To cap off Women’s Month, we’re sharing the inside story of Jenn Harbick’s rise to General Manager of Handyman Services here at Neil Kelly.
In addition to leading a division of the company, Jenn has served as Communications Director of the National Association of Women in Construction and is the current President of the Albina Rotary Club. She also volunteers with Meals on Wheels People, Habitat for Humanity, and Girls Build.
Just 10 years ago, Jenn was hired to work at the front desk. In this brief interview, she shares her swift journey to a position in leadership.
Q: What brought you to Neil Kelly?
A: It was actually kind of a fluke. I was doing my own thing after leaving a previous employer. A friend of mine had stopped in at the Neil Kelly office and was chatting up the receptionist. She was telling him that she was moving into a new position [and the front desk] job was becoming available. So, he told me because he knew that I was anxious to get back into working full time. I went in and applied and was hired on the spot by Julia. She thought she was being tricky, saying she needed to think about it a little bit, and that she had some more interviews. Then she went upstairs and came back down and said, “No, we’re just gonna hire you.” I talked to Roe for a few minutes and they made me an offer.
Q: What came after that?
A: I was at the front desk, and then I was assisting the safety manager for a while, and then I was doing lead in-take I think (laughing). So many different things. And then I went from there to being Tom’s assistant. Working with Tom led me to Handyman Services because he was really managing the Handyman team and had never given that up. Then he handed it off to me.
Q: Did you see yourself taking a leadership role when you first started?
A: I didn’t. When I first started I really just kinda wanted a part-time job because I had an Etsy store. I was making handbags and accessories and selling them to boutiques. So I was doing my own thing and I enjoyed it. But it, too, became a grind. It was fun and a way to be creative, and when I took the position at Neil Kelly I thought I was going to continue doing that. But, that didn’t happen because I just dove in at Neil Kelly and fell in love with the company instantly. So to answer your question, no. I certainly didn’t think I’d be managing a division of the company or be in leadership when I first started. But, I love it. I’m happy to be doing it.
Q: Are there any advantages to being a woman in your position?
A: I do think that being the GM of Handyman Services is kind of unique for a woman. When I took this on it was primarily men. In fact, it was only men in the division. So I’ve brought more females onto the handyman team and that has helped our business, for sure. We get many compliments on our female carpenters, and carpenters in the company in general. Also, a lot of our customers are women, and so I think that they are comfortable with the option to have a female sales consultant.
Q: What do you love about your job?
A: The people, for sure, is my number one. I think that we hire so well. Even the people that don’t stay forever. We just hire unique people. Julia has a great eye for hiring and I’m so glad she’s back helping with that. And second, is what Neil Kelly stands for. Not only Neil, but Tom, and Dan, too. I love that we’re doing things for the community. Because of Neil Kelly I’m involved in Rotary, and I would have never done that otherwise. I didn’t know about it. Tom encouraged me to join because that’s how he got to know so many people in the community and it helped him grow as a person, and it has done the same for me.
Q: What have been the highlights of your career at Neil Kelly so far?
A: I would say that starting at the front desk was really important. I still think it’s one of the best and most important positions in the company because you’re kind of the gatekeeper. Back then even a little bit more so because there was so much more foot traffic and lots more phone calls. Now a lot of it comes through the website, so it’s a little bit less busy but it’s a still super important position, not only in Portland but at each of the locations. You’re the person people see when they walk in, all of the employees stop by and chat. You learn a lot and you hear a lot, although I’m not much of a gossiper (laughing). So, I think that was a high point.
And then without asking, being promoted was another high. Each promotion was just something that happened that I wasn’t planning on or asking for, and it was great to know that they saw that potential.
Working with Tom, of course, was a huge highlight. He’s a big softy even though he comes off as a no-nonsense businessman. I didn’t want to get emotional at his retirement party, but the first time he came up to me I was just like [crying sounds]. Working for him was a career highlight of all career highlights. He’s just such an amazing man. I wish I would have known Neil because Tom would say that Neil was a better man and it’s just hard to believe.
Q: How do you handle the stresses of your job?
A: I run on a “never let ‘em see you sweat” [mindset] no matter what I’m doing. Even if I don’t know what I’m doing, nobody’s gonna know that. I’ll go figure it out or freak out somewhere else. I know to just keep a level head and be calm even if I’m super stressed out. I just don’t let that affect me, or let it be seen because it’s only going to get someone else wound up.
Q: How do you feel about the opportunities that women have at Neil Kelly?
A: I think Neil Kelly is unique in the sense that we really pioneered bringing women into the construction industry, and that started with Neil. I think the opportunities here are endless. I mean, there’s no job that we have here that a woman couldn’t do or shouldn’t do. I think we open it up to everybody, which is great. That’s not the case with a lot of construction companies.
Q: If you could offer advice to another woman or a young girl considering a career in construction, what would you say?
A: I would say, “do it.” I think there are so many great opportunities for women. If you’re artistic or a craftsperson I think there’s a lot to be done within carpentry. I’ve done some DIY stuff around my house, and seeing a finished project and knowing you created that is such a huge accomplishment, and it’s so fun to see that come together. From the construction side up to the admin, management, and leadership roles, there are so many opportunities, and more opportunities every day almost for what women could be doing in construction. Oregon Tradeswomen offers a ton of resources and programs advocating for women in the construction industry, so there’s a lot of support here.