Meet The Iron Lady

The Iron Lady Enterprises Story

1) Q: How did you get into the very male dominated construction business? 

A: I was always interested in working with my brain AND my hands, so when I graduated from Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia and had the choice of going to college or taking up a trade, I decided to go to trade school to become a certified welder.
 
2) Q: You've got to be one of the most experienced welders in the country, male or female. Did you join the welders union as soon as you graduated from high school? 

A: Actually I didn't, despite the fact that I had my heart set on joining the local iron workers union in Philadelphia when I finished high school way back in 1985. I applied for a union apprenticeship with the Philadelphia Iron Workers Union Local #401, and passed the written exam, but I was discouraged to see that there were no women iron workers at the time even though I was supremely qualified. Things were very different than they are now from a racial and gender equality standpoint. Make no bones about it, there has been social advancement for minorities and women, but despite the achievements of a noteworthy few, e.g. President Obama,Ursala Burns, Suzanne Shank, Ken Chenault, Ken Frazier, and others, minorities and women have an awful lot more leveling of the playing field to do.

3) Q: How and when did you later join the union?

A: In 1985, I was fortunate to land a job welding and building ships for the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy down at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. My work there spanned more than 20 years and took me to such faraway places as Pearl Harbor, HI, the Norfolk Naval Ship Yard, the San Diego Navy Yard, and even over to Europe. I helped to build the U.S.S. Kittyhawk and other major ships. 

I wanted to do more than weld, and my burning desire was still be a bona fide iron worker, building buildings, bridges, highways, stadiums, and so on, working with the iron rods used in concrete reinforcement, also known as rebar. Fulfilling that dream required me to become a member of the Philadelphia Iron Workers Union Local # 405. I joined the union back in 2007.

4) Q: In the 25 years between you initially being a qualified applicant and you joining the union, how many women became members?

A: Unfortunately, as much as I would love for the answer to be "dozens," the answer is actually a big fat zero; even after two decades, I am the only African-American female iron worker in Philadelphia; the first and only female of any ethnicity to graduate Journeyman out of the Iron Workers Local Union #405 Apprenticeship Program in Philadelphia.

5) Q: You have your own iron work and welding company now. What made you start the company?

A: Even after joining the union, it was relatively rare that I was called out of the union hall for work, and when I was called out of the hall, it was for short term assignments, and I didn't see a very bright future for myself just being a laborer. I also wanted to create opportunities for future female iron workers to come.

A few years ago I was at a boxing match in Atlantic City promoted by "Big" George Foreman's younger brother, Roy Foreman, who's a local boxing promoter there. At the fight's after party, Smokin' Joe Frazier's daughter, who is an attorney and municipal court judge in Philadelphia, came up to tell me that she saw a friend of hers in the crowd who was an international marketing and finance expert from the famed Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and she wanted to introduce me to him so that he could help me with getting a book written bout my unusual story of being a master ship builder and a union iron worker in Philadelphia. When he heard my story, he immediately said "Forget the book, you need to be in business! There are $3 trillion in infrastructure construction contracts in the pipeline, 77,000 structurally deficient bridges in the U.S., and all manner of major buildings, and highways to be built throughout the Americas."

The next thing I knew I was the new "Iron Lady" and the Chairman and CEO of Iron Lady 
Enterprises, Inc.

6) Q: Wow. That's incredible. It sounds like THAT's worthy of a book and movie deal! How is 
business?

A: I started the company in the first quarter of 2011 during a particularly challenging time for the country from an economic recovery standpoint, but we endured and have been fortunate to survive the turbulence. We have earned all manner of certifications and have completed a number of noteworthy construction projects, ranging from the Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin, NJ, to the new Wegmans Supermarket in Montgomeryville, PA, to a park project at my old stomping ground, the Philadelphia Navy Yard. I'm also the Concrete Reinforcement contractor of record AND the Steel Supplier of record at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania's South Pavilion Extension for L.F. Driscoll, one of the university's biggest construction projects ever. We are also certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation to build bridges and highways around the country. We have won contracts to build two bridges for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and we start construction on the first of them shortly.

We expect to supply steel and precast concrete to the biggest highway construction and bridge replacement projects around the country, as well as to work with the nation’s largest construction contractors in supplying and installing steel and concrete on skyscrapers and other large commercial construction projects.