Headshot of Kaci Roberts for Women in Construction Week 2022

During National Women in Construction Week, Levelset is recognizing and celebrating accomplished women in construction. I had the opportunity to sit down with Kaci Roberts, a controller for Braun and Butler. Kaci and I got to discuss her long career at Braun and Butler and how she became a controller, managing work-life balance as a female executive, and more.

Why don’t you tell us about your journey and how you got to where you are? 

I would say mine’s a little bit different than some others. I definitely did not set out with the goal of being a controller in a construction company — it was not anywhere on my radar at all.

I actually went to school for elementary education. I had it set forever that I was going to be a second grade teacher. Life being what it is kind of [threw] some wrenches in it — [I ended up] deciding, you know, what, that’s not for me, took some time off and was working out as a bartender of all things.

A friend of mine was actually the office manager for Braun and Butler at the time, she said, “Hey, you know, our admin assistant is going out on maternity leave and we’re looking for somebody to fill in for her while she’s gone” — you know, an eight-week assignment. “How would you feel about just coming in [to] interview with us?” I was like, okay. I’d like to get involved in something besides bartending — you know, looking towards the future. Okay. We’ll see how this goes. So I came in, interviewed, they hired me that day, with “all right, eight weeks and that’s all we need you for.”

It ended up that [they] said, “You know, we’re actually growing so we can use another admin assistant.” Perfect. “So we’ll keep you on.” So, I started out as an admin assistant, and just kind of over the years I took on some marketing roles, and then over time got into the accounting department, doing some accounting assistance for the office manager then. I just got a hand in a little bit of everything and I loved it. 

In 2012, the vice president at the time, Kenton Heinze, actually ended up purchasing the company from the two original founders, John Braun and David Butler. We ended up downsizing pretty considerably at that time. [Heinze] said, “Hey, how would you feel about staying on and taking over the role as controller?” I said, “Ken, that might be the craziest thing that you could ever do, but when I’m up to the challenge, I am all in.”

That was in 2012, so we’re going on year 10 now. It has definitely been a learning experience for all of us. Not having that accounting background, I decided a few years ago that, “Hey, you’ve really learned Braun and Butler accounting and construction from that standpoint, why not go ahead and go back and get a good foundation?” So, a couple years ago I re-enrolled in school and I’m working on my accounting degree now. 

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So, what does day-to-day look like in your current role?

You know, really there’s no typical day. That’s what I love about it — every day really is different. Just for instance, with being in this role and working on school, I do two classes every semester, so in trying to balance that I usually start off the day doing schoolwork for one of my classes. I’m a firm believer in self-development, personal development, professional development. Right now I’m working through Eat That Frog, a book on procrastination. 

Eat That Frog?

Yes, it’s so funny. [It’s] such a crazy title, but the whole concept is, if you had to eat a frog in a day, that would definitely be the worst thing that you would have to do. So you want to get it out of the way early and just know the concept of getting your hardest task out of the way early — time management there.

What skills do you think are essential for the position that you’re in? 

With it being an accounting position, definitely the numbers and being organized, and having that ability to [move past] those distractions and be able to refocus. Something I don’t necessarily excel in is working with the people’s side of it — the managing of people. I’m one of those people that you let me just come to work, do my job — you do your job, I’ll do my job.

I’ve had to step outside of my comfort zone in dealing with [that]. We’re a pretty small company with very like-minded people here, so we don’t have huge HR issues that I think some of the larger companies would have when you have so many different types of personalities, but there’s always HR issues that come up; there’s just issues to deal with. So making myself be intentional with the human side of the position.

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The counting numbers and the people side don’t usually merge together too well. 

Yeah. But that’s one of the things that makes it a fun job. Definitely with this company, the people are what makes this company such a great place to work. You definitely have to spend some time with the people. 

What do you think the main challenge you face in your position would be? 

I think for me it would be the same as any female executive would face — just that struggle [of] the work-life balance. For me personally, I love my job and would spend countless hours at work, getting stuff done, but [the difficulty is] then kind of balancing with it.

I have kids at home, my husband, and I’ve got stuff going on outside of work. Making sure to find that balance but still committing enough time to work, and to get stuff done without overcommitting. Making sure that at the end of the day, I’m able to go home — to detach enough to where I can go home, I can be a mom, I can be a wife, and you can have that time together. And to kind of rejuvenate myself and then come back to work the next day and do it all over again.

We’re finding that a lot of people are working more since people went remote — because now that everything’s at home, they can sit there and answer on their phone or check their Slacks and Teams. Do you find that you have to do that too?

Yeah, thankfully I can definitely turn off my notifications at the end of the day. I will say, for me it’s been kind of a blessing too, because I’ve got my office here, I’ve got my office set up at home to where, I may — during busy time — [decide that] I’m going to detach from this; I’m going to go spend some intentional time with my family. Then, once my daughter’s in bed, my husband is off doing his thing, then I can go to my home office and spend a little bit more time just to kind of work through some things without having to be stuck at the office, in that timeframe that I should and would be home with my family. 

I know you’re in CMFA — are you a member of any other professional groups or associations? 

I am not. But I do have to do a plug for CFMA [Construction Financial Management Association]. For me, not coming from necessarily a construction and accounting background when I took over this position in 2012, I got introduced to CFMA — that was kind of back when it was the OGs, Earl Harper and Anna Fisher — and they were huge in getting me just kind of plugged in there and becoming really part of CFMA.

