Nine years ago, Elizabeth Ponce was a secretary at a North Texas construction company. Today, she is president of her own construction company and chair of the Regional Hispanic Contractors Association.
It was a roundabout path. After pursuing a degree and career in digital imaging, which didn't pan out, Ponce, 32, stuck with that first construction firm—until it closed its doors.
"From there, I got involved with several organizations like the RHCA and the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber, and I went to those resources to see if I could find a job with what I already knew," Ponce says. "Someone at the RHCA said, 'Why not try something on your own and see what can come out of it?' I figured, since my husband at the time was working, I didn't really have anything to lose."
"The good thing about it was they gave it to us in phases—$30,000 here, $20,000 there—so that was an opportunity for us to handle the jobs and be able to grow," Ponce says. "We've grown from there. I think our best year was 2010, when we did about $6 million."
Along with the successful growth of her business, Ponce also has maintained her involvement with local organizations. She was the first female business owner to serve as a board member of the RHCA, for which she is now serving her second year as chairwoman.
"Elizabeth represents a quality driven and dynamic emerging leader for Latinas and Latinos in general, and for all contributing to the renewed and re-invigoration of the construction industry across the nation," says Frank Lopez, CEO at the National Hispanic Construction Association. "She also exemplifies and serves as an energetic role model for other Latina entrepreneurs to emulate."
In the last four years, Ponce also has established a second company called Zion Contractors, geared toward general contracting.
Despite her success, Ponce still faces challenges as a woman in construction. She mentioned that half the time male team members will hesitate to follow her opinion on how to approach a problem, instead going their own way. "But in the end we could have avoided additional problems by doing it the way I suggested," Ponce says.
During a typical day, Ponce devotes half her time to managing her business and the other half committed to local organizations—all while balancing two kids, plus a third on the way.
"I try to be at work from 7:30 a.m. to about 6:00 p.m.," she says. "Most of my weekly tasks involve making sure that we maintain our reputation. I do try to visit jobsites at least once every two weeks."
Ponce emphasizes that it's critical to be "persistent and never give up. I'm now running a whole company with 200 employees. Hopefully someday we'll be a nationwide company," she says.