Meet a Woman of Asphalt: NSSGA and Bond Construction’s Karen Hubacz
BY Sandy Lender
For the annual aggregates issue of AsphaltPro, we’re honored to share with you a woman in construction who has grown up in her family’s small business to join and gain leadership of her state’s Massachusetts Asphalt and Aggregate Association and now the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA). Karen Hubacz, president and CEO of Bond Construction, Spencer, Massachusetts, is the first chairwoman of the NSSGA, accepting the gavel during the association’s annual membership meeting at the 2022 annual convention in Nashville in March.
“It wasn’t until I joined NSSGA 14 years ago that I realized I wasn’t alone,” Hubacz shared with the membership. “That there were resources to help me navigate this industry, and that I could be a resource to others—particularly women. There are so many small aggregates companies out there who don’t even realize what they’re missing by not being a member. I want them to see both the benefits of being part of our association and what they can accomplish by joining with us. It’s clear through the success of the past year that we’re truly stronger together.”
Hubacz was kind enough to share some of her story and encouragement for other women in the aggregates and asphalt industry, starting with the passion she has for getting the job done. She explained to us that she was born into the aggregates industry but went to work full-time in May 1988 as an equipment operator and truck driver.
In those early days, “Every day was like playing in an adult sandbox,” she shared. “It was a lot of work but so much fun at the same time. Because we’re a small business, I learned to handle every job related to the business side and production side of producing aggregates and asphalt. It was no easy task. I ran into resistance, even at times from my own father, because I was a girl in a man’s industry. I went to college for one year. Everything I know and have learned has been from actually doing and watching and listening to other people in the industry.”
AsphaltPro: You’ve had the opportunity to experience all the jobs at Bond Construction—from equipment operation to the scale house to the office to permitting to everything—which of those responsibilities was the most energizing and why?
Karen Hubacz: It’s true, in my 34-year career I have experienced every type of role that the company has to offer. Even though in my current position as president and CEO I get stuck at my desk and my phone, I would much rather be out in the pit at a hands-on job like on an excavator or a loader or on the road making a delivery. I still do get out of the office and can still do everything I did before, but only when the need arises.
AsphaltPro: What elements or aspects of leadership would you say a woman in construction can nurture to bring her to positions such as director of the Massachusetts Asphalt and Aggregate Association and chairwoman of NSSGA?
Karen Hubacz: I am very passionate about this industry, and I think my personality is naturally one that likes to take charge and get stuff done. I have also never been shy about voicing my opinions and have learned it’s important to make sure as a woman with leadership aspirations to always speak up. Women in this industry should feel comfortable sharing their ideas and then use their pedestal if on a statewide or national stage to help lift others up, too.
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AsphaltPro: What do you think is the most important skill you’ve brought to your position as a leader of a company, of a state association, and now of a national association?
Karen Hubacz: Throughout my career, I have handled different issues first-hand and experienced a range of challenges. From environmental issues to permitting to building community relationships and internally with employee management. It’s important to master successful leadership skills like multi-tasking as well as trusting your team and delegating. Of course, you must have passion and empathy for your job and the people that you are leading, too.
AsphaltPro: What would you say was the most challenging “obstacle” you, as a female in the construction industry, had to overcome in the past 34 years, and how did you overcome that obstacle? How do you think other women in the industry can incorporate that skill or habit into their workdays?
Karen Hubacz: I think the largest obstacle was just proving that I had the right to be where I was. That I could perform the jobs exceptionally well and that I actually had some killer skills to do it. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but always learn from them. Work hard and be diligent and a team player. Most importantly, know you can do anything you put your mind to and know your worth.
AsphaltPro: What would you say is the most important challenge for the construction (or aggregate) industry that you’d like to focus on during your tenure as NSSGA Chairwoman? And why is that the cause you’d like to champion?
Karen Hubacz: It will be important for me to travel to state association meetings and keep spreading the message of exactly what NSSGA does for small producers. There are so many folks out there that don’t understand the true value of membership, and how helpful it can be to them. I want them to hear about the many resources that are available on the issues they face daily, and as an industry we can all work together to succeed. Together we can have a loud voice in Washington—through grassroots advocacy, meeting with our representatives and supporting ROCKPAC. This has truly become my passion project ever since I traveled to Washington ahead of the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and got to tell my own story on Capitol Hill in meetings with members of Congress. It was such a rewarding experience, and I knew I was making a difference for myself, the industry and my entire community.
AsphaltPro: How do you see your experience handling MSHA regulation and ensuring a safety culture at Bond Construction assisting you in your role as NSSGA Chairwoman?
Karen Hubacz: Safety is and always will be the number one priority. Our employees are members of our “family.” Safety will always be the number one priority for any chair of NSSGA.
AsphaltPro: What do you think is an incorrect perception that we, as an industry, can re-educate young people about to encourage more women to consider a career in the asphalt/aggregates/construction business? What is something you would tell a young lady to encourage her in this industry?
Karen Hubacz: In my career, I had resistance by those who might not feel a woman should be doing the jobs that I have done. I have very thick skin, and I don’t put up with a lot either. However, I do believe this industry fosters an open environment and welcomes new faces. I encourage anyone, at any level if interested to learn more about the plethora of career options, especially woman.
AsphaltPro: What is the most challenging aspect for you of being in the aggregates business?
Karen Hubacz: The biggest challenges in the aggregates business are the increase in regulations that we as small business owners must deal with. It takes a lot of time and money to stay on top of them. NSSGA provides a critical service by sharing the background and information on the latest regulations so when a major issue does happen, I can let policymakers in Washington know how it will ultimately affect my business.
AsphaltPro: What is the most rewarding aspect for you of being in the aggregates business?
Karen Hubacz: Having been raised in this industry, I grew up having a passion for our small family business. I always felt pulled to it and throughout my career have met so many people in similar situations. Together we can learn from each other, and this industry is much like a family, as I have been helped along the way to success. Through the community at NSSGA I have even found some of my very good friends that I relate to on both a professional and personal level.
AsphaltPro: Will you tell us about a person who served as a mentor for you and share a piece of advice from this person that you would pass along to other women in the industry?
Karen Hubacz: I was fortunate to have a few strong industry women who were very encouraging and inspiring to me including:
- Anne Lloyd of Martin Marietta;
- Cheryl Suzio of York Hill Trap Rock;
- Anne Cramer of Casper Stolle Quarry; and
- Janet Callahan of Palmer Paving.
Each of these women earned the right to be in the positions that they were/are in their companies and at the board table. They taught me that I too had the right to be seated at the board table and that my opinion would bring value to others. They were always positive and reassuring when I questioned myself. Realizing my aspirations, they were the loudest voices I could hear, always there for me, encouraging and cheering me on. They taught me: “Be yourself and know your worth.”