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Interview with Amy Michalesko

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

Amy Michalesko
Amy Michalesko: Owner of AVM Contractors (Located in Fort Mill, South Carolina)

Interviewer: Thank you, Amy, for allowing me to meet with you today, knowing how busy your schedule is.

Amy: You’re welcome.

Interviewer: The construction industry is such a male dominated business. Tell us a little bit about your background and why did you decided to get into this industry.

Amy: My dad was involved in the construction business, and that was my first introduction. He fixed everything, repaired everything, and built everything. I was really raised in it. I was given the opportunity to buy a house in Baltimore where I started teaching, a real fixer upper. After we rebuilt it, we continued to always have construction jobs on the side. After having my children and having them almost raised, I chose this industry when I went back into the work force. I wanted something flexible and something my husband and I were passionate about and most importantly, had the skill set for. My husband is a civil engineer and works in the construction industry as well. It was a joint decision and we both wanted a better work-life balance. Crazy as it seems, construction could provide that for us.

Interviewer: You decided to start a women-owned business and enter into this male dominated industry. How did you prepare?

Amy: Being a woman-owned company and a minority-owned company, the most important thing is for you to know what programs are available to you and planning is a must. It is difficult to leave your other source of income abruptly and then just start out in business. In the construction industry, the money usually doesn’t come until months later. The planning for anyone wanting to go out on their own is so important, and the planning for us was extensive and lengthy. We are 100% woman-owned. There were two years of planning to figure out what type of credentials I needed, like getting my license as a general contractor. I was the one who studied for the exams and educated myself in the different programs that were available at the state and federal level. It takes planning and it’s important. The planning was years long in deciding that this was what we were working toward.

Interviewer: Being a woman, how were you received in this male-dominated industry?

Amy: I would say very well, I think it is more important to be educated in the field you are entering. And if you do your research, know your projects, and are prepared and plan well and can do your job, I think that you are viewed equally and sometimes more favorably in the industry. I find that I am a very good planner; I don’t know if that is because I’m a woman or if that is my personal trait. As long as you have a skill set, you do the preparation, and have done your homework, and you know your jobs, and you work hard, you can be very successful. So, I think I have been welcomed into this community.

Interviewer: Do you see a future for women in this industry?

Amy: Yes, this is definitely a viable business for women and there are more women in the construction industry trades then you might think and there are a lot of opportunities for women on different levels.

Interviewer: Do you need to meet diversity quotes for your contracts, and how do you go about finding subcontractors? Do they advertise as such?

Amy: There is a database list with Charlotte and the state of North Carolina that is available and there are checklists that cities use to determine if you are a minority, like your checking account has to be 51% owned by a minority or women so there are check points that they check to make sure you are who you say you are, and the list are shared so you can hire minority-owned subcontractors as well.

Interviewer: How did you go about soliciting business for your company?

Amy: If it’s any public work, it has to go out for public bid. The job will be advertised by the municipality or state. In the beginning, you do a hard bid, meaning you are given a blueprint and specification book, and you submit a bid and the lowest bid wins. One of the hurls as a new business is that you are competing with the very large companies who have been around a long time and have a multitude of resources that you don’t have yet. Like the very expensive computer software that is needed to bid jobs. However, you can still succeed. In the beginning, it is hard bid jobs, but now that we have been around a few years, we get invited to bid on jobs and that makes it easier to obtain jobs. We are becoming known in the industry and building a reputation that allows other small jobs to contact us without having to bid.

Interviewer: How many people do you employ?

Amy: We have 7 full time employees and use many subcontractors who employee many. One of our project managers is a woman and she manages the sub-contractors and manages what happens on the field. She does a great job and is a rising star in our industry.

Interviewer: You talked about having the right skills for construction. Can you expand on that idea?

Amy: I feel very strongly as a woman entering this industry that I should have the right skills and not just my name as the company. I felt that would be a disservice to women. I want to be the owner in every way. I meet with the accountants and the bonding company to ensure we can build the job. I send out the bids to subcontractors for pricing and hire the best subcontractors. I’m out on the job site most days checking to make sure progress is happening and continuing to learn as I go on each job. So being the owner, I’m very involved.

Interviewer: You spoke about making sure to have your financing in order and having a source of income while starting the business. Would you expand on that?

Amy: We didn’t borrow in the beginning. We invested our own personal money into our business. We are very vested in doing it well, and eventually it’s an investment in our selves. This is how we pictured it. You can take out loans, but I encourage all to try to do as much as you can while you still have income to do your planning. Sometimes it means working two jobs or extra-long hours. We decided to save money, so we didn’t need the office space to start with. We needed equipment, supplies, tools, and vehicles first. Understanding how to read your cash flow statement and how to read a balance statement is important. All this information helps you plan and as you grow, you reinvest in the company to protect your investment.

Interviewer: How long did it take to receive your first contract?

Amy: After many submissions of bids, researching and long hours, we had a contract in the first month and in three months, we had a large contract. We went at it very hard, worked many hours, biding jobs, researching, watching jobs, and putting ourselves out there. There is a lot of work out there to get. You just need hard work to get it.

Interviewer: What about the SBA? Is there information you received from them?

Amy: Yes, the SBA have a lot of information for you. They are very helpful. During the two years of planning, I went to seminars at the SBA and Women Business Centers that were offered on how to start a business and got as much information as possible. Learning what resources are available for women-owned, veteran-owned, and minority-owned businesses helps. It’s important to have the skills, get information, and know what is available resource-wise to you. There is a lot of information to help you be successful. Get educated. It is part of the planning process.

Interviewer: Is there anything else you would like to add for our readers?

Amy: The planning is really crucial, and it will require more hours than you realize. But if it is your passion, then it does not feel like so much work. There are also a lot of perks to owning your own business. I don’t need to ask permission to take time off to go see our daughter’s performance, we just work it out with our team. There are times when we need to do things for our family and being the owner, it gives us that flexibility. There are a lot of benefits. The real motivational part is how hard you work since that equals the outcome. If you’re really willing to put in the hard work and make smart decisions, you can be very successful. Find something you love and are passionate about, educate yourself, and find your resources, and if you put in the time, you can be very successful. I see it as an equality equation = how hard you work and the time you put in gives you the outcome.

Interviewer: Thank you for your valuable time today.

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