We had the great pleasure of interviewing Allison Iantosca, Owner and President of F.H. Perry Builder, about professional values and working with challenging clients. Together we talk about her core values in construction, new home trends of 2020, and how she assesses her clients’ needs.
Full Podcast Transcript
Grace Mase 00:07
Hi, this is Grace Mase. Today we have Allison Iantosca with us. She is the CEO of FH Perry. Welcome, Allison. Well, first of all, I think, I've known you for a couple of years. And I'm always impressed with what you accomplish, and every time I listen to you talking, you just have so much incredible insights. So I'd love to bring our audience into this journey with you. If you don't mind, share with us how you got started?
Allison Iantosca 00:36
Well, I'm in my late 20s, and had spent most of my early days studying theater and ventured out to the west coast to do some of that and spent time in college doing that. I came back home to Boston, and I knew that that was where I wanted to live, but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. And right around the same time, my dad was thinking about bringing somebody into the company. I think, probably specifically a female, into the company to support clients in the selection process. At the time, we weren't working very much with architects and interior designers. So really someone who could support the client to go and make all those many, many, many selections, and mostly from an organizational standpoint, not necessarily from a design standpoint. So I raised my hand, I said, “Sure, let's give it a try for six months.” And we sort of had a six month agreement that either one of us could say, “We're done. This isn't working.” The rest of 20 years later, that was January of 2000. Here I am, January of 2020, still at it. And just over the course of time, the multiple opportunities that Dad gave me to kind of think about different roles I wanted to play and where my skill set fit best, and eventually that led to ownership.
Grace Mase 02:02
That's fantastic. And I think that's really insightful and brilliant of him to choose you who from I imagine going through the home for client selection, oftentimes, the decision maker, I assume, in your experience are probably primarily woman. There are stats showing that 80% improvement are actually initiated, managed and decided, or decision makers are women. And so to have that connection, I think is critical to understand for them to have the empathy, to engage with them, able to read their emotions, help them to navigate through the process is extraordinary, helpful.
Allison Iantosca 02:40
Yeah, I think she was quiet on the sort of leading edge around that. And just understanding that it's, it can be such a lonely process too, I think, for someone. Everybody says when they get to the other end of a remodeling project, oh my gosh, it's like a full-time job making all of those decisions. And our company was really good at measuring out when you needed to make what decision. So you weren't trying to sort of light off the entire process all at once, but having someone there to just say, “You know, you keep coming back to that faucet, I think that might be the one that you like.” you know, or, “It might be helpful to have something that like a kitchen sink that you can just, you know, sort of toss on with the back of your hand instead of cross handles because you're going to have, you know, dirty hands.” or just different things that kind of were practical and supportive. And that was really important.
Grace Mase 03:35
Well, and also have a sensitivity to pick those kinds of cues. Hey, alright what's on the list? Did you do this? And so I think, oftentimes, what . . . I think it's quite special, and for a woman in this industry to recognize their counterpart, their clients, their needs. And I think that often results in much more positive experience just having acknowledgment and collaboration from that front.
Allison Iantosca 04:07
Yeah, and it definitely sort of highlights that there's, like in anything that we do, that there's an equity in it. There's a need to recognize that there are multiple players with multiple needs, and just focusing on one or the other, isn't the right way to balance out the whole of the experience. And so we had the project management side down pat. But the relational side, and the let me connect with you at this point, when it's a pretty crazy process. And projects at that point, people are living in their homes, and it's a lot. So it gave us a real way of making sure that we were offering a full experience for the client.
Grace Mase 04:50
Clearly you're your father's daughter, you begin to, you guys recognize a trend. What are the type of trends that you're seeing in the industry now?
Allison Iantosca 04:58
I think people are paying a lot of attention to energy efficiency, to healthy homes, especially with air. Making sure that what is coming into the home and how air is being used in the home has got a healthy component to it. Simplification on control systems, the simpler the better getting it through my iPhone, as opposed to some crazy wall configuration where I need to type 10 buttons or figure out which switches for what. Really, it continues along this trend of clean, clean, clean. And what's fun in the Boston market is we obviously have so much tradition here. The city is so good about making sure that we're maintaining our historic facade, but it really is giving opportunity for people to come in and maintain a lot of the wonderful historic features that we have in the city. But somehow coupling the designers and architects in this market are so good at beautifully coupling in, "Yeah, let's keep that piece of really crazy Triple Crown, right, but the rest of the room is going to be sleek and chic." You know, we'll bring in concrete, and we'll bring in disappearing edge counters and all those kinds of things that people really are looking for from a minimalist standpoint. And so that's pretty hot and heavy here now. And it's really lovely. And how do we make these crooked homes that have historic character kind of fit, and meld okay, with that desire for a real modern aesthetic.
Grace Mase 06:32
That's wonderful. I think that's the exciting part about design to be able to respect the history and bring in elements in but at the same time, innovate and create something that just you didn't expect, but has that wow factor when you walked in. Say, “Wow, I didn't expect this, but boy is this spectacular!”
