WHF-PA – Member Spotlight Interview
Senior Estimator, TN Ward
In honor of American Business Women’s Day, which was on September 22, WHF-PA is once again highlighting the work and accomplishments of one of its members. Karla Wursthorn, Senior Estimator at TN Ward Company. The company, which recently celebrated its 100th year in business, constructs diverse projects of all sizes, including multi-family residential of all types, healthcare, gaming, hospitality, educational, sports & recreation, retail, office, and industrial projects.
Karla graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1992 with a five-year degree in Architecture and a minor in Art History, and she strongly believes that Notre Dame’s emphasis on mission and service to the community had led her in a career direction which includes affordable housing. In her early career, Karla worked at an architectural office in Huntsville, Alabama while she completed her three-year architectural internship (a prerequisite for becoming a licensed architect). When she and her husband relocated to Quad Cities, Iowa, she joined a design/build company and, while there, was recruited by the company owner to be an estimator (with the idea that she would become a better architect by understanding how much buildings cost). After working in this capacity for a few months, Karla realized it was a lot of fun! She had the unique opportunity to design, estimate and project manage many of her own projects. The experience taught her a lot about the design and construction process. After 4 years, Karla and her family moved to the Philadelphia area and she found her place at TN Ward Company performing the complimentary duties of estimating and marketing. Karla has now been with TN Ward for over 21 years, but she still remembers her first project which was converting a dilapidated 19thCentury factory building in Grays Ferry into a Salvation Army Corps Community Center.
WHF-PA recently met with Karla to learn more about her career path and the advice she’d share with others as a woman leader in the affordable housing development industry.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
As a child I moved frequently, but my extended family lives in Vermont, so this is where I am “from” if asked. As a result of many summers and winters spent in Vermont, I enjoy the outdoors and love to ski (Jay Peak is my favorite). When I was in college, I studied for a year in Rome and was blessed to have had the opportunity to travel to many cities in Europe. I live in a Philadelphia suburb and am married to an engineer and have two children in college (ages 18 and 19) and an Australian Shephard who likes to chase fox. I like to cook (sometimes) and read books and try to balance those activities by visiting the fitness center a few times a week.
Construction and general contracting have historically been male-dominated industries. How did you break into these industries, and what were some of your challenges along the way?
Certainly, the face of construction has changed a lot over the past 20 years. At conferences where I used to see two or three women, I now see 30 women! Breaking into construction seemed like a natural progression of my training to be an architect, so I don’t recall it being difficult making the switch to construction. However, I have still not quite mastered how to dress for the jobsite, so I prefer to work in the office! The most challenging aspect of my career was balancing work and family. For a short period of time I tried working three days a week, but that did not work with my deadlines, so I settled on four days a week for a period of about 12 years. For future women (and men) I hope for a day soon when working from a home office is more readily accepted. Not only would this help promote the well-being of families, but also reduce traffic congestion.
What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Personally, I am very proud of my children who are both studying at Drexel University now; they are great kids! Professionally, I am most proud of the mission driven projects I have worked on over the years because they provide me with an opportunity to make an impact on the larger community while working with teams of like-minded people.
How did mentors influence your life?
If it were not for several great mentors throughout my career, I probably would not be working in construction today. My mentors taught me many things about design, estimating and construction – usually with a good sense of humor!
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
I think it is a great time in our industry to be a woman. The best advice I can offer is to take some risks and get outside of your comfort zone – this will get noticed. It is easy to become complacent; growth only comes from stepping outside predictable boundaries.
What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Simply stated, I endeavor to treat people in the same way I would like to be treated.