When Lauren Farrell was selling custom handbags to elegant women at pop-up stores, she probably didn’t foresee a career pivot to a career pushing dirt.
But when popup stores became an endangered species in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, she needed to think fast. A fortuitous contact led her to a role as head of business development for Walsh Company, a construction company based in Morristown, NJ.
She was surprised to discover how easily she could transfer to construction the skillsets she acquired founding and building her handbag brand, Lauren Farrell’s New York.
“As much as it is a different business, a lot of the principles are the same,” Farrell said. “At the end of the day, it really comes down to connecting with people.”
It helps that her role—business development—is more about building relationships than building load-bearing walls. Her day-to-day work routine includes at least three meetings a day with potential clients—owners of retail, office, and commercial property.
These meetings usually happen over coffee, lunch, and Happy Hour in upscale neighborhoods. If this sounds like the kind of dirt-pushing work you can do in your stiletto heels, you’re right.
“Business in general gets complicated and overcomplicated,” she said, “when in the end it comes down to basic principles. People like to do business with people that they like.”
From a creative standpoint, she marvels at how similar the design and development process is between a handbag and a building.
But her fashion skills even came in handy in a direct way. Noticing from the office wall hangings that a prospect had a creative daughter, she offered to teach the daughter and her friends—stuck inside during the pandemic and starving for activities—a “children’s fashion workshop.”
Yes, she does have to visit worksites occasionally, and she dutifully puts on jeans and steel-toed boots for safety’s sake. But you had better believe she still wears a cute top. And she’s not afraid to get creative with safety gear.
“The first thing I thought when they handed me that yellow vest was ‘Can I cut this up and make it a cuter silhouette?’” she said.
Walsh Company is a cutting-edge general contractor, leading the industry in the high-tech construction sector of power over ethernet (POE) lighting—a lighting solution that runs a separate CAT5 ethernet cable to each light for customized lighting control. Building occupants can use this “smart office” feature to customize their environment for attentiveness and circadian rhythm—the body’s natural sleep cycle.
Even more, though, Farrell loves the culture of Walsh Company. She started her career in a position many women would kill to acquire—a corporate liaison for Gucci stores worldwide. But at Gucci, Farrell discovered a toxic leadership culture that trickled down throughout the organization, making work for the premium brand miserable.
At Walsh Company, it was the opposite. “One of the things I loved about Walsh was the culture,” she said. “It was a team of 20 people who seemed like a family more than anyone else, who had fun together and had this awesome cool open floor plan where they could talk about their weekend and eat lunch together. I thought ‘This is really cool! I could be a part of this!’”
To women and girls considering the construction industry, a traditionally male-oriented industry, Farrell said: “Keep an open mind. Say yes to everything, and just recognize as you go along the path what you like and what you don’t like.”
In fact, in Farrell’s opinion, being female is a plus that sets you apart in the dirt-pushing business. “Don’t see it as a negative when you walk into a room and only see one other girl in a group of ten people,” she said. “Use it to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to hold your own.”