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Meet Maria Nicholson of Project Build Construction Group

Today we’d like to introduce you to Maria Nicholson.

Maria, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am a first-generation immigrant in the United States. I came to this country in 1989 with $100.00 dollars in my pocket given to me by my mother who at that time was still residing in the Philippines. My parents’ dream has always been to send us to America where we will have opportunities for a much better future. To them, America equals stability, abundance, and security. As a teenager, I got to visit my brother who left for the US much earlier than I did. During my visits, I am always at awe about everything. I wanted to be in America just as much as my parents did.

I am a very passionate person and I can really be very stubborn at times (I am a Taurus) which can be good and bad. During my junior high school year in Manila, my parents built our home in the suburbs. While it is being constructed, I was so fascinated with how the construction process was unfolding. I remember asking the Architect so many questions to quench my fascination. This has inspired me to apply to the College of Architecture at the University of Santo Tomas. My parents were not too happy about that. They feared that being a female, I will not get the good opportunities that my male counterparts get. My stubbornness prevailed of course. This was in the early 80s and there was no such thing as AutoCAD. We were taught to do everything by hand which was very time consuming and requires precision. I spent many late nights and functioning on a few hours of sleep. That took a toll on my health and I ended up in the hospital with very severe migraine headaches. It was very clear that if I do not get 7 hours of sleep, it will keep happening. There is no way I will be able to answer to the demands of my program without staying up late. Reluctantly, I followed my father’s advice to drop the program and switch to a Business major. My father was an entrepreneur since he was 17 years old and he never worked for anyone. He felt that with the right type of business I will have the same opportunities to success. I remember specifically him telling me that if I don’t switch programs I may be designing my own tomb. Business was my second passion. I thought that I will have my own architectural firm, but being a business owner down the road is not too bad at all especially in America.

Fast forward, I came to the United States in 1989 to live with my brother. I worked a typical office job, bored to death and feeling like a zombie at work. A year later, I was able to have my own apartment and I walked to and from work in Washington, DC. I marvel at the architecture of the brownstones and the historic homes. In my efficiency apartment, I decorated it with minimal funds purchasing items from IKEA and yard sales. I enjoy giving design tips to family and friends. A few months later I met my husband and we dated for a very short time and got married. He was managing an apartment complex and one day, he came home and told me that he would like to work as an apprentice to a flooring contractor and hopefully start his own flooring company. I was all in. We saved every bit of money we have and lived frugal so we can have our seed money. I got pregnant with my oldest daughter and at 4 months into my pregnancy my husband was able to leave his job to start working for himself as a flooring contractor. I kept my day job and we live off my salary. I will come home via subway train and he will have a pair of jeans, t-shirt and tennis shoes for me to change into and we will go to small businesses after hours to polish their vinyl flooring. When our daughter was born, we were ready for me to go home and run the administrative and marketing side of the business. We were blessed to grow and hire more people to work with us. The 90s were very good to our business. At the peak of our business we were maintaining 19 apartment complexes, sanding and refinishing hardwood floors with a crew of 13 men, then 9/11 struck. Business literally went on a standstill, no phones ringing, no requests for work as the nation’s capital have no idea what is next. Our hard work and success vanished in a matter of 3 years. We had to sell our home, we had to move to Arizona to try and be a part of the building boom there. It was very tough for me to get projects there as they were not too comfortable with a female, Asian contractor. I have been ignored and there were times when homeowners would rather talk to my foreman and refuse to make eye contact with me. Even if they talk to me, I was bombarded with a lot of questions to test my knowledge. I had to prove myself every single time if I am to earn their business. That went on for a while then the housing market crashed. We found ourselves treading the waters of uncertainty again as builders left us with their unpaid bills. In 2007, we filed for bankruptcy. We took regular jobs in order to survive and hold onto whatever is left. I went into depression finding myself inside my closet crying so my daughters won’t see me. We were prepared to go back to the East Coast so we can be close to family as we try to get back up on our feet. However, a good friend suggested that we should try California first. He said that if the economy will rebound, California will be the very first. Its diversity and population will have a need for honest and reliable contractors. We took a leap of faith and moved to California in 2009.

We lost the battle in Arizona but not the war. We were not going to give up on our dreams even if we have to take a few steps back. I worked for for-profit universities where I found myself again being a bored zombie and hating what I do. I just can’t shake off the itch of being a business owner. I went home tired and unfulfilled. I just could not give up and not do what I am passionate about. I want to show my daughters that persistence pays off. I cannot allow society to squash my dream because of my gender. If I have to answer a thousand questions to earn someone’s business, then I would. I prayed hard, I researched, I talked to industry professionals, I sought mentors, and finally I embraced who I am and what makes me different from other professionals. I accepted my strengths and the weaknesses I am blessed with. With a renewed and stronger faith in God I knew I can get back up. I am grateful that I live in the State of California as it continues to lead the country towards progress. It allows me to be proud of being who I am, a female general contractor. I love California’s diversity as it empowers people of all ages, gender, nationalities, sexual preference, religion, physical abilities. Our state’s economy thrives on the multitude of talents brought about by its diversity. Because of this, I am proud to be the President and CEO of Project Build Construction Group, Inc. I am doing what I love to do and in the process of doing that, I hope to empower everyone, young girls most especially. I want them to see that you can be whatever you want to be. I want them to persevere and never give up. Trials and challenges do come, but never lose heart. I call them “workouts.” They may not be fun, but they do shape us to become stronger. The more you challenge yourself the better the outcomes are. Never let anyone dictate what you can and cannot do. I keep the words of Eleanor Roosevelt close to my heart and it helps guide me in the paths I take and the decisions I make. She said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

I still have items on my bucket list. I still have dreams I want to come true. These dreams though are not mine alone. My dream is to make my life a living testimony to all of us who struggle, who fight stereotypes, who have been knocked down. We are all in this planet for a purpose. Stick by our faith and stay the course no matter how rough the road gets. There will be detours but keep moving forward. And as we move forward, never forget to lend a helping hand to those who are in need.

Has it been a smooth road?
No the road has not been smooth. There were bumps and hurdles along the way. The challenges I faced were sexism, misogyny, racism, limited support in the construction industry for women, and the economy.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Project Build Construction Group – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Project Build Construction Group, Inc. is a design build company. We do remodels, renovations, and additions. We serve both Los Angeles and Orange Counties. As a woman-owned business, we take pride in our attention to details. We appreciate the fact that women for the most part have an active role in the decisions made in their home projects. From materials, to space, to functionality having a construction company with a woman’s touch can be a huge plus. We understand the needs of the customer’s household no matter the size and we work together with our clientele in the design and the selection of materials that will offer them the greatest benefit. We respect our clients’ homes knowing they are their place of refuge so we take utmost care of it. Our craftsmen are carefully chosen. They are not just talented in their trades but also exhibit great customer service. We value our team and because of that, they value our clientele. Our goal is not to be the biggest company, but the company with the biggest heart so you are assured of our quality of work, reliability, honesty, and fairness.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Photos by Aleks Bienkowska of Polka Photos
Selvin Castillo, Construction Manager
Wilmer Castillo, Foreman
Jenit Moller, Business Development Director
Meagan Nicholson, Office Administrator

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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