Allison Iantosca 06:49
Yeah. And it's amazing, because it really works. And again, all hats off to the architectural and design communities that are making sure that they are meeting both criteria.
Grace Mase 07:00
Coming from you, I think just in general industry, there's oftentimes there's friction between the building professions and design professions. How did you learn to build that kind of respect and collaboration?
Allison Iantosca 07:15
A couple of things, I think. I guess the biggest piece for us is it became such a major source of business. And we wanted that, because it meant that the clients were being pre-qualified, because they were coming from an architect. I mean, any client that would be working with one of our architect partners, is automatically sort of into a pool of people that really appreciate craftsmanship, and appreciate the stewarding of the process that we were we're trying to make sure that we give to our clients. Which doesn't necessarily make it easy but one of the things we shifted in our mindset was really thinking about the client and the architect is also our client. So we've got two clients, the architects, they need to be able to do beautiful design. That's what they went to school for. That's what their eyes are for. That's what they understand. And they need then, the support of a well run, professionally managed project so that they can fully realize their vision. And I think when I think about it, there's one kind of metaphor that I use, like, if you think about writing a song, and then you just send it out to the world, it's going to come back to you in 5000 different ways. And I think it's just there's something really beautiful about connecting with the songwriter, the architect and saying, “How do I help you realize this the way you heard it the way you see it?” Right? And if we really think about partnering at that level, we are crafting something and we are stewarding something. And I think that's just the way that we like to think about that relationship.
Grace Mase 09:01
So I love it. The way you paint it is so elegant and so simple. The collaboration is so key to create, I mean to understand and respect the vision that is being developed, at the same time, have the desire to also share the same vision and co-creating this beautiful space and ultimately result into positive results for the other, the homeowner client and an all known for all three parties involved is much more pleasant experience when there's a shared vision.
Allison Iantosca 09:32
Yeah, and architects have really allowed for the profession of general contracting to grow and become much more equal. For a long time, that architect was put in the place of, you know, sort of protecting the homeowner from the big bad builder, right. And they, we have evolved as a profession and the architects have allowed us to evolve and really they have shared equal respect to us for what we bring from a managerial side and a building knowledge side, so that makes a big difference.
Grace Mase 10:06
Wow, that's great. Now I'm gonna play it in a different direction. Have you had experience with any challenging clients or challenging architects? And how did you work with those situations? You don't have to name names, but I’m kind of curious. They're bound to have one or two.
Allison Iantosca 10:28
Yeah, yep, we've had it, we've had our fair share. I guess the way that we've kind of come out of it is to really make sure that we really know who we work well for. The notion of competition is popping into my head in that week, that there's a way in which one can think that every project out there we should get. Or every project that one of our competitors has, we should have gotten. And when I really think about the difference between who we are and who another contractor is, we're not climbing the same mountain, the rules of the game are not the same. And so my dad really taught me that the more you are yourself, and the more clear you are about, you know, the more clear we are about our value system, how we like to work and who we work best for, and keep that sort of contained for ourselves in our own definition, without getting distracted by what somebody else might think works for them, the better off we are. And the more we're able to articulate it and bring that to an architect and say, "This is the best kind of client that we work with, you're the best kind of architect we work with." The better chances you have of being able to move through one of those negative experiences. Having said that, I can certainly recall some very challenging situations, and some of them, were just we're going to knuckle down and get through this. I am a very low-risk person. And I am, I'm really not interested in a litigious situation, I'm much more interested in trying to figure out what, like put myself in that other person's shoes. What is going on for them and what is so fearful for them and what feels so jeopardized for them. And why are we in this situation where they feel like that's the way they need to come at us. And then try and figure out the compromise. And at the end of the day, dragging anything out any longer, that takes energy away from the good clients that you have, the best fits that you have, the more you're taking away, energetically, from the good that you can do in your company. And so it's always been a philosophy of mine to get through it as quickly as we can, support the people in the organization that are having to support the situation and, and move on.
Grace Mase 12:57
That's amazing. I mean, I think that how you describe empathy is what you're one of your strengths. And I think that kind of sets the tone for the entire project, and I assume sets the tone for the entire company too. And that's what leaders should do.
Allison Iantosca 13:13
I just, I carry on this little thing in my head that I don't think anybody really wakes up and says, “I'm going to be a jerk today. Just to be a jerk.” They're waking up saying, “I'm scared of something or I'm worried about something or something doesn't feel right to me.” And then jerky behavior comes out of that, unfortunately, but it always has a cause that you can't resist something until there's something to resist, right? So we talk a lot about, you know, what is the person resisting? What is going on? How do we like, let go of the other end of the rubber band? How do we kind of neutralize the situation and then go from there.
Grace Mase 13:51
So how do you do so? I mean, what are the three things that you advise people to do? I mean, communication, or what is it?
