A Woman of Asphalt: Meet Gabriel Contractors’ Kristi Vertucci
BY Sandy Lender
Kristi Vertucci grew up in the family-owned business of Gabriel Contractors, Amsterdam, New York. She shared that she’s been taking care of the business side of things for over 13 years now, and has worked on-site as a laborer for the past 10. She has completed three degrees that she pulls from to manage the complexities of running an asphalt business:
- Associates Degree in Business from Fulton Montgomery Community College—2005
- Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Albany University—2008
- MBA with a concentration in Management from Empire State College—2011
Even with that education in hand, the journey to vice president and co-owner of Gabriel Contractors took a circuitous route. For one, her father wanted “what he thought was a better career that in turn would give me a ‘better’ life,” Vertucci shared. “But he soon realized I was right where I belonged the whole time.”
She almost followed a very different career path.
“I was a fashion model in high school and always loved fashion, so the only thing I could picture myself doing was something in the fashion industry,” Vertucci explained.
She also felt the pressure many youth feel to attend a four-year university.
“In addition, my parents always wished I would get a college education so that I did not have to work as hard, as long and in such harsh conditions as they did in the past. So off I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, hoping to make a mark in the fashion industry as a fashion merchandising manager; maybe even designer one day.”
Health setbacks halted that path indefinitely.
“I had to come home and take a semester off to address my physical health before I could ever think about going back,” Vertucci explained. “After months of reflection and self-care, I realized I needed to start off slowly if I was ever going to be able to achieve an education while taking care of my health properly.
From there, I thought a business degree and a double major in psychology would suit any career I decided to go into in the future.
“But as I started to help out and complete my college thesis on our family business, I had an epiphany; it was where I belonged.
“Why was I chasing a career path that was not truly my passion? It was a fun hobby, but I could never picture myself waking up every day absolutely in love with my job. So, after three years…I was able to quit my IT analyst position and finally start pursuing a career within which I always belonged.”
AsphaltPro: Could you share what your job as vice president and co-owner of Gabriel Contractors requires of you?
Kristi Vertucci: As the vice president/co-owner of Gabriel Contractors of Amsterdam, I am responsible for the following:
- Performing asphalt laborer duties such as: acting as screed operator and/or assistant screed operator; operating other equipment such as our rollers and skid steers; utilizing hand tampers, rakes, shovels, and brooms as necessary; working as flagger/traffic control to direct motorists in and around work zones;
- Developing, mentoring and supporting all team members/employees by: overseeing new employee onboarding procedures; creating/maintaining employee work schedules; creating and executing health & safety protocols; delegating team responsibilities; and processing payroll;
- Project management (from inception to completion);
- Secondary estimator for both commercial and residential customers (including attending pre-bid meetings);
- Carrying out finance operations including, but not limited to: financial reporting, banking/lender negotiations, investments, budgeting, accounting (accounts payable, receivable, etc.);
- Executing any and all human resource functions (i.e., permits, applications, registrations, insurance parts ordering, taxes etc.);
- Ensuring procurement of materials, supplies, and equipment;
- Creating networking opportunities through in-person and online avenues such as social media; and
- Developing and implementing marketing strategies and advertising opportunities.
AsphaltPro: What part of your education relates best to the career track you’re on?
Kristi Vertucci: While my BA in psychology was/is extremely useful in helping me to communicate more effectively with different customers and employee personalities, I do not believe any of my degrees truly relates much to me working in this industry. Education or not, being in the field and learning, consistent training, and experiencing all kinds of day to day operations, is what mattered and continues to matter the most.
AsphaltPro: What would you say was the most challenging “obstacle” you, as a female on the asphalt crew, had to overcome in the past 10 years, and how did you overcome that obstacle?
Kristi Vertucci: I think ONE of the most challenging obstacles I have had to overcome over the past 10 years was, and still is, smashing the gender stereotype and public perception of a female like myself entering and thriving in the asphalt industry.
Even though my father is the owner/president of Gabriel Contractors, I was not just given a job or title of VP by any means. He was of the mindset that his daughters should get an education and find a job in a career outside of the trades, so that we did not have to get “down and dirty” on the job every single day; we did not have to struggle as much as small business owners typically do in small towns like ours (Amsterdam); and so that we would not have to work so physically hard, coming home exhausted in all senses of the word. After all, the asphalt industry is not for the faint of heart. And the reason my father worked so hard for 53 years in this business was to create a better life for his wife and children.
