“I started my company with $200 and a 1987 Toyota with 248,000 miles on it,” Trillium Tower Development CEO Barbara Houdek told Inside Towers. “A lot of people probably thought I was financially broken and unorganized.” But she was neither. “I was pursuing my dream of being a successful business owner.”
Houdek discovered the tower industry in 1992, when she started as a part-time truck cleaner and errand runner at Tim’s Tower Service. Her role quickly expanded. Within five years, she learned to climb towers and was handling all executive duties.
In 2000, she founded Trillium, a mid-western based, full-service tower construction company. Her first year, she built 22 towers for American Tower. Her construction manager at ATC didn’t care that she was a woman. But her competitors did. After that first year, Houdek remembers, competition wasn’t just fierce, it was unkind and damaging. Her reputation, she said, was attacked by competitors, some she’d never even met, and it affected her ability to get work.
So she changed Trillium’s focus, finding success with public projects where she found the playing field for government contracts more level and unbiased. Houdek notes that Trillium won on price, even before any women-owned business or other preferences were applied.
Although she had to fight for inclusion in the industry, there was a bigger fight closer to her heart: climber safety. “When I first started climbing, I used tree climber belts and free climbing,” she said. “We all did.”
NATE was just starting out and Houdek had learned about new techniques for safety and fall protection. The challenge was getting climbers to rethink their, “it’s good enough” attitude. “It was so hard to get the old-timers to change,” she said, frustrated.
For Houdek, the safety of her employees was always her primary concern. “It is Trillium’s company mission,” she said. “I’m extremely thankful our industry is now seriously implementing these much needed safety changes.”
Houdek has watched the industry get better regarding climber safety and gender bias. She credits NATE with the improvements to both. The obvious mission of NATE is safety, but Houdek said they also had women on their board, which made the presence of women in the industry more visible.
Over the past few years, Trillium moved back into the private sector. These days, Houdek spends her energies on the day-to-day challenges of running a business. It’s a fast-paced, demanding industry but there can be large ebbs and flows in the work. It’s sometimes hard to stay positive amidst the stress.
But stress comes with the dream of building and refining a company. Reflecting on staying in business in spite of challenges in an industry that wasn’t always welcoming, Houdek said, “I guess I do have the fortitude not to let setbacks stop me. I’ve seen many companies come and go but guess what? I’m still here!”
By Kristen Stelzer for Inside Towers
June 18, 2019
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