A Conversation with Skyline’s CEO Jessica Carps

Jessica Carps Skyline Construction San Francisco Bay Area Seattle San Diego Chicago Austin

Jessica Carps was named the CEO and member of the Board of Directors of Skyline Construction in 2021. She is the first female leader of the company to hold the COO title and to join the Board of a company that today has expanded from its home in the San Francisco Bay Area to nine locations throughout Illinois, Washington, Texas and Southern California. Below is an excerpt of an exclusive interview The Registry conducted with Carps, which is featured in our Real Perspectives Podcast. The full interview can be heard below or anywhere where you get your podcasts.

Vladimir Bosanac: Jessica, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Tell us a little bit about Skyline Construction and what does the company do?

Jessica Carps: Skyline is a 100 percent employee-owned general contractor. We specialize in commercial interior construction, and we have about 350 employees in nine offices across four states. Our goal is to provide the project delivery experience of a best-in-class local general contractor but with the peace of mind that a large national contractor provides.

So, what does that mean for the customer? It means that they get the dedication and attentiveness of a local project team with years in the market and the relationships with subcontractors and building engineers that you need to see a project through and get it done and get the tenant in on time but with the balance sheet and financial peace of mind that you get from a large general contractor.

VB: What about you personally? What is your background, and how did your career get you to construction and to Skyline?

JC: I am not a builder by trade. I am not an architect. My background is in finance and accounting. I started my career in management consulting and from there moved on to manufacturing and spent some time there, probably a little too long! I am from the Mid-West, and manufacturing is what we do out there. I joined the construction industry in 2010, and I haven’t looked back. People would say it was inevitable, construction is in my blood—my dad is to this day a card-carrying union carpenter, and he was a superintendent, and when I was a kid my dad had to get out to the job site on Saturdays and my brother and I would go with him. So, I spent a fair amount of time in job site trailers eating doughnuts and looking at blueprints. I have some great memories of going up in cranes, and one of my favorite memories that everyone in my family likes to talk about is that my dad was the superintendent on the Riverfront Towers, which at one point were the tallest residential towers in the City of Detroit and Cecil Fielder would come to hit baseballs off the top of the tower while it was in progress.

VB: And now you’ve come full circle and are back in the industry.

JC: My dad would say that he has done his job both in life and as a parent because he can say that his daughter is the CEO of a construction company!

VB: What have been some big milestones for the organization in the last few years, and how fast has the organization grown?

JC: I joined Skyline in 2015 and really the past five to seven years have been about growth and about expanding our geographic footprint. When I joined Skyline, I closed the books for the first time in 2014 on $176 million in revenue, and in 2020 we did $523 million and in 2022 we will likely do about $725 million in revenue. And how we got to that growth, we started looking at partnerships with our customers, and we’ve had people ask us “hey, can you just come and help me build here,” and that was really the impetus for the start of our growth and expansion. 

We opened our office in Chicago in 2019, and at the same time we built out our capital construction team so that we can really provide a full suite of services for our customers. In 2020, we acquired Unimark and Servicemark in Seattle; that was another key market where customers were asking us to go, and in 2021 and 2021 we also opened offices in San Diego and Austin. So, the past five years have really been about expanding our geographic footprint, and next five years are really more about how do we leverage that footprint to provide value and a better project delivery experience for our customers.

VB: With your expansion, you’ve decided to consolidate the name across these markets?

JC: We have from the beginning a tenet of our growth and experience a best-in-class local delivery. Most of our competitors are hyper-locally focused, and there’s a lot of value in that. So, when we enter a new market, whether it’s through a Greenfield startup opportunity like we did in Chicago, or it’s through an acquisition, we’re always insuring that we have our best-in-class experienced local teams. They know the market, they have the relationships that you need to get things done, and in order to convey that, what we’ve originally thought is that it was important to have unique stand-alone brands for each of our geographic locations. But ultimately what we’ve found is that it’s much easier for our customers to partner with us in a kind of get it and forget it mentality if they understand that they’re working with a single brand. And so what the market will see throughout the course of 2022 and ultimately culminating in 2023 is that we are transitioning all of our existing unique stand-alone local brands to Skyline Construction across all of our markets.

VB: It’s obvious in the industry there aren’t that many female CEOs leading companies like yours, what does this mean for you personally, what does it mean for the industry and for Skyline?

JC: If you think about me being a woman in the industry, it’s a tough question for me to answer because it’s something that I experience every day but it’s not something that I think about all the time. I find that the people that I’m partnering with are not thinking about it, either. What I have found about people in the construction industry is that they appreciate honesty, they appreciate thoughtful problem-solving, they appreciate subject-matter expertise, and they’re kind of accepting of leadership in different packages in a way that other industries aren’t. If you think about the person who is the real leader on a construction project, it’s is likely the most unassuming person there. They’re probably not even the person with a leadership title. They’re not wearing a suit, but it’s likely the guy on the job site who has been doing it for fifty years, is wearing the most worn-out pair of boots and Carharts but has the most experience and everybody looks up to. So, I find really that people in construction appreciate my competency and they’re not really hung up on the fact that the competency comes in a different package.

It’s an immense privilege to represent women in the industry. It’s clear that the industry has a ways to go, and what that means for me is that I have an extra responsibility to be constantly asking the question of both Skyline and really of the industry as a whole, what are things that we should be doing to make the construction industry more attractive for women to participate in and join. This includes peer-to-peer mentoring, education and a broader industry networking opportunity because a lot of the industry networking events are not conducive to women. 

In 2017, we started the Skyline Women’s Network to formalize a venue for women at Skyline and with some of our subcontractors and architecture partners to get the kinds of things that exist inherently in other ways in other industries. We have also implemented best-in-class maternity and paternity benefits and we’re constantly asking the question, what are the things that we need to be doing to make the industry more attractive to women.