This article is one in a series of conversations with women leaders in the construction industry. Click here for past discussions.
Despite her strong family connections to the industry, Truebeck Construction Project Executive Jessica Mills didn’t always plan on working in construction.
With plans to go to law school, Mills took many legal-related classes as an undergrad at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was there that she realized that the law touches all industries, including construction. That realization led her to follow in her grandfathers’ footsteps when she began her career in 1994, working for a large general contractor.
Later, Mills worked for Sacramento-based Sutter Health, where she managed the design and construction of acute and ambulatory healthcare projects. She said the experience gained there helps her “think like an owner” on her current projects.
“Because I know the owner’s side I can add value and be of better service,” she said. “I know what questions to ask, and I know things I encountered as an owner and I am helpful for clients in those areas.”
Here, Mills talks with Construction Dive about her family background in the industry, her favorite projects and staying on budget despite supply chain challenges.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: How did you get started in the industry?
JESSICA MILLS: Both of my grandfathers were in construction, one was a mason and one was a superintendent helping shape the freeways and overpasses of California. My parents met through my grandfathers working on the same project together, and my life was shaped by talks about construction projects across the state.
My uncle owns a construction company in the Bay Area so after college he offered me a job and I declined, trying to escape the industry I had been around my whole life.
It was apparently inevitable that I would end up in construction. I accepted an offer as an estimating assistant at a large general contractor when I started out in 1994, but ultimately I had to make that decision for myself. After working there, I decided to go back to school at Sacramento State and on to UC Davis to get a degree in construction management.
What do you do in your current job?
I am a project executive and co-leader of the Sacramento team, Truebeck’s newest office. Being a PX and co-leader of the office keeps the job exciting and busy. My responsibilities as a PX include leading operations, staffing, project management from preconstruction through construction, ensuring projects run smoothly and providing executive level leadership for owners and designers.
I handle any contract or trade partner negotiations, and I am involved with business development and new project pursuits for the Sacramento office.
What led you to choose construction for your career?
Choosing to work in construction played to my love of science and math. My law-focused degree has helped me navigate complicated issues with people and my ability to read contracts.
It’s a fascinating industry because you get to know a lot about other people’s businesses. We are given the ability to help clients be successful, whether their business is healthcare, life sciences, education, tech or anything else — it’s a powerful thing to know you are contributing to so much in the world.
It’s also really fun. No two projects are exactly alike, and working in construction means you are constantly working on new and different things. You take lessons learned from one building and apply that to the next one, even though it’s different. You are constantly learning, improving and striving to do things better.
What are a few of the projects you've most enjoyed working on and why?
I am currently working on a confidential project at Marshall Medical Center in Cameron Park, California, with a wonderful design-build team. While I was at Sutter I completed quite a few similar healthcare projects, so I’m able to use all of my lessons learned from a history working in healthcare and apply it to this project for Truebeck.
Right now budgets have been getting stretched due to inflation, but despite many changes in scope and complications, we’ve met the original budget. Working with Truebeck’s preconstruction team has made my job so much easier. We have experts that are creating opportunities to meet the design and hit the budget and it’s providing so much reliability to Marshall Medical Center’s team as well as other owners.
Another project that I will never forget was for Dey Laboratories, building a ground-up, pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Napa. I lived in Sacramento and carpooled to the project with the superintendent. During those hours in the car every day I learned the most on that job. It is the conversations and working alongside experienced teammates like him that have taught me the most in my career.
What advice would you give to young women considering construction as a career?
The construction industry has so many opportunities, and there are so many ways to find your passion and so many avenues to explore — you just can’t be bothered by being the only woman in the room. The industry needs more women, not just because we don’t have equal representation, but because we offer a different point of view.
Many times I ask a question no one else is asking — but the question needs to be asked to improve the project and ensure the team and client are on the same page. The communication women bring to the table is different, and necessary, for a successful project and I would encourage any woman to join this industry.