org
BTH Construction Delivery
513-655-7987

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2355 Park Ave Suite B

Cincinnati, OH 45206

 

(513)655-7987

 

BTH@bthconstruction.org