Apartment exec encourages women to consider a career in building

Construction industry veteran Helena P. Finley has been named managing director and executive vice president of construction at San Antonio-based Embrey, a vertically integrated real estate investment firm.

In her new role, announced in February, Finley manages Embrey’s multifamily and commercial projects throughout Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona. She oversees more than 760 subcontractors and vendor partners while directing more than 140 construction field and corporate employees.

Before joining Embrey, Finley was on the founding leadership team of Houston-based Vero Sade, a developer, builder and operator of class-A residential real estate. Her portfolio included 29 multifamily and mixed-use construction projects with more than 6,800 units and more than $830 million in value. She has also held positions with Trammell Crow Residential, Gables Residential and The Morgan Group.

Finley is dedicated to bridging the gender gap in construction, where only about 11% of workers are women. At Embrey, she said she will prioritize attracting, fostering and growing talent to give all personnel the necessary tools to advance their careers within construction.

“Women are widely under-represented within the field of construction,” said Finley. “More and more are choosing construction as a career and I’m inspired to take on a mentorship role at Embrey, to foster talent development and attract more women to the field.”

Here, Finley talks with Multifamily Dive about the challenges in Embrey’s markets, the labor shortage and the importance of jobsite experience.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

MULTIFAMILY DIVE: What led you to choose construction for your career?

HELENA FINLEY: I was initially drawn to the construction industry when I started working in modular multifamily construction for Sunrise Housing, where we assembled apartments in a factory and then transported them to the site. Witnessing the rapid pace at which we could stack half a building a day was truly captivating. 

The process required a high level of communication and teamwork, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and coordination. This experience occurred before the widespread use of iPads, texting and project management software systems. It was during this time that I discovered my passion for construction and decided to pursue it as a career.

What do you do in your current job and where are you located?

In my current role at Embrey, I overseee construction operations nationally, managing a portfolio of 20 projects spanning across eight regions. I am actively involved in overseeing projects in Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona. 

With a combined square footage of nearly 7 million and a value of $17.3 billion, my responsibilities include leading the construction team, and collaborating with key stakeholders. I travel a great deal, but I am based at our main office in San Antonio, Texas. I focus on strengthening relationships with subcontractors, enhancing operational efficiencies and driving the division towards its long-term objectives.

What challenges and opportunities are you seeing in your markets right now?

Currently, the construction industry faces a significant challenge in the shortage of skilled tradesworkers, particularly in replacing retiring professionals. It is crucial for the industry to come together and actively promote opportunities for individuals to join our field. 

While there have been improvements in cost volatility and supply chain reliability over the past year, there still exist challenges related to increased costs and delays that require strategic planning and management.

What benefits are there to working in construction?

I think there are several, including working with talented and dedicated professionals and witnessing projects come to fruition. Contributing to the development of communities provides a deep sense of satisfaction.

In addition, the ever-evolving nature of construction ensures that no two days are the same, making the work engaging, challenging and fulfilling.

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