Make that [New York] City & State 2022 Construction Power 100 is no easy task. Deborah Bradley, President of Deborah Bradley Construction & Management Services (DBC), did this through building strong relationships, participating in mentoring programs, leveraging minority and women-owned (M/WBE) certification programs, and her ability to be at work to learn quickly and well.
Bradley’s journey into the construction industry was random and rocky. She worked for Deloitte Touche as a CPA before moving to New York to do her MBA at Columbia Business School.
She worked her way through school. But when she needed surgery to remove tumors from her ovaries, the small financial firm she worked for fired her. With $150,000 in school debt, she had neither the money nor the inclination to sue.
However, her dismissal was a fanfare. It was the early 1990s and companies didn’t have parental leave policies or the ability to pump breast milk at work, which Bradley wanted so she could be the mom she wanted to be. Bradley wanted to breastfeed her children at work. To have that flexibility, she had to start her own business.
Bradley had some business ideas, but then an unexpected opportunity presented itself. She was living in a Columbia shelter and the caretaker of her building came to fix something in her apartment. He asked her for help. The company he worked for had gone bankrupt and he would lose his job.
Bradley spoke to real estate agents who managed properties owned by Columbia to get the property. She founded DBC in 1993 and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Having no money, she used life insurance as collateral to borrow $2,000 to insure her new business, purchase a used truck and supplies. The superintendent knew everyone and the phone started ringing.
But not everything was right. DBC’s books didn’t look right to Bradley. The guy she was helping was embezzling money from her. She fired him and hired someone who still works for her today.
To learn more about the construction industry, Bradley went on-site to understand residential projects from installation to on-site electrical wiring. She learned quickly.
Bradley learned about the NYC School Construction Authority (SCA) mentoring program through rumors. She applied and was accepted, and it was back to learning the basics in a new part of the industry.
Bradley had to learn how to value projects and manage large institutional projects. Her mentor was TDX Construction. “They taught me the ins and outs of working with SCA,” she said. They still work together on big projects.
Things weren’t always smooth. There was a lot Bradley didn’t know. “But if you tell me once, that’s all you have to do,” she said. “I’ll do that right after.”
Bradley learned a great deal and formed lifelong business relationships. “That [SCA] The earn-learn model is great,” she said. Learning in the classroom just can’t compete.
SCA also had a graduate mentoring program covering bonding, insurance and getting your finances in order. She applied and is in. A contract bond – also known as a building bond or contractor bond – guarantees performance of obligations under a contract. Bradley’s company had a $2 million loan, but to win more significant projects, it needed a bigger loan.
Bradley searched around without success until she met with one of USA Insurance’s owners. He asked about her background, which gave him the confidence to issue a $6 million bond to her company. “It allowed us to apply and win for larger projects,” Bradley said. “I won six projects.”
“I found out about the SBA 504 loan program,” Bradley said. It can be used to purchase and improve property, as well as purchase machinery and equipment. She bought property in Harlem, where her office is still located.
Diversification was key to the growth of the construction company. DBC performs general contractors; electrical contracting; construction management; and capacity building, mentoring, and field oversight in these industries:
- Education, including K-12 and higher education
- Emergency & Quick Response
- Corrections and Justice
- Health & Life Sciences, including hospitals. healthcare facilities and laboratories
- Green infrastructure and resilience
- Parks and Recreation
- Transport (Transit and Aviation) & Infrastructure
- Utilities & Energy
Bradley now has certifications held by women in New York City and State, federal agencies and corporations. She uses them all.
However, growth has not been linear. Bradley’s company almost went bankrupt twice. The first time was when construction projects in Manhattan were halted after 9/11. The second time was caused by the financial crisis that lasted for the construction industry from 2008 to 2014. “We slowly crawled back,” Bradley said.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, she had put in place a safety net and was more resilient. PPP loans and Covid-19 emergency projects also helped. “NYC wanted to work with as many M/WBEs as possible [NYC certified minority- and women-owned businesses] as possible,” Bradley said. “We end up with a whole bunch of contingency projects.”
Finding skilled workers is a constant challenge. The construction industry has an aging population and the next generation does not have the necessary manual skills.
Just as others have helped others, she helps those who start and grow their businesses. Bradley loves mentoring. “I love being a mentor,” she said. “I never want anyone to go through the challenges I’ve faced without someone to ask questions.”
She helped found the Women Builders Council and is a past President and member of the Board. She is a mentor for SCA, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) – which governs public transportation in the New York City metropolitan area – and the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS). I met Bradley through the SBS M/WBE mentorship program that my company administers.
How will you take advantage of mentoring opportunities?