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Home | SAN ANTONIO | Spotlight | Spotlight - Elizabeth Yetman Chavez, GARREN Construction

Spotlight - Elizabeth Yetman Chavez, GARREN Construction

image Elizabeth Yetman Chavez, President/Owner, GARREN Construction, San Antonio, TX

SAN ANTONIO - Hard work and education took first-generation American Elizabeth Yetman Chavez from small town beginnings to accomplished business owner. Today, whether she is managing her business, practicing law, acting as a therapist to an employee or performing La Negra with her family’s Mexican folklore dance troupe, her passion for doing her very best always shines through.

 


Share about your upbringing.
    I was born to hard-working parents who owned a slaughterhouse and meatpacking company in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. Although I grew up humbly, my parents instilled in me from an early age that we had to work hard to be successful and that education was the key to future prosperity. Since we had livestock, my siblings and I had to do everything related to taking care of animals. It wasn’t necessarily easy work but it was expected of us, and now my siblings and I can handle any type of work.  I’m not afraid to put on steel toes and show up at a job site. It keeps my guys on their toes if they see me work alongside them, even for a little bit. 
    I’m a first-generation American and I was the oldest of the children in my family. I grew up in a small town and when I went to school, I did not speak English. This was when there were no special programs for children who didn’t. Back then, you were put in the back of the room until you caught on. My earliest memory of actually understanding what was going on in the classroom was around the second grade. I’ve gone on to get advanced degrees. Still, it was that spirit of hard work that was instilled in me from an early age that’s helped me gain the success I’ve had.

What degrees did you earn?
    Coming from a very small town, when I graduated high school I headed to the biggest city I had ever visited—San Antonio. To me, it was the equivalent of New York City.  Though I will always have my roots in the Valley, I now consider San Antonio home. I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology from St. Mary’s University. I spent some time at Our Lady of the Lake University in a master of social work program, and then I went back to St. Mary’s University to get my law degree. I earned my Juris Doctor there in 2001.
    After I sat for the bar exam, I had my first job with a big insurance defense firm, so I was practicing as an attorney before I was even licensed. Talk about pressure.  Thankfully I passed the bar on the first try and went on to have a successful legal career before I got into construction.

What attracted you to construction?
    When I met my husband, Ramiro Chavez, he had been in construction for a decade. He had that same fire in the belly and work ethic that I had, and I felt that together we could do something great. We founded the company in 2012, and with all of my husband’s experience and contacts, we hit the ground running. I begged my mother, Alicia Galvan, who had been a career bookkeeper, to leave my father in the Valley and come be my bookkeeper until we got our feet off the ground.  In the beginning, it was just the three of us as the management team. From that, we’ve built up and it’s been a great few years.

How has the company evolved?

    The company started as ARS Specialty Contractors. Since then, we have evolved into different companies and subsidiaries. We started with what my husband had been doing for many years, which was decorative concrete and industrial coatings. Now that division, ARS Concrete & Coatings, is just one part who we are.
    We got into the installation of gypsum underlayment and lightweight concrete, and with that ARS Floor Systems was born. We brought on Bud Prollock, a 40-year veteran of the gyp industry, from Atlanta, Georgia to head up that division. 
    GARREN Construction is our general contracting arm.  I am at the helm of GARREN and hope to grow it into a commercial and federal contracting firm.  I just received my federal 8(a) status last year, and I know there will be a lot of growth coming from that.
    The business has evolved in many ways and it’s all very exciting. We’ve grown to a company of over 50 employees, but we maintain a sense of family among us. Perhaps it’s due to how we started, with just my husband, my mom and me. It brings me satisfaction to know that in building a successful company I am helping to sustain a good life for not only my family but for 50 families. There is nothing better I can do as a business owner than to do that.

How do you connect with employees?
    We have a barbecue once a quarter for our guys and a lot of times, we’ll just surprise them as they start rolling in at the end of the day. We’ll have the pit going and have some cold ones in the coolers. We also have an annual employee appreciation party that we do every year.
    In my business, I think I use my psychology degree just as much as any other skill I have. There is a couch in my office, and I jokingly say that I provide free therapy sessions. It certainly gets used like that quite a bit, as does my law degree. My employees know I am a licensed attorney, and they come to me if they need help with a legal matter. I always help them out free of charge. Sometimes I spend a whole day in court with them. I don’t mind helping them because I know if I can relieve that source of stress, they will be a more productive employee. 

What plans are you making?
    I’m very excited about growing GARREN Construction into a formidable general contractor.  I know that other companies have utilized the federal 8(a) program to grow in that regard and get their company to the next level. I’m not losing sight however that the 8(a) certification is good for only 9 years, so I have a GARREN commercial division that maintains its focus on the commercial market in central and south Texas.  We have done some larger concrete jobs and general contracting relating to road and bridge work, and we hope to continue to expand in those areas, as well as others. 

What do you do in your free time?

    My family and I love to travel.  We take one long trip every summer and make use of school breaks and three-day weekends to jet off somewhere.  This summer we spent the month of June in South America and went to Peru, Argentina and Chile. Last summer, we spent a month in Europe.  Right now, we’re trying to decide where to go next year. It will either be Africa or Australia.

Do you have any hidden talents?

    One thing that people might be shocked to know about me is that I danced Mexican folklore dance from the time I was 3 years old until the time I left for college. I danced with my aunt’s dance company, which is highly regarded and has performed all over the world. She has a yearly extravaganza perform-ance every December. Every few years, I will go back and do one dance, La Negra, as part of her extravaganza finale.

Have any your children worked in the business?

    Between my husband and myself, we have five children and four grand-children. All five of the children have worked for the company at some point. Our hope is that one or all of them would one day choose to work for us.
    I want to build something where any one of our children can work for the company and make a successful, lifelong career of it. Our 14-year old is diagnosed with autism, so it’s very important to me that I build a company where one day he can come and have a lifelong career here. He is the hardest-working child you will ever meet. He’s worked with our crews, he very much wants to work and earn money and he has specific goals. Children with autism sometimes have fascinations with odd things; he loves washing machines and loves to watch them spin. He wants a particular brand of washing machine that hasn’t been made since 1987! In his mind, he’s working very hard for that day when he’s going to be able to buy his washing machine. I want to build a company that, if that’s what he wants to do, he can do it.

Will you retire or continue to run GARREN Construction?

    We would love it if one of the children ends up running things and sends us our monthly royalty check to our beach bungalow in whatever tropical paradise we’ve decided to spend the rest of our years. If that doesn’t happen, then yes, I will be here to the very end!
    General contractor GARREN Construc-tion is in San Antonio. –mjm


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Author Info

Melissa Jones-Meyer dfweditor@constructionnews.net