84 Lumber's WMBE champion

The Top Women in Hardware & Building Supply Interview Series continues.

Helping women and minorities achieve in business. How cool is that?

Christi Powell receives anywhere from 5 to 20 phone calls a week inviting her to speak, share her story, or provide observations on the construction business.

Why is she so popular? Several reasons. As the Women & Minority Business Enterprise Market Manager for 84 Lumber, Powell has a front-row seat on the growth of a valued segment of the construction business. Diversity and inclusion have exploded as hot topics in boardrooms. And there’s always going to be passion in her presentation.

Christi Powell

“I walk into any meeting where I have the opportunity to share, and I begin by saying: ‘We are the largest privately held lumber yard in the United States, and we’re owned by a woman. How cool is that?’” she said. “That’s always my introduction to 84 Lumber.”

In an interview with HBSDealer, Powell shared her passion for what she does every day. And she added some thoughtful takes on the role of women in the construction and building supply industry.

She also elaborated on the leadership style of 84 Lumber owner Maggie Hardy Knox, calling her an amazing person as well as an amazing entrepreneur. “She really just lets people be who they are, and she loves her people dearly,” Powell said. “And that actually filters all the way down through the company.”

Powell joined 84 Lumber in 2014 as a commercial and residential sales representative and has amassed 27 years of sales experience during her career. From project management to purchasing to estimating — “You name it, I did it,” she says.

And for the past 18 months, Powell has taken on the role of Women & Minority Business Enterprise Market Manager, allowing her to follow her passion of pushing for diversity in construction — an industry that she strongly feels can attract and retain women.

Her relatively new role allows Powell to help make a difference in a field where women in sales positions have traditionally been few and far between. “Helping women and minorities grow in the construction industry, what I’m doing now, is a passion for me.”

The process of creating partnerships with builders began with sitting down with them, over coffee sometimes, and learning about their business needs and challenges. Then leveraging the strength of 84 Lumber to build solutions.

HBSDealer's Top Women gala will return to Chicago Nov. 8-9.

Meanwhile, she is on a mission to advance the idea that women are built for many of the jobs in construction. Powell is a big believer in the idea that men have their natural strengths, and women have theirs. And the hashtag #bettertogether is a personal favorite of hers.

“I really want to show that women are naturally good at all the things required to succeed,” she said. “We’re organizers. We’re detail-oriented. We work well with others. We’re compassionate with those at the job site. There’s a long list of jobs that we do in sales: purchasing, project management, estimating, window and door selection, you name it. And women are naturally really good at all of those things.”

Add to that list: creativity and thoughtfulness. From finding creative solutions that might not be clear to a homeowner or developer, to reaching out to a customer and saying, for instance:  “Hey, I saw you broke ground on that job today. You’re going to need windows in about six weeks, and we’ve got a five week lead time right now,” she said. “That’s the thoughtfulness part of it.”

Her advice to women entering the business and rising up the ranks is straightforward: “Be consistent and work hard,” she said. “Show up every day. And you really have to be a lifelong learner if you really want to be successful at it.”

As for important career moments in her own past, Powell points to the first time a builder presented her with a sheet of blueprints. Powell was able to quickly demonstrate a grasp of the concepts of interior and exterior perimeters, and accurately estimate dimensions. Decades later, she remembers the builder’s comment: “You’re going to be really good at this.”

He was right. And there’s a lot more people like Powell who can make it.

“I wasn’t aware that there were so many amazing women who are the best builders I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said. “And that discovery has been the coolest thing in my job.’ 

Powell 84
Powell, with colleague Garrett Feldkamp, embraces creativity on the job site.

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