Christina Oden is paving the way for women in a typically male-dominated industry.
As the founder and president of New York City general contractor OMD Corp., Oden has built or remodeled over 50 restaurants and hotels in the area, including The Brooklyn Chophouse, The Playboy Club and 1 Oak nightclub.
Here, Oden talks with Construction Dive about how her love of construction and why she thinks it is an ideal career for hard-working women.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: How long have you worked in construction?
CHRISTINA ODEN: Since my college days back in Kentucky — about 25 years.
What led you to choose construction for your career?
Essentially, I fell into it initially and I even tried to pull away from it during a short stint at a law firm but ultimately, I realized that I missed it and really had a passion for not only working with my brain, but also working with my hands.
The excitement I get from taking an architectural drawing and being able to turn it into something physically spectacular for all to experience and enjoy fuels me. I am constantly being challenged to take on bigger and more intricate projects.
What are a few of the projects you've most enjoyed working on and why?
Currently, I am finishing phase 3 of The Brooklyn Chophouse, a 25,000-square-foot, five-level restaurant in Times Square. It really has been such an honor not only for its sheer size, but also the magnitude of what this establishment represents as being the largest majority African-American owned business in Times Square. And to have it being built by a woman really sets a precedent for the construction industry and for New York City.
I also really enjoyed building The Playboy Club on 42nd Street in 2018 for the Playboy/Hefner family, Merchant Hospitality and Cachet Hotels & Resorts. While my team and I were subbing under another GC on this project, we were there every day from mobilization to handover and I got to really experience every little detail as it came together.
The project included 14,000 square feet of the most decadent of finishings like Venetian plaster, leather-wrapped tufted banquettes, hand-laid diamond-patterned black and white tile floors, 24 karat gold leafing, custom-made white onyx and black granite trough sinks and hand-cut brass bunnies at every turn. It was such a pleasure to handle such amazing quality products and see the breathtaking results of it all as it came together. But honestly, every project that I work on I emphatically enjoy and appreciate as the experience alone fuels me.
What advice would you give to young women considering construction as a career?
Honestly when I first started out, I never really thought about the fact that I was a woman. I just thought that it seemed interesting and I needed a job during college, and I got to learn so much that that was really enough for me. But in recent years as my career has grown exponentially to now owning my own company, I see where being a woman in this industry is a bit of an anomaly.
So, my advice to any young woman looking at construction as a career goal would be to not allow anything or anyone to ever tell you that you can’t do something simply because you are a woman — being a woman is a gift and should always be treated as such.
While the construction industry for a woman definitely has its uphill battles and we have a long way to go in equalizing the playing field, it also can be what you make of it. If you focus on being good at your trade, I mean so good that no one could ever question your abilities, then they will see past your gender and see your true value. Be so good that they can’t deny you!
And then work hard, be the first person to the jobsite and the last one to leave. And if you don’t have a specific trade that you’re interested in, start out working for a company as a laborer getting to know a jobsite. A few months in you’ll see what you’re drawn to. Then study, train and learn everything there is to know about that trade.
The biggest rule I live by is that I treat my client and my team equally as it is my job every single day to make both feel happy, appreciated and to always make them feel heard because I realized a long time ago without either one, I am an owner of nothing.