Jean Bjork is the President and Owner of Bjork Construction Company, Inc., located in Fremont, California.
Introducing the 2019 WBEC Pacific WBE Star: Jean Bjork, The Pioneer.
How/Why did you start your business? What was your vision?
Growing up, my parents owned and managed a welding/machine shop. Our family life was centered around this business, so starting my own company was like coming home for me. Years ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to build a custom home for an acquaintance - the rest, as they say, is history. At the time, my business vision consisted of establishing a small home office where we could oversee the management of a few self-built local custom homes. Eventually, we outgrew the home office and now offer two bay area locations to best serve our customers. Bjork Construction now performs commercial work as both a General Contractor and a Subcontractor and employs a large comprehensive construction team made up of well-seasoned industry professionals. My vision now includes the daily goal of encouraging others to be the best at what they do, while striving to run the best business possible and being the best that I can be.
What barriers did you overcome to be successful? How did you overcome them?
One of the biggest barriers I have faced occurred in 2009. On the cusp of the U.S. mortgage crisis, I recognized that the market was going to change significantly, so I started making substantial changes within the company to compete in this new and challenging market.
When the mortgage crisis hit, banks were quick to revoke credit lines from construction companies, causing many construction companies to close abruptly. I, however, refused to accept defeat. I was determined to survive and sought out private lenders to secure the funding needed to finance my company’s projects and work.
During these days, the competition among construction companies to win contracts was fierce. It was not uncommon or an exaggeration to see fifty companies at a job walk vying for the same project. The challenge in securing the few available contracts was to do so at a rate competitive enough to win the bid while keeping the company financially afloat. Up to this point, ninety percent of my company’s general contracting work had been in new private construction, and these types of jobs were now few and far between. I knew that I had to do something to expand our clientele and bring in new types of work, so I got creative.
In 2009, I formed a development company which purchased, rehabilitated and sold foreclosed homes through the National Stabilization Program. In taking on HUD work, my company moved into residential remodeling, as well as working for government funded entities doing maintenance, light commercial construction work and retrofit work on commercial projects.
Basically, reinvention allowed my company to succeed and keep its head above water during the mortgage crisis of 2009. I took the steps required to see my company evolve in an ever-changing market. In doing so, Bjork Construction has enjoyed and increased operating income of more than 5X, has maintained its reputation as leader in the GC arena.
WBE Stars inspire others to achieve, who inspired you along your journey?
While there have been many people that I have looked up to and who have inspired me in my lifetime, the person I immediately think of as the greatest inspiration in my life has been my mother. As a businesswoman from the Greatest Generation, she has been a lifetime example of a strong, dedicated woman and business leader, and has proven that an individual can achieve professional and personal success while living a balanced life.
As far as contemporaries whose stories have inspired me, Linda Alvarado tops the list. As the President and CEO of Alvarado Construction Company and co-owner of the Colorado Rockies baseball team, she is the embodiment of what focus + determination can equal. Linda started out as a laborer for a small landscaping company, and with a loan of $2,500.00 from her parents, started a landscaping company that has evolved into a large multi-million dollar commercial and industrial general contracting/site management and design/build firm in Denver, CO.
How has WBEC-Pacific and/or WBENC certification contributed to your success?
WBENC/ WBEC Pacific Certification has contributed to my success in many ways.
1. This certification has allowed me the opportunity participate in educational and networking events which have provided pathways to business prospects and mentorships.
2. I continue to learn from and share best practices with other members who are also committed to championing the elevation and success of other women in business.
3. My company has aligned itself with some nationally recognized WBENC Corporate Members and is currently doing business with them.
I always encourage other women to join WBENC and to get certified as women owned, it has literally opened doors and helped to me to take my company to the next level.
How did you feel when you found out you’d be a WBE Star?
When I received word that I had been selected as a WBE Star, I felt awed and privileged. To be recognized by WBENC for excellence in business leadership was surreal. There are so many deserving women in business who have broken down barriers for the next generation of women; to be recognized for this is an honor. I also was extremely excited; not only for myself and my company, but for the construction industry. The recognition I will receive in my industry as a recipient of this honor will help to elevate the status of women as leaders in our industry. Only 9% of the whole construction industry is made up of women, and approximately less than 2% of construction companies nationwide which are certified women owned. Being certified and an active member of WBENC has helped me professionally to grow as a leader and catalyst in my industry and has inspired me to help the next generation in the construction industry.
What does being a WBE Star mean to you?
Being a WBE Member & Star means that I have the responsibility to all women to encourage their success by providing information gathering, education and networking opportunities with other WBEs, clients, and corporations. I have the opportunity to champion women in business and to inspire women to start their own successful businesses. This recognition has given/will give me the opportunity to meet other WBE Stars and share best business practices. By empowering other women in business, we empower ourselves. Women don’t need to compete with each other for the smaller piece of the pie in a male dominated society - we need to help and encourage each other to succeed to make our piece larger.
Do you have any additional comments or thoughts on this award?
I am extremely grateful to receive this award. There are so many women across the country who are deserving of this acknowledgement, to be recognized by the WBE for excellence in business leadership is an honor. I would like to thank WBEC Pacific and the WBENC for their guidance and support, as well as the many opportunities made available to me which have helped me to grow my company and make it successful! I intend to use this prestigious award as a vehicle to create a dialogue to encourage other professional women and women owned businesses to join this progressive organization and be part of the new wave of strong women in business role models.