That being said, in order to overcome the obstacle of even having the opportunity to join the industry, I fought for years to prove myself as an asset to our industry, and in turn my father. I consistently chose to advocate for myself every single day. I created my own opportunities by proving through productivity that I could contribute to the business in the office and on the job by being more than “just a pretty face” (as the cliché goes). In addition, I demonstrated on site that I could perform most of the physical duties required of a male foreman/laborer by taking action. I always believed “inaction creates nothing. Action creates success” – Stephen Richards.
AsphaltPro: How do you think other women in the industry can incorporate that mindset into their workdays?
Kristi Vertucci: Make a conscious effort to contribute in ways that males often fail to do. Where most men lack on the emotional or communicative side of things, we can be the voice of reason. We as women need to make our presence our presents to the company for which we work or are attempting to gain employment. We need to be proud of the kind of women we truly are, and stop apologizing for having emotions or feelings. We need to embrace the fact that we as women stand out. We need to own the fact that we as women do not look like the majority of our male counterparts. So if we are inevitably going to stand out, considering the still small presence of women in this industry, why not use it to our advantage? Stand tall and proud regardless of who attempts to question you or put you down; speak with confidence knowing you are more than capable of producing results, outworking others, and being a bona fide asset to any team; but also speak humbly and truthfully.
AsphaltPro: Could you tell us about some changes you’ve seen take place in the asphalt team “culture” in the past couple of years?
Kristi Vertucci: Over the past few years, there has been a positive shift for reversing gender bias in the construction industry; one that more readily accepts women in typical male dominated construction roles.
At the same time, there is still much more work to be done in order to truly change our industry’s culture to reflect women as equals. From my point of view, many men still see women in construction as just “flagger-types” or as administrative assistants who don’t fully encompass all roles of their male counterparts; leaving us to constantly feel like we have to prove ourselves and defend how good we are at what we do.
For me personally, my teammates are mostly accepting of my position as “boss” and VP of this company. However, the way they interact with my father versus me while on the job is completely different. And that partly is my own fault. I always feel like I have to walk on eggshells by saying please and thank you in order to avoid them automatically deeming me a “know it all” or “daddy’s little girl.” I am constantly saying “sorry” when I have nothing truly to be sorry about. But don’t get me wrong, I think we as women are just as responsible for the culture shift as men, and we need to start saying what we mean and meaning what we say. For me, I need to own the fact that I have earned my place here and continue to bust my ass in this business, if not more than most men do. So their own insecurities and weaknesses are not my problem or my responsibility to fix.
An optimistic shift in gender socialization has started in the asphalt industry but there is a lot of work left to do. So, let’s move full steam ahead.
AsphaltPro: What do you think is the most important skill you’ve brought to your position in the asphalt industry?
Kristi Vertucci: I am the first female to be a part of Gabriel Contractors of Amsterdam, NY Inc., in all of its 65 years of operation. As such, I really had to learn to NOT fit in. That is right, you read that correctly. What do I mean by that? Well, it is quite obvious that men and women think differently cognitively, not just anatomy wise.
Our brains have been scientifically proven to be wired for different optimizations. That being said, our advantage(s) as women in this industry is that we are in fact different. We need to start embracing our differences and show the world what we have to offer. One area we can truly do that is with problem solving. That is because one of the key skills in construction, let alone any industry, is the ability to effectively problem solve.
We are able to bring in new perspectives, fresh ideas and a diverse range of solutions where sometimes males lack. We are able to offer up new approaches with new methods all the while communicating more efficiently than some of our male counterparts. Our attention to detail and our tendency to follow patterns, is what will set us apart. Not to mention, if you happen to have tattoos and purple hair like me, these differences often bring diversity to the stereotypical and outdated blue-collar culture.
Moral of the story, I would highly encourage every single female to be themselves and not try to conform to what you think you “should be.”
AsphaltPro: It’s a fact that asphalt paving can be hot and dusty. How do you respond to people who say it’s a “dirty job?”
