Solano County construction firm CEO trusts her gut in making tough decisions
“Busy” is a four-letter Elease Cheek embraces.
The 56-year-old has her hands in a slew of enterprises, including being CEO of the construction firm Important Details Inc. based in Vallejo. She opened IDI in 2014, with commercial construction and residential demolitions starting in 2016.
What she noticed right away was the lack of qualified workers. She would bid on a job, but then struggled to find people to do the work. It only got worse when the pandemic hit. It wasn’t just IDI hurting for laborers; Cheek found the same to be true at construction companies up and down the state.
This led her to change her focus.
“I’ve started providing training for skilled labor. To do this I partnered with unions and adult schools,” Cheek said. “My goal now is to provide the development, training and placement.”
She is working through Griffin Technology Academies in Vallejo to provide training for these future construction workers.
Cheek’s belief is that training workers means IDI and other companies will have a pool of candidates to draw from.
For now, she has paused submitting bids for projects to focus on getting people up to speed to do the work. Cheek’s ambition, though, is to grow IDI in order to compete with the larger, more established construction firms in the greater Bay Area.
“Right now I’m a really little fish in a huge ocean,” she admitted. Revenues in the last year for IDI were $191,000.
Besides running IDI, Cheek along with two partners took over the Marina Lounge near the Suisun City waterfront last summer. She is a past president of the Solano County Black Chamber of Commerce. On Nov. 4, she was elected president of the Northern California Black Chamber Presidents Association. She is also a trustee on the Solano County Board of Education, which is an elected position.
The Business Journal talked with Cheek about what makes her tick as a business professional in the North Bay.
What trends that affect your industry keep you up at night?
The lack of skilled and trained labor entering into the industry. That’s why I have pivoted my company to engage in the development, training, and placement in the construction industry. Specifically working in underserved communities to boost economic development. This is the community of black and brown individuals.
I have a degree and years of service and working, and I had a hard time finding a job. If I could not find a job in the city where I lived, they didn’t have a chance.
What qualities do you admire in other executives that you've tried to emulate?
I admire their confidence, strength, and perseverance.
I’m currently traveling the roads they have already traveled and it’s reassuring that they have successfully made it and can help me overcome struggles that I may encounter or assist in my obstacles so I don’t make the same mistakes.
How have your mentors had a profound impact on your career to make you the executive you are today?
My mentors have continually supported, encouraged, and pushed me beyond my pre-determined limits. Constantly reminding me leadership is not easy but rewarding. Most diamonds go through a process before shining.
What was the hardest lesson you learned early in your career which you now recognize as an important one?
One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned was when I ignore my gut feeling things usually do not go as I expect. I now realize I need to pay attention to my objections or red flags; I must act on and appreciate my gut feeling about every situation. When ignored or slighted I find it becomes a bigger issue that I could have eliminated.
What would you re-do in your career if you could and why?
I would have started earlier. I would have gotten connected to the community. My career as a human resources director in San Francisco and I lived in Solano County. I moved to Solano County in 1995. I was not connected to the community.
Some of the things I am doing now would be at a mature level (if I had started earlier.)
The pandemic caused this awareness of what was happening in the community and now I am urgently trying to fill gaps in education and business communities.
It was difficult finding a job in Solano County, that’s why I started a business here.
What from your childhood was a clear sign you would one day have an executive leadership position?
My mother; she constantly reminded me that as the eldest child of three siblings I must lead by example. This stuck with me and was the center of all my actions and decisions, career, business and personal relationships.
I must be an example to people around me. I understand leaders are here to encourage, support and show people how to tap into their individual best qualities .