Tara Piergies-Baker has been in the industry since 2004. She was steered towards landscape architecture by her professor Roy DeBoer at Rutgers University thanks to her love of the outdoors and working outside.
She took on the role of design/build construction sales manager at Milosi, based in Hendersonville, Tennessee, last August and she says it’s been an eye-opening experience.
“A lot of the role and responsibilities I’m doing now, Taylor Milliken who owns Milosi, was doing them himself,” Piergies-Baker says. “In order for him to grow, he really had to get somebody else in that position to shoulder some of that responsibility. It’s always a challenging task when you take over any of the owner’s responsibilities because they work so hard and they’re so diligent and they’ve created everything. They have this incredibly intimate understanding of the workings of everything and you have to find that same really deep understanding.”
One of Piergies-Baker’s daily tasks is disseminating leads to her team, sometimes based on geography and other times based on her team’s talents.
“If it’s a big lead or very complex lead or poolscape lead, I will call the lead myself and qualify that lead before I give it out to one of my designers,” Piergies-Baker says. “I still do a fair amount of design work. I’m still designing basically two days a week, having some sales that two days a week. But I’m trying to transition more and more to supporting my team and working to make sure I’m giving them the tools through my skill set to make them as successful as it can be.”
Aside from handling her own designs, estimation work and some project management, she steps in if there are client issues with her team. She also fills gaps with the operations department and monitors any processes they implement in the design sales department. Because it’s such a diversified position, Piergies-Baker says there is a lot of balancing.
“Every day I have to stay very structured,” Piergies-Baker says. “I use Outlook. My calendar is pretty much in 30-minute increments.”
Piergies-Baker works hard to avoid functioning in a reactive way by dedicating her time to tasks that are important but not urgent.
Another aspect of her job is coaching her team. She says this has been an easier transition as she works to provide all the information that she wanted when she was just designing.
“I feel coming from up through the design position into the next rung of design-build department sales manager gives me a special understanding of the type of tools and opportunities that designers need and opportunities out there for them and also the challenges that they have,” Piergies-Baker says.
As she’s been in this position Piergies-Baker says she’s had to learn how to be assertive without feeling like she’s being a jerk.
“What is a struggle sometimes in this position is sometimes you just got to say, ‘No, I understand your opinion and I appreciate it, but we’re doing it this way,’” Piergies-Baker says. “Or when something’s being installed, and you can see that something’s not right and you can say, ‘Hey this is going to be a problem.’”
Piergies-Baker says that while there are still some individuals who are shocked that she’s a female in the construction field, she’s seeing less and less of that.
“It’s still a highly male-dominated field,” Piergies-Baker says. “If you’re in this industry, you just know and accept that and I have to tell you that my colleagues are absolutely fantastic. I don’t feel like I’ve been held down or held back by my gender.”
However, she does get pushback more often and has to follow up to make sure certain things are executed properly.
“I actually feel like on a certain level, I have to be more on top of my facts,” Piergies-Baker says. “I have to really flex the intellectual level of my understanding. I explain a lot more.”
One main challenge Piergies-Baker has had is finding mentors in the industry. She says she’s tried to find females in similar roles but hasn’t had any luck. She encourages owners to evaluate people for these higher-up positions on their will and their skills sets.
“I feel like when business owners interview men for positions, they are less likely to ask the kind of questions like ‘Is this a child care issue?’” Piergies-Baker says. “If you’re going to care about those questions, which I think they’re still important, you should ask them to everyone not just specific to women.”
She has been encouraged by seeing an increased number of women at industry conferences lately.
“I think that we bring a different experience, on some level, to design and I think that we are as passionate as our male counterparts as well,” Piergies-Baker says. “I think that we can add sometimes different perspectives to collaborative practices. I’m just really happy to see where the profession is going, and I hope to see more women in leadership roles.”