Kristi Vertucci: It is. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. But no matter what industry you are in, hard work is always going to be hard work; whether you are getting “dirty” or not. It may not always be physically easy, but it damn sure is worth it. Plus, there is value and an intangible reward in knowing you feel accomplished and valued in contributing to a job well done. That is why I do not understand why Millennials, naysayers and our country as a whole, seem to avoid working in the trades. It seems like earning a living by working hard became frowned upon or unattractive for some reason, and the perception became “get good grades in school so that you can get a good job and make more money” without working hard. Why aren’t we celebrating and valuing those in the skilled trades like we tend to do when people graduate college? One does not trump the other. We need to stop focusing on the “cons” and negative perception being pushed by society and start concentrating on developing a strong work ethic, a driven mindset, and cultivating the will to work in the trades. Skilled labor isn’t cheap, and cheap labor isn’t skilled. There are so many opportunities for us, especially financially, that getting dirty should be the least of anyone’s concerns.
AsphaltPro: What is the most rewarding aspect for you, personally, of being in the asphalt business?
Kristi Vertucci: For me, the most rewarding part of being in the asphalt business is the opportunity to do what I love to do every single day. I know that may sound cliché, but I really do love this industry. Of course, it can be stressful, exhausting and challenging (like any other job), but the rewards always outweigh the negative aspects. Plus, the smell of diesel fuel and asphalt in the morning is one I oddly love.
From serving as a proud partner alongside my father and vice president of Gabriels’, to being active as an operator/laborer in the field, to completing all types of administrative duties, I am really able to be hands-on in all aspects of the asphalt world.
This allows every day to be a new adventure; keeping me on my toes and engaged with learning. Some days you will see me running our Weiler paver and hand tamping edges, and other days I will be running off to estimate and/or take care of the business side of things (human resources, accounting, marketing, etc.). I really am able to learn and grow in all areas of the field and not limit myself as a woman in construction. I mean how amazing is it that?
I get to achieve so many goals all in one single day. So can you imagine how much is accomplished in one single season?
AsphaltPro: Tell us about someone who served as a mentor for you.
Kristi Vertucci: My father, Terry, and mother, Tina
Growing up, my parents always instilled in us that we truly can do and be whatever we want to. (Even though that did not hold true for the “Mariah Carey voice” that I swear I had as a child.) But most importantly, we were always encouraged to engage in any and all types of activities or work, regardless of the gender bias or stereotype it came along with. Our parents cheered us on as human beings, not just in women roles/activities. We took karate lessons, rode dirt bikes and four-wheelers with the boys, raced snowmobiles, played in the sand pit, and sat on our dad’s lap while running equipment in the yard. We did not see a separation between what men and women should typically be doing, because we were not taught it. Then as I got more involved in our family business, my parents never once said or insinuated that I may not be able to handle the work, the grueling schedule or the stresses that come along with it being an operator/laborer/business owner. They were supportive of me from the start, and always had my back regardless of their own opinions. I mean come on, most people do not get the opportunity to work with a family member constructively in a family business, without butting heads; let alone as a father/daughter duo in the asphalt industry.
AsphaltPro: Is there a piece of advice that you would share with other women in the industry/other operators?
Kristi Vertucci: All that being said above, I would highly recommend that all women follow their own path, and I mean their path only. As hard as it may be to hear and do, we as women really need to listen to our instincts when it comes to doing what we genuinely love. We need to follow our instincts, even if it means going against what our parents, friends, and co-workers believe and think we should be doing. Although I am proud of the fact that I attained three degrees, I would have never completed college if it wasn’t for the “pressure” I felt to get an education from all sides (family, bosses, old friends); as I hated every minute of school. And I truly believe I would be further along in this industry if I had not gone to college. Of course, I do not regret my choices as they put me where I am today. But I would like to use my situation to inspire other young women coming up in this industry to stay true to their own paths. Please do not succumb to the consistent peer pressure thrown at us from all angles (especially through social media). Just listen to yourself, even if that means you lose friendships, relationships or business partnerships along the way. Those who are meant to be in your life will end up supporting you and being your biggest cheerleaders. Besides, this is YOUR life and you only get one. There are no re-dos.