Allison Iantosca 13:58
First and foremost is self-awareness. I talk to my team all the time about knowing what their triggers are, knowing what their strengths are, and knowing what they're working on. And unless you have some, and I think that's what leadership is. And I like to think about our group as being a group of leaders. I think unless you are able to understand what behavior serves you well, and why you're successful with that behavior. And then when that behavior isn't working for you anymore, and you need to make a different choice. And living in that gap space of being able to make a different choice is so highly critical. It's scary, it's vulnerable. It means you have to say to people, “I need to do something different here and I don't quite know what to do.” But the closer I can get to my team, all being willing to sort of live in that vulnerable space so that they can make different choices, the better. The second is, is that empathetic curve of understanding that people aren't trying to take you down. No one's trying to ruin you. People really are just reacting to their own concerns and the things that they need. It doesn't mean it's always easy. And it doesn't mean that people don't kind of drive you crazy or get up on you or whatever it is. But that again, what is that there's some wonderful quote, something like “conflict cannot exist without your consent.” And I love that because it just suggests you have a choice in that moment. So you can keep conflict going, or you can let go. And then you're in a different paradigm. So we talk about that a lot. And I think a lot of times people hide behind emails, letters, texts, going off and talking to someone else. And a lot of times, I'll just say, have you called the person? Right? Have you picked up the phone and called? Just call. And my old business partner said, just getting through the “Hello.” is sometimes the hardest part. And then once you're talking, you've begun. But until you've made that connection, it's harder to create space for something to happen.
Grace Mase 16:06
Yeah. And I love your visual earlier, you mentioned the rubber band, and releasing that rubber band, reduce that tension. And that's what it is. And having that human connection, just pick up the phone, make that call, or just meet up for coffee. And all sudden, the tone that's not meant to be, surfacing on the email or a text message is now all dissipated.
Allison Iantosca 16:29
Nine times out of ten I'm so surprised. This person is so mad, there's nothing! And then you call them. Oh, we're in a totally different place now. Because we're just talking right, we have to treat each other well.
Grace Mase 16:42
And then you talk about self-awareness. And sometimes we make up our own story. And sometimes through our experience and past experience that trigger comes in, and all of a sudden we immediately jump to that place and just assume everything is going horribly. And reality sometimes is just not that complicated. It's just as simple as “Hello, we need to talk about this issue.”
Allison Iantosca 17:03
Pick up the phone. Yeah. And people are so surprised about it, because it doesn't happen. So it's actually this wonderful, like, little magical tool.
Grace Mase 17:14
And it's great to have these kinds of little wins throughout the day to know that, hey, we're creating homes. And really, it comes down to this human connection and helping people to the homeowners create those memories, and helping the team to create those exciting moments in career to know that, hey, I kind of made it a little win today. And that's a great feeling to walk away when you go home.
Allison Iantosca 17:36
I totally agree Grace, I love that.
Grace Mase 17:39
Clearly, you have supported me woman myself, I've always been inspired by you. I'm kind of curious who have who support you along those way? And along your career path.
Allison Iantosca 17:49
I have to say my mother, I have to say my mother. And I think what's so interesting is that the sort of obvious statement is that my dad has been an enormous support. And actually, you know, sort of 20 years ago for him to think of bringing his daughter into the company and then handing the reins over to his daughter that's quite cutting edge. So that's good that he did that. And he's always, you know, gender equality is he doesn't even see it. It's not a problem. I think the sort of quiet partnership that my mom has given me, even now, as I continue on in the journey, I have to remember, I have to acknowledge, it's not out loud. It was never in my face, it was never to be there to sort of say, are you sure you want to make that decision? My mom has just always been a listening partner, trusting in my own ability to make my own decisions. I recently wrote a piece about when you come to a fork in the road, take it. I would do that, you know, I'll take that fork, and then think, “Oh, my gosh, I went the wrong way.” And mom just would sort of come along behind me and say like, “Well, let's just see, let's see, you have power, you're in control, you have a voice. This isn't happening to you, you're making decisions.” and sort of encouraging me to come more and more into my own power, again, with this sort of quiet partnership. And I think I need to give her more credit for that, and allow that to always be a play for me to remind me of how important that kind of relationship is.
Grace Mase 19:34
Wow, that's powerful. That's really, that almost brought tears. Well, your parents clearly raised an incredible person and you continue to support women in construction. And you'd be out there leading the effort, paving the way, and helping, and gaining for us, gaining the wisdom from you is extraordinarily helpful. So thank you for everything you do, for this industry and for us to be inspired and have someone to look up to.
Thanks, Grace, everybody just keep on going. You all have it right. You're doing the right thing. We're all gonna figure this one out together. Exactly.
Grace Mase 20:13
Well, thanks for elevating the industry and so appreciate all your time Allison. This is Allison Iantosca with FH Perry. Thank you, Allison.