Greta Perry, Vice President of MGAC, has over 30 years of experience in the construction industry. Her impressive portfolio of landmark projects in Washington D. C. includes the International Spy Museum, the renovation of the historic Woodies building, project management for MGAC’s largest government client, directing a major retail client’s national rollout program, overseeing the Glenstone Contemporary Art Museum, and her current leadership of the American Geophysical Union’s innovative headquarters renovation.
Greta began her construction career in the mid-1980s because she loved the industry. She shares her passion for advancing women in commercial real estate through her involvement with CREW DC and Jubilee Support Alliance. She speaks about project management, women in construction, and Net Zero development through CREW DC, Society for Marketing Professional Services, The Catholic University of America, Living Future 2018, and USGBC’s Women in Green. True to MGAC’s fundamentals, Greta strives to bring honesty, dedication, and creative problem solving to each of her clients. Her colleagues inspire her to remember that 90% of success in life is having a positive attitude. Greta resides in Chevy Chase, MD and enjoys visiting Finger Lakes in Upstate New York with her family
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
It was clear from my first experience on a construction site back in the early 1980’s that my participation would be noticed, just being one of the only women on the team. What I didn’t want to do was replicate the male leadership model of yelling and screaming to get things done (I once broke up a fist fight on a jobsite). Early on, I learned to develop my own brand of leadership, to be better organized, to ask more questions, and I strived to be the singular point of expertise for each project. One of my early strategies was to spend as much time as possible on site, asking endless questions from the grumpy old craftsmen who loved talking about their work. There was no better education. But my best lesson was to treat everyone equally, from the laborer on site to the billionaire client.
How has your previous employment experience aided your current role?
I have benefited from having many varied experiences – from working for general contractors, to managing new construction and high-end tenant work, to working for developers doing historic renovations, and even working for myself to support local non-profits as they upgraded their affordable housing projects. Each experience was critical to understanding the unique aspects of each project phase, from developing the initial concept through post-occupancy commissioning.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role?
The highlights would be completing amazing projects, ie:
The International Spy Museum in DC: meeting real spies and bringing their stories to life.
Christ House: a hospital that has worked to change the lives of homeless people in D.C. for over 30 years; the most rewarding project of my career.
Currently, American Geophysical Union, the first-ever commercial office building renovation to meet net zero energy standards in Washington, DC.
My challenges would be the ever-growing complications of managing larger teams with more complicated technology and infrastructure requirements, and managing owner expectations while balancing budget and schedule goals.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Try working a variety of jobs within your industry. I started off at a small development/construction firm in Baltimore. They were small enough to provide me an opportunity to participate in all aspects of the firm – from property management, construction oversight, and engagement with the community on local housing projects. The time I spent working for general contractors, on large base building projects and with many law firm tenants, was an essential learning experience to my current role as an owner’s representative.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Your reputation is everything.
How to do maintain a work/life balance?
I work long hours during the week so that I can set the weekends aside for personal time. That, and having a partner who shares equally in the chores and fun in life.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Crashing through the glass ceiling.
How can we encourage more women to start their own business?
I have been an active member of CREW, Commercial Real Estate Women, since the late 1980’s. They champion and encourage their members to network and support one another. I have seen many colleagues hit a ceiling in their career, and as a result, elect to start their own firm. CREW provides a wonderful foundation for those starting a new business. I encourage all women to find a like-minded organization, get involved, and stick with it. Those lasting relationships are the bedrock for success.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
When I fell in love with construction in the early 1980’s, there were no female mentors to be found. Over the years, rather than looking to one individual for mentorship, I have taken guidance and inspiration from many leaders whose talent and leadership strengths I found admirable and attempted to ingrain the same in my personal and professional life.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Jane Holmes Dixon, first woman Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, favorite client, most cherished friend and confidante. She was a force of nature, a champion of women, admirable, and a shining star.
What do you want to professionally accomplish in the next year?
With the upcoming groundbreaking completion of AGU, I look forward to expanding my network and engagement in the sustainability movement. I have had the pleasure of leading one of the most diverse teams to deliver what will be Washington, DC’s first net zero energy building renovation. I look forward to carrying that knowledge to future projects and teams.
What are the top three tips you can offer to an entrepreneur starting out?
Get involved in community and professional organizations, champion others, pay it forward.
DWYSYWD – Do what you say you will do. This builds your personal brand of professionalism.
Know and love what you do. Nothing sells better than someone that sings passion for their craft.