The benefits that I’ve received from not just the central Texas chapter with the luncheons and the networking, but the national convention and the lone star conference, the webinars — I really don’t have enough good things to say about CFMA. I mean, they’re just never-ending.

Have you had a mentor? Have you done any mentoring for people? 

I haven’t. So, not officially. I will say, when I took up a position here in 2012, the CFO and one of the original founders, David Butler, became my mentor and he was one of my biggest blessings. Not just on the “Hey, how do you do this?” or “Hey, what is this, what is this whole sales tax thing? How does this work?” but just on the personal side of kind of jumping into something that I really never had any experience with. Just that personal and professional mentor, and he was amazing. 

I bet they had a lot to do with you staying where you currently are and enjoying what you’re doing so much. I mean, it’s a long time to be [in] a current position or a current company. 

Yeah. A very good company that I work for. 

How do you think the construction industry has changed? 

You know, kind of thinking through this for us, I guess the biggest difference that we’ve seen kind of internally is with COVID and the ability to have our employees work remotely has been huge. Before that, here and there we’d have some people say, “Oh, I need to be out for a little while.” Okay. Yeah, here you can work from home. But what we saw with COVID is, “Hey, it actually works pretty well.”

With us being more of a relational company, you definitely lose some of that when you have a bigger remote workforce, but it has given us a lot of flexibility — especially with our admin team — to say, “Okay, yeah, you need to be out for a little bit.” So many of us with kids, “Hey, okay. You know, we’ve got COVID over here. We were exposed over here or my kids, you know, going to be out for this.” Having the ability to have people work from home has been huge.

We’re definitely seeing — on the construction side of it and with supply chain issues — it’s forcing our pre-construction and our estimators and our project managers to kind of really start thinking outside of the box of, “Hey, here’s how we typically solve these problems, but due to this, this, and this, maybe let’s try to come up with some unique solutions to this problem.” So, it’s been really interesting to see the solutions that our guys are coming up with. 

Are you having any labor issues? 

Yeah. We’re a general contractor, subcontractor, everything. We definitely are seeing some labor shortages out in the field. I won’t say it hasn’t been a huge effect. We’re definitely seeing it trending upward now getting back to where we hope it needs to be, but it has definitely caused some challenges that we’ve had to work through.

“Don’t ever be intimidated to be the only woman in a room full of males because you bring something to the table that no other male in that room has.”

So, being a woman in construction, do you see, especially as you’ve grown with it, any differences or challenges being a woman as opposed to a man in the same position? 

My dad was a firefighter for years, so I was raised in the fire department, and he was in construction. So, it’s kind of what I knew growing up. It really wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to spend more time with males than females. Coming into an office where the majority of our workforce is male, it wasn’t a big change for me.

I think there is that stigma though, of being the only female. I’m one of five officers in our company, the only female, so there is always that — not from our people, it seems like from the outside. But I think being the only woman, from what I’ve seen in working with these guys, we truly do bring a different perspective to the table.

My perspective — in our company, at least — it’s valued. That differing perspective is huge. For people getting started, I just say, don’t be intimidated by that — don’t ever be intimidated to be the only woman in a room full of males because you bring something to the table that no other male in that room has.

With that, definitely surround yourself with other females in construction. That goes for getting involved in organizations, and I’ve been blessed to meet some really great female executives in the construction industry through CFMA and through other events. Just having those connections and having somebody that you can kind of talk to and is going through similar situations, or might be working through similar things or might be working through stuff. It’s just nice to have those connections.

Nobody’s definitely ever said to me “You don’t belong here because you’re female.” It’s been more the opposite of, “Hey, we’re really glad to have you here. We’re glad for your perspective.” I definitely kind of play the mom role for some of these guys, but that might just be me being that naturally nurturing person.

Do you think it’s helped that you’ve grown with the company? 

It definitely has. So I will say, not only am I the only female executive, I’m one of the youngest people in the company — definitely one of the youngest by about a decade in our office. That’s definitely a little bit of a challenge, just more for my own kind of perspective of feeling, “Hey, you know, I’ve got to really prove myself.” 

But, like I said, the guys that I work with, they’re so great. So encouraging — everybody here follows that same mentality of being lifelong learners and proving ourselves, just really team players. There’s never been a time where I felt put down for being a woman or young and definitely nothing like that, 

If you were able to be anything that you would want in life. Maybe even going back to second grade, teacher or bartender, but outside of what you currently are — what would you want to be? 

I definitely would not want to go back to being a teacher. I still love kids — working with kids through my church. I taught Sunday school for years. That’s such a difficult question because I love what I do. I truly do.

So what’s next for you in your career? Are you just going to stay there and kind of retire with the group, or do you see doing anything else? 

I definitely can not imagine being anywhere else but here. A couple more years to finish up my accounting degree, and then probably go ahead and — since I made it all the way through that — go ahead and sit for the CPA exam and do that designation, but really not to advance my career beyond here. Really. With all the classes I’m taking and the whole point of getting that degree, it really is just for my position here and to benefit the company and just to be the best asset for the company that I can be. As of right now, one day I’d love to retire at Braun and Butler — who knows after that, but I have no plans for going anywhere else besides here. 

It’s nice that you found your home so early in your career. 

Yeah. Huge blessing. 

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. To see the full version, watch the video above.