Name: Alex Bandon
Business: North River Renovation Management
Location: New York, New York, U.S.
Industry: Housing, Construction & Real Estate
Reason for starting? After 17 years working for a national home improvement magazine, I had learned a lot about residential construction. But I was tired of writing about renovations; I wanted to be involved in them. To be honest, I was burned out on the corporate world, too. So I left my cushy job and started a business I had been dreaming about ever since I’d helped out a friend a few years before, when she needed someone to manage some emergency repairs on her house while she lived overseas. I had realized then that I loved dealing directly with contractors and architects—something for which my magazine job had trained me well—and that I especially loved watching a renovation project go from start to finish. There aren’t a lot of independent project managers out there like me, but I soon found that there is a serious need for us, as people find they don’t know enough and don’t have enough time to stay on top of their own construction projects.
How do you define success? Threefold: First, helping a client realize that I am an asset, able to alert them to issues and ideas that they didn’t know about before. Second, balancing several clients at once, so that the income stream is steady and the work engaging and satisfying. And lastly being true to myself as I assert my well-earned expertise and cost benefit around those who would doubt me, especially in a male-dominated business. When a contractor or a (almost always male) homeowner speaks to me without condescension or sexism—as a peer—and acknowledges that my information is correct and helpful, then I know I’m doing my job well
Biggest success: I’m currently in the middle of a big job that gives me satisfaction daily. The client contacted me two years into a renovation that was being run by an architect working design/build and doubling as the general contractor. The job was over budget and a year and a half delayed, because the architect was in over his head, having never GC’d such a big project before. The client had just had a baby and couldn’t handle managing the project herself anymore.
After almost a year, I’ve been able to pinpoint all of the architect’s mismanagement while keeping the project moving. More than that, I’ve made the client feel so much better about her renovation, and even won over her father, who is contributing financially to the project. My judgments and instincts keep proving to be not just correct, but helpful, and I feel like my client is going to finally get her dream home with my help. She feels safe and confident putting the project in my hands, which is just what I’m here to do.
What is your top challenge and how you have addressed it? One of my first clients was an acquaintance who dove into a project without any idea of what she wanted or what kind of commitment would be required. I had so much trouble guiding her—she seemed to expect that people would just hand her the perfect design and low budget without any concrete input from her. I realized that I was often cautious about being straight with her about how to manage her budget and time, so as not to upset her. In the end, she was still quite upset. I’ve since learned that there’s no advantage to telling a client what they want to hear if it’s not true. If a budget is going to be higher than a client imagined, I need to let them know that right away, to manage expectations. I also need to be better at explaining what a client needs to bring to the table for the discussion to proceed—and to not work with clients who can’t do these things after all my advice and guidance.
My company is barely 2 years old, and so I’m still struggling with making it a financial success. It’s been hard to earn at the same level that I had become accustomed to in the media business. There are times when I consider lowering my rate because someone wants to hire me for less, or taking a job that I know will be a demeaning just to have the income. But so far I’ve been firm not only in getting the rates I know I deserve, but in making sure that I negotiate in a way that doesn’t undercut my worth. This is the hardest lesson for me to learn, and I’ve sometimes needed financial help from my boyfriend or family members to get by. Other times I’ve taken on side work to add to the coffers. But when it comes to my management business, I refuse to sell myself short—literally.
Who is your most important role model? There aren’t a lot of women in the construction industry, so I try to look to women who prevail in other male-dominated fields. For the past year, Hillary Clinton has been a serious source of inspiration and strength for me. As I watch the effects of rampant misogyny in politics—particularly in the 2016 presidential race—I find myself recognizing similar circumstances or transgressions in my own professional life. Knowing someone is treating you poorly because you are a woman is the first step to dealing with it. And watching Hillary steel herself against sexist slights, condescending mansplainers, and outright misogyny gives me a great model to follow when I inevitably have to fight to make my voice heard and accepted.
Edited by The Story Exchange