When Letitia Haley Barker returned to Haley-Greer Inc. in 1995 to become vice president and chief financial officer of her father’s Dallas-based glass and curtain wall business, longtime employees grumbled so much that company co-founder Don Haley decided to do something about it. He persuaded Barker, who goes by the nickname “Tish,” to sign up for a state glazier’s licensing test. Surrounded by staffers secretly betting on how badly she would fail, she pored over the manual, took the exam—and aced it.
The naysaying stopped, and in the following two decades, Barker—who had been the company’s first employee before embarking elsewhere on a 15-year career in human resources—has led Haley-Greer to become one of the most admired subcontractors in Texas for its complex glass work. With Don Haley, now semiretired at age 85—he still comes into the office a couple of days a week—Barker runs a company that boasts of its work on such projects as the glass exterior and impressive end zone doors at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys; the Winspear Opera House in Dallas; the glass work at the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the campus of Southern Methodist University; and an intricate reproduction of the DNA double-helix at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
Asked what it’s like to be a woman president running a company in the male-dominated construction industry, Barker essentially brushes the question aside. “You know, it’s funny, and I’m just going to speak real candidly about this,” she says. “I just never thought of myself as any different from anyone else. And I think that because that’s the case, I don’t really think it’s an issue. When I worked in the HR business, I worked only with men there, too … I just think I’m one of the guys, or one of the people who do (the job) … and I think maybe because of that, I’m treated back accordingly.”
Later, she adds, “I think that’s the face of construction as it is now. I think a woman is just a person that’s qualified to do the work.”
That rings true with Jason Wroblewski, Haley-Greer’s vice president of project management. “She’s one of the smartest women I know,” Wroblewski says of Barker. “She’s very thorough in her thought process, and she’s a great leader.”
“She knows and understands the glass business,” adds Greg Stringer, senior vice president of Tellepsen Builders in Houston, which has used Haley-Greer on numerous projects. “She is very good at managing the company. She has a long-range focus. She looks way down the road, in anticipation of where the market is going to be. I’ve always been pretty impressed with her. You never know what you’re going to get when an owner—especially a strong owner like Don Haley—decides to become semi-retired. But Tish seems to be real strong. She has good insights into the industry.”
Under Barker’s stewardship, Haley-Greer weathered the Great Recession, although not without some layoffs. Since then, Barker has been conservative about growth, preferring to chase projects that play to the company’s strengths as a glass installer with expertise in helping to create complex buildings.
One such project is the Treehouse in Houston, an innovative, angular office space whose playful shapes are meant to encourage employees to relax and think creatively. Haley-Greer’s work on the building recently won an Excellence in Construction Award from the Houston chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors. Haley-Greer not only installed the glass, but also collaborated closely with Houston-based architect Micah Simecek of Studio RED Architects to design the building.
Simecek credits Haley-Greer with providing advice that made the Treehouse easier to build. “It was very real-time feedback and real-time involvement in some of (our design) decisions during an early stage of the project,” he says. “It was a fast schedule and a very complex project, and I don’t think the project would have been as big a success if we didn’t have that sort of up-front collaboration with them as a team member.”
Teamwork, in fact, is how Barker describes Haley-Greer’s market differentiation. Unlike many other glass companies, Haley-Greer doesn’t manufacture its own products. Instead, it relies on a small group of partners—chief among them Baker Metal Products of Dallas and Accura Systems of Sunnyvale, Texas—to provide curtain wall systems and other finished components.
“We choose very high-end suppliers that have big engineering departments that we work with in order to design these special buildings that are one of a kind,” Barker says. “It requires a lot of work, but we only team with the very best people in order to be able to do this. Most of our competitors—they’ll go and buy the components and then go back to their shop and engineer it and put it together. But we take the expertise of multiple engineering groups and these very specialized firms, and as partners we put these (projects) together.”
Haley-Greer’s approach means the company doesn’t land every project it bids on. “We don’t always get hired to do the jobs that aren’t that hard,” Barker says. “We’re not always that competitive on those things that are simple. But I think (contractors) look to us for those difficult things because they know we’ll do everything that’s required to get it done.”
Stringer of Tellepsen Builders gives Haley-Greer high marks for its approach. “They’re probably the best glass sub by far for preconstruction and estimating,” he says, adding that Haley-Greer’s installation crews are “very good as well.”
Stringer also appreciates the company’s skill at problem-solving. “They’re one of our preferred subs because they don’t go out and start arguing and fighting and pointing fingers trying to (assign) blame. They just get in there, roll up their sleeves and work with us to resolve the issues.”
Although Haley-Greer has worked outside Texas and once staffed an office in Washington, D.C., Barker says the company’s focus will continue to be the Lone Star State—primarily Dallas, Houston, Austin and Corpus Christi. The company maintains a branch office in Houston, where in addition to the Treehouse and the Texas Children’s Hospital double-helix, Haley-Greer installed the glass for the former headquarters of Enron (Chevron purchased the building in 2011).
Barker offers guarded optimism for the work prospects in Texas. “As we look to 2016, there’s a lot of work out there,” she says. “We think it’s going to be great, but on the other side, you read The New York Times, and they ay they think 2016 is going to go back down again. We’re hoping that’s not the case .... The good thing about it, for us, being in Texas, a lot of people are moving into the area and there are a lot of businesses in the area. That creates the need for places to have all these people work.”
One thing that will keep Barker busy through June 2016 is her new job as president of the American Subcontractors Association.
“It’s an organization that I’m passionate about,” she says. “I think they do such a great job of preparing subcontractors of all sizes to do better work and to have a better business and be more successful. And if they’re more successful, then I always tell the general contractors, ‘That means that your job is going to be more profitable, it’s going to be done more timely and those people are going to be able to reach your vision.’”