Meghan Ulrich: Onward + Upward

insight

Meghan Ulrich: Onward + Upward

Aug 3, 2020

The DAVIS logo was created with the onward + upward ethos in mind. It is both our legacy and our vision for the future. We're interviewing 20 people in '20 to find out what onward + upward means to them (along with some other interesting details you might not pick up on at the jobsite). Keep up with this series to get more insight into the DAVIS team!

Meet Meghan Ulrich, VP of Construction Operations.

We sat down with Meghan (over a phone call) to talk about her role as one of our leaders and what she loves most about working at DAVIS! Keep reading to learn more about Meghan.

LIFE AT DAVIS

So how long have you been at DAVIS, and how'd you get to your current position?
I believe I just passed my 21st year. When I started with DAVIS, I was actually an intern doing our construction layout. Then, as I finished grad school and became full-time, I was in the Estimating department. Soon, I was lucky enough to sit next to someone who needed a project engineer at Gonzaga College High School, and I kind of fell into that operations role. 

In school, I worked for a couple of different architects, but I had never really felt I understood how everything went together. I knew how to build a model and draw a line, but I wanted to see what it took to put things together. I got to know someone who worked for DAVIS that used to sneak me blueprints to help me figure out the construction side more and walk me through things, which was fascinating.

You were recently promoted into your current role (VP - Construction Operations). How has the adjustment been?
I was a little worried about switching from a project management role, but it's been very supportive. It's been great to dive into the details of projects and support each team, and I'm doing the best I can to fit into each process and improve our operations. And, of course, everything related to the coronavirus pandemic has been a roller coaster. I really learn something new every day in this role. Regardless of how long I've been here, or how much I've seen, every day is an opportunity for me to learn, and that's what I love about construction. Things are always changing.

What kind of approach do you take to your work?
I try to make sure there's a team mentality in each project. A project isn't done by one person or team member--it's all collaborative. That's one of the reasons why I'm at DAVIS, because people here have that mindset. I also put my personal best foot forward, though. If I've made a mistake, I try to own my decisions, see what went wrong, and learn from it to move forward. That's a tough lesson for an individual as well as a team, so this year we've put a greater focus on open communication and collaboration between project team members so that we can learn from each other.

Something my dad taught me was to always take care of your team, and throughout my career I've tried to make sure everyone is taken care of--whether it's helping an owner solve a problem, or helping an architect, or DAVIS employee. We encounter new challenges every day, but to me that opportunity to solve something is so motivating.

What's been the most rewarding project throughout your career?
They all have something positive, but I'd probably say it was the Capital One job. Building a high-rise like that in the DC area was such a huge challenge, and now that I can look back at it I can really be proud of what we did. The whole team was dedicated to keeping each other focused, regardless of the length and difficulty of the process. 

How does DAVIS reinforce that attitude to keep each other motivated?
People here have such a high level of integrity. Obviously everyone is smart and talented, but they're willing to learn from other people. You're never just on your own island. There might be small competition at times, but that's all in good fun. Whenever someone needs help, people come forward with tips, contacts, anything that's needed.

Do you have any goals you've set for yourself and for DAVIS for the rest of the year?
My main goal is for our company to challenge ourselves and continue to think outside the box. There will be bad days, but we can overcome those if we keep doing the best we can.

What’s a piece of advice you would give someone hoping to work their way up in the industry?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t know something, don’t make believe that you do. You shouldn’t feel inferior for not knowing something, and it won’t make people think less of you—especially at DAVIS. I remember one early project I was on, when my project manager was on vacation and I didn’t know what to do. I was actually foolish enough to walk into Jim Davis’ office to ask for help--and he gave it to me! I think that says a lot about how our company operates.

LET'S GET PERSONAL

If you weren't in construction, what would you be doing?
I ask myself that every day (laughs). Sometimes I want to be the manager of a general store in a small town, just to see people every day. It hasn't been much more than a daydream to think about other things I'd be doing, though. 

I do have a liberal arts background, though. In college, I was an Art major with a minor in History--and I love my background because it taught me different skills. However, I made a promise to my father that I would go on to do architecture--he was much more business-minded than I was at the time. If I was ever to go back to architecture, though, I would probably do something related to adaptive re-use or historical reservation/preservation. 

What were your childhood jobs?
Well, they weren't construction related at all! I was a waitress, a dishwasher, very normal jobs. in college, I was a bank teller, which was a 9-5 job with some hours on weekends--it was kind of a perfect job for college, since there was a lot of work, but I didn't have to be the first one in and last one out like it is at a retail job.

How do you relax outside of work?
Generally speaking, I'm pretty quiet. I like to be with family, mostly. As for fun hobbies, I've basically taught myself how to kayak and paddleboard--on calm waters, of course. My husband's the daredevil--he'll parachute World-War-II-style, and I'll be on the ground safely. I grew up in the country, and my mindset's a little more low-key.

Not a lot of people know this, but I've made artwork like sculptures and weathervanes as personal projects.I can't always find the time these days, but I used to do pen-and-ink sketches of projects or project elements as part of an appreciation for people I've worked with. 

Is there anything on your bucket list?
My adventurous husband has definitely taught me how to love traveling, so I'd definitely love to keep traveling. I was fortunate enough to go to Italy to pick out some stone slabs for a project, but I was only there for a day-and-a-half, so I have to go back! There's so many things I want to see in general, though. Growing up, I was just an East Coast/New England girl, and I never got to travel to the Western U.S. 

One last question  - What does “Onward + Upward” mean to you?
To me, it’s a challenge to make sure you continue to strive towards the next level, or phase within a project, anything you have goals for. Sometimes it’s just the end of the week. Keep challenging yourself, and motivating yourself. There’s always something you can learn and there’s always something you can grow from. I'm extremely proud of the way DAVIS has adapted to everything going on this year, and I think it says a lot about our company that we've been able to adjust like that.