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ConstructionReaching out to better the building industryCarol Bionda

Vice president and general counsel

Nova Group Inc.

185 Devlin Road

Napa 94558

707-265-1100

www.novagrp.com

NAPA -- As a Department of Defense contractor, Nova Group Inc. must fulfill a host of “best value” criteria requirements to win federal projects. Because of Nova’s track record with high volumes of small business subcontracting, the company consistently receives top ratings from the federal government. This has translated into a distinct competitive advantage for Nova Group that founder and President Ron Federick attributes directly to the efforts of Carol Bionda, the company’s vice president and general counsel.

Nova Group is a 34-year-old, award-winning general engineering contracting firm that earns $100 million annually in revenues providing infrastructure construction services for national and international federal government waterfront and fuel distribution projects. In the last three years, 86 percent of Nova's subcontracting dollars have gone to small businesses through Ms. Bionda's efforts as the company’s small business liaison officer.

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Ms. Bionda credits her business successes to the wide network of contacts – what she refers to as the proverbial "Old Boys' Network" – developed through her long history of active involvement in industry trade associations, something Mr. Federick urged her to do when she first joined the company in the mid-1980s.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Old Boys’ Network – as long as they let women in,” Ms. Bionda said. “It’s effective. Nova Group does a lot of joint venture work. Many of our projects are far away and getting larger and larger. We get more jobs just through our network and our work with trade associations because it’s all about building relationships.”

Ms. Bionda’s history of professional affiliations includes Associated Builders & Contractors, where she served as president of the Golden Gate Chapter in 1995 and chaired numerous committees such as the Minority/Women Task Force and the Diversity Committee. In 2004, she was the first woman to be elected national chair of the 25,000-member ABC.

As part of Women Construction Owners & Executives, she has served as director of the San Francisco district, president of the California chapter and president of the national organization in 1999-01. WCOE recognized her work with Nova Group and contributions to the industry by bestowing her with its Executive of the Year Award.

Ms. Bionda is also involved with Associated General Contractors at the state and national levels, and she is the 2010 vice chair of the Consensus DOCS Contract Advisory Council, a consortium of 23 construction trade associations working on an initiative to standardize construction agreements.

In joining Nova Group and following Mr. Federick’s advice, Ms. Bionda acknowledges she became somewhat of an unintentional pioneer for women in the construction industry.

“You have to wear a zillion hats in a small company, which Nova is by construction industry standards, so it kind of evolved. We now have other women in management. Sometimes somebody just has to do it first and make it OK for others to do it,” she said. “I’m proud of being a positive role model within and without the company. It’s benefited our company and the industry. You can really see that things have changed over the years just by the sheer numbers of women in the trade associations. There are also more women now who own construction businesses and who are in executive management.”

Ms. Bionda didn’t start her professional career with an eye to becoming a construction industry veteran, much less a role model for women. Born and raised in Petaluma, Ms. Bionda graduated summa cum laude with a degree in political science from U.C. Berkeley in an era fresh from the victories of the civil rights movement. When the Vietnam War came along and shifted her feelings about politics and government, she decided to go into law, earning a juris doctorate degree from Stanford University.

In the 1980s, Nova Group (known as Novato Construction Co. back then) was a client of Ms. Bionda’s law firm. After she left the firm to care for her ailing mother for several years, Mr. Federick brought Ms. Bionda in to work on a project for Nova, then asked her to join the company.

“The experience of caring for my mother taught me that you are not limited to what you have done,” Ms. Bionda said. “You can always do something different.”

And what she discovered about the construction industry, to her benefit, is that it is primarily results-oriented. “If you are a hard charger and a go-getter, they don’t care if you are a female, blue-eyed or whatever. Once you prove yourself, you’re in.”

The key to career and business success is education and training, Ms. Bionda believes, something she has become particularly passionate about on behalf of the construction industry.

She is a board member of the California Construction Training Center, the leading nonprofit construction training school in Northern California. For more than 10 years, she was on the faculty of the Sonoma State University Extension Construction Management Program, donating her services to teach various courses in construction management. She also donates her services to the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance in Bremerton, Wash., to assist small businesses with succeeding in the government marketplace as subcontractors.

These days Ms. Bionda dedicates a fair amount of her time to the National Center for Construction Education & Research where, once again, she finds herself blazing a path as the first woman elected to chair the organization. NCCER is a not-for-profit education foundation created to develop construction industry-driven, standardized craft training programs with portable, interstate credentials. NCCER is also addressing the critical work force shortage facing the construction industry.

“This is a huge issue. Through attrition and retirement we’re losing 250,000 craft workers every year,” Ms. Bionda said. “Because we’re not bringing people into the industry anymore, we’re going to face the problem of not having enough skilled trades people to work.”

“We are trying to provide visibility for the industry with educators, counselors and especially parents who say they don’t want their child working with a shovel,” Ms. Bionda said. “The construction industry needs to recruit more people and train them well so they will have a profession. If you talk to trade professionals, they’re making a good living and they love their work. As a country, we value education and that’s good. But it doesn’t have to be college. We’ve got to broaden what education is.”