The Globe and Mail: Calgary construction boss thrives in a man’s world

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In construction, sometimes the boss has to pick up the drill.

That’s the philosophy of Lara Murphy, co-owner of Ryan Murphy Construction Inc., one of Calgary’s busiest general contracting firms.

“On a job site, things very rarely go to plan, and it’s how you react to those hiccups or curveballs,” says Ms. Murphy. “Are you willing to take responsibility and fix the problem, rather than run away or try to point fingers?”

These days, Ryan Murphy primarily does commercial construction and renovation, with projects ranging from fitness clubs to restaurants to office space. But Ms. Murphy remembers the early days when she and her co-owner, Karen Ryan, founded the company in 2008. Back then, they did a lot of maintenance work in restaurants around the city. On one occasion, Ms. Murphy had arranged for someone to spray out the grease bin of a very busy restaurant, but unfortunately, he didn’t show up.

“It had to be done,” she says. “So I had to go rent a white hazmat suit and a sprayer, and I’m stepping through this grease in a parking lot on a very cold and rainy day and spraying out the bin. Then I realized that whoever had done that job last had just painted over the grease.

“So I was going through grease, a layer of paint and then another layer of grease, freezing, and [thinking], ‘What am I doing?’” recalls Ms. Murphy with a laugh.

But those are the kinds of curveballs you have to handle when you’re the boss, to show your crew that you’re capable and willing to take one for the team, she says.

“In construction, when you’re in a leadership role and you’ve done it all, whether it’s picking up that drill or that jackhammer, it goes a long way. People see it wasn’t so long ago that I was going to the dump or we were working on the tools ourselves.”

Lara Murphy met Karen Ryan when they were both working on a construction site in Banff, Alberta. They started having conversations about some of the inadequacies and challenges they had experienced in the construction industry, and realized they shared a vision of what they could do better.

“For us it was: ‘Let’s build a community around a very responsive and different approach to construction,” says Ms. Murphy. The company differentiates itself from the rest by being highly collaborative, both educating their clients and trade partners and listening to them.

“One of our mantras is that we don’t have a conversation unless that conversation is about improving or fixing or making something better,” she says. Read the full Globe and Mail article here.

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