Anna Klee had fallen in love with the construction industry and the challenges that trade contractors face to make a project happen.
Her career in the field began when she was recruited by a roofing contractor in New Jersey that needed someone who spoke both English and Polish. Klee had to translate and communicate with technicians, as well as be able to translate installation and training materials for use by the contractor’s Polish workforce.
“It’s very fluid, very dynamic and very challenging,” Klee says. “I fell in love with the challenge and the sense of accomplishment. From there, I ventured out and worked for a general trade contractor. It was a great opportunity to be in the trenches with folks and observe how things are put together and learn valuable skills to be able to manage the process later in my career.”
In 2008, Klee decided it was time to take what she had learned and start her own business. Unfortunately, 2008 was when the economy crashed and Klee faced even more challenges to get her business off the ground.
“There were many nights when I sat down and contemplated, if I can survive this market, I can survive anything,” says Klee, founder and president at Construction Support Solutions LLC. “Sure enough, not only did we survive, we thrived through a very controlled and thoughtful planning of where we want to go.”
The company that Klee launched with her husband, Kevin, in the basement of the couple’s Avon Lake home recently moved into a 2,000 square-foot headquarters in Avon Lake. With nine full-time employees and the completion of recent projects that cost more than $60 million, Klee has high hopes for the future.
One of the secrets to her success has been understanding the value of collaboration.
The value of teamwork
There are number of well-established, big names in the construction industry in the Cleveland area. Turner Construction Co., Gilbane Inc., The Ruhlin Co., Ozanne Construction Co. and Regency Construction Services Inc. are a few of the local names people know in the space.
“These were the established firms and here I was trying to penetrate that establishment and that is challenging,” Klee says. “So rather than compete with these established companies, we collaborated with them. We supported them with the tasks we saw that were very much in need of improvement or that the industry lacked.”
The move to pursue collaboration with other companies that you are competing with for business may seem like a risky move to some. But Klee doesn’t see it that way at all.
“It allows companies to tap into each other’s resources,” Klee says. “Rather than hiring somebody to a contract, we share resources. We work with Ruhlin on numerous projects, providing scheduling or administrative services. Ruhlin provides administrative support for us. It’s a growing and very productive working relationship.
“If you think about it, it’s a great principle for anything you do in life. Little by little, we’ve been able to establish clients and reputations. The majority of our clients today are repeat clients. That, to me, is the most important and biggest accomplishment that I cherish.”
Building partnerships wasn’t easy. While some contractors were receptive to working with Klee’s company, others were not as open to her idea.
“What was very helpful to us was the fact that we are a small business,” Klee says of CSS. “We are a local business in the west part of Cleveland. We’re a disadvantaged business certified by the Ohio Department of Transportation. We are an Encouraging Diversity, Growth and Equity (EDGE) business, a woman-owned business. There are some areas where that came in as a helping tool to open some of the doors in collaboration and teaming.”
The role of pioneer
The other big development for CSS was the move into its new headquarters in the fall.
“We wanted to have more open and collaborative spaces for our folks,” Klee says. “We simply outgrew our home office and we didn’t have that collaborative environment. It was evident to us that as we were stretching our boundaries and picking up contracts, it was time to look for something that could provide spaces for the people we have now and also create an environment for future growth.”
The headquarters doesn’t have very many individual office spaces, which fits both Klee’s personality and the theme of collaboration.
“You have separate areas where people can have individual quiet spaces,” she says. “But for the most part, it’s an open concept.”
The construction industry is still dominated by men in key leadership roles, so Klee hopes she is viewed as a role model for other women who have the same dreams and passion that enabled her to start CSS.
“The one thing I hear all the time is that we don’t have enough woman-owned business,” Klee says. “Or the ones that we have, some are not capable to deliver. They don’t have the capacity to deliver these services. I think there is huge potential for women out there who want to spread their wings and be the entrepreneur and the leader in this industry. Will it be easy? Probably not. But everything is possible with some creativity and hard work.” ●
How to reach: Construction Support Solutions LLC, (440) 653-9482 or www.constructionsupportsolutions.com