A woman’s touch in a hard business
Evans is succeeding in building a business in the construction industry. No other local construction business with revenues in the $20 million range is owned and managed by a woman. She’s the president and the majority-shareholder of Evans/Chaffee Construction Group, formerly Evans Mendel Allison Construction, Inc.
She and her husband, Chris, are the proud parents of two children, ages 1 and 4, on whom they can constantly dote, thanks to an on-site day-care facility, which she can see through her massive office window. She smiles and waves at her children; they wave back, then turn back to their game. Like their mother before them, the dolls hold toy hammers.
“Because I’m the president of the company I can make that happen,” says Evans. “We have lunch together every day. It doesn’t detract from the business.”
For the Evans family, time spend at this end of the day is made up at the other.
“A business needs to be flexible. I usually work four or five hours a night after the kids are in bed,” Evans says.
Go west, young woman
Evans says she was a regular kid, at least for a girl whose idea of accessorizing Barbie dolls included a claw hammer and a tool belt – “Hard Hat Barbie.”
Not so very long ago, Evans was constructing high-rise buildings in downtown Boston. The commute was 90 minutes each way. The language she brought home from those construction sites, she says, wasn’t the sort of vernacular a kid should pick up – unless you wanted that kid to grow up to be a longshoreman or a professional wrestler.
She needed a change, and in keeping with her level of drive, wasn’t timid about making it. She huddled with Chris and they landed in Denver with Mendel Allison, a large construction company. Their orders were to make the company part of the Rocky Mountain building boom. That led them to Eagle County. They eventually bought the company’s mountain division, and with partner Gregg Chaffee, launched Evans/Chaffee Construction Group. The rest, as they say, is history.
“We were in a rut in Boston,” says Evans. “The worst thing you can do is to get in a rut and not do anything about it. We don’t have ruts out here, we have valleys.”
Her undergraduate degree is in architecture from the University of Virginia, and she has a master’s degree in construction engineering management from Stanford. When she was a student at the University of Virginia, she asked one of her architecture professors how a building he’d designed was supposed to go together. His answer was nothing if not shortsighted.
“He told me that was the contractor’s job,” says Evans. “I decided I needed a broader experience than he was offering.”
She found that experience in the back woods of Tennessee, where she became the only woman on a concrete crew working for her uncle’s construction company. The crew put bets down on how long she’d last. The one with the longest expanse of time this side of a physics experiment was the winner. But there is no quit in Michele Evans.
“In construction, every day is a new challenge, every day just flies by,” she said.
Constructing cooperation, not conflict
“We get to do things the way we think they should be done,” says Evans. “Construction has been done basically the same way for 1,000 years. It works, but it can work better.”
Construction and conflict just seem to go together. Seeing the trade from a woman’s perspective, she quickly identified “old-school” methods that complicated the building process for owners and made it more stressful than it had to be.
Like any mom can tell you, everything goes better when you can prevent conflict – like those that often occur between contractors and architects.
In the traditional construction world, both are locked in with a hard bid number, and both are vying for the owner’s love and affection, as the owner constantly requests more changes.
“If three people are fighting, you’re not getting a good result,” says Evans.
A better way, she says, is to bid out a project then charge for the changes. “You’re not giving them the cheapest number, you’re giving them the best value,” said Evans. “It’s not the same thing. The project costs less in the long run. At Red Sky Ranch, we saved the owners $50,000 because we came up with a different way to frame a building.”
Evans/Chaffee Construction Group has done more than 175 projects of all sizes, all on time and on budget.
“It’s pretty simple,” says Evans. “If you deliver the product every time, you can build your company.”
Growth has been steady, which Evans attributes to her staff.
“Most companies go get work, then figure out the staffing,” she says. “For us, the opposite is true. We have great people. We’re always looking for projects that match their skills and talents.”
Her approach is to take customer service to a different level. Customers are given regular briefings, are involved in every aspect of the project, and can access details about their project, budget and schedule online at their convenience.
The approach obviously works. More than 80 percent of Evans/Chaffee’s business comes from repeat customers.
Evans and those who work with her are constantly involved in community projects. In fact, they set up this weekend’s kickball tournament, a benefit for Freedom Ranch, Eagle County’s new safehouse for victims of domestic violence and abuse.
“We are very impressed with the amount of support we are getting from our
community for this important event,” says Evans. “It just shows how much people care about each other.”
Evans and her company donated construction services to help renovate Freedom Ranch into a safehouse. She encourages people to remember the
cause after Saturday’s event
“The women’s shelter will always be in need of help in terms of donations of
money, supplies, and volunteers,” she says. “We hope people will keep in mind the issues facing abused women and lend their support year round.”
“We are what we repeatedly do,” she adds. “Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Kickball and pancakes:
Vail Valley Kickball Tournament and Pancake Breakfast
Where: Eagle-Vail Pavilion and Baseball Field
Host: Evans/Chaffee Construction Group
Purpose: To raise funds for Eagle County’s new safehouse for victims of domestic violence and abuse.
Pancake breakfast: 6:30-11 a.m.; adults $6, children $4; tickets for the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast can be purchased at
Lunch: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Kickball tournament: 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Other activities include pick-up volleyball games and various kids’ activities.