|HAROLD WEBSTER SMITH AWARDS
Bethlehem firm’s owner provides a sturdy foundation
BY MARC SILVESTRINI
At first glance, it’s hard to imagine how Carol Mulready, a slender, attractive, soft-spoken woman, commands the level of respect necessary to motivate and control crews of hardened construction workers.
Then she takes off her jacket.
Football players, bodybuilders, ultimate fighters and just about anyone else who spends long, exhausting hours in a gym working with free weights simply refer to them as “guns.” Guns are prominent, well-developed upper-arm muscles — biceps, triceps and the like. Carol Mulready of Bethlehem, the owner of CBJ Foundations LLC, has a set of guns that would make an inside linebacker proud. Hers is the kind of musculature that immediately tells you this is a woman who has done her fair share of hard work over the years.
STEVEN VALENTI REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
Carol Mulready organizes concrete forms at her home in Bethlehem on Tuesday. Mulready, the owner of CBJ Foundations LLC, is one of the few women around who owns her own concrete construction company.
“I’ve never been afraid of hard physical labor,” says Mulready, who also happens to be a former champion bodybuilder. “I grew up on a farm in Bethany. I always seemed to have a shovel or some other kind of tool in my hand.”
Mulready, 52, is one of the three small business owners in the region who will be honored Thursday at the 12th annual Harold Webster Smith Awards Breakfast. Mulready will be honored as Entrepreneur of the Year, while Beacon Falls.
The winners, who were selected by the Waterbury Regional Chamber’s Small Business Council, will be feted at the annual breakfast at 8 a.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Southbury.
CBJ Foundations is a 13year-old concrete construction company that pours footings, walls and floors for new homes, additions, barns, garages and small commercial buildings. Mulready, who has been pouring concrete on either a full- or part-time basis for the past 35 years, launched the company in June 1995 with $30,000 she borrowed from her sister, June Stronk of Westbrook.
Those were difficult times for Mulready, who was going through a divorce, trying to raise her three children — who were 10, 8 and 4 at the time — and working two parttime jobs, one in the concrete industry and the other as an electronics technician in General DataComm Industries’ test department in Naugatuck. In the spring of 1995, General DataComm approached her with an offer to become a full-time employee. It sounded like a great opportunity, except for one slight complication.
Mulready, who had been working on and off in the concrete industry since the summer after her 1974 graduation from Amity Regional High School in Woodbridge, wanted to take her life in a different direction.
“I really enjoyed working in the concrete business,” she said. “I understood the basics of the business pretty well, I enjoyed the work, and I had always dreamed about starting my own company.
“When GDC came to me with an offer of a full-time job, I had to make a pretty big decision. I realized that if I took them up on it, I’d probably never get the chance to start my own business.”
Former Miss Waterbury bodybuilding champ
Mulready, who competed as a professional bodybuilder for several years in the early ‘80s, winning the Miss Waterbury bodybuilding title in the process, appears to have made a wise choice.
She started the company on June 1, 1995, with two battered, 20-year-old trucks and three employees other than herself — Jamie Silva, Arthur Brainard and Mary Lou Brown. Working out of a small office she had created between the dining and living rooms of her Bethlehem home, she spent her first few weeks as a new business owner combing through area phone books, looking for leads and opportunities, and passing out fliers and business cards to just about every stranger that passed her by on the street.
Her hard work paid off within a week or so, when she landed a job pouring the footings and foundation walls for a new home in New Milford.
The only problem was that first job arrived before her first set of wooden forms had been delivered, leaving her with a wall to build but no forms within which to pour the concrete.
So she approached a competitor, a local contractor named Ray Moyher, and convinced him to loan her a set of forms. About 10 years later, after Moyher had sold his own company, moved to Florida and then returned, she was able to return the favor by hiring him as a supervisor for one of her crews.
Firm has tripled in size
Today, Mulready, who still runs the firm from her home office, has tripled the size of her company. She now has 13 trucks, state-of-the-art laser optical equipment, and enough sets of forms to build a minimum of four residential foundations at the same time.
STEVEN VALENTI REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
Carol Mulready, who still runs CBJ Foundations from her home office in Bethlehem, now has 10 full-time employees and 13 trucks.
The company now has 10 full-time employees, including Silva, Brainard and Brown, and her 22-year-old son, Britt, who’s in charge of the company’s new waterproofing division. Mulready’s other children, Serena, 24, and Keegan, 18, are not involved with the business on a full-time basis, but have each spent many hours working for their mother as part-timers, pouring footings, setting walls and loading and unloading trucks.
Despite the economic meltdown that hit the nation in September and the resulting slump in housing construction, CBJ Foundations increased its sales by 12 percent and its profits by 7 percent in 2008, Mulready said.
When asked how she managed to increase sales and profits in a year that will mostly be remembered for its economic unrest, Mulready cited the company’s determined and persistent efforts to market itself through brochures and pamphlets and its corresponding determination to relentlessly pursue every lead. An example of the company’s simple but effective marketing efforts: Every customer is sent a thank you note containing a business card or two to pass along to friends after the job is completed.
She also thinks the company’s reputation has something to do with its success.
“Over the years, we’ve built a solid reputation,” she said.
“We do good work.”
As far as being a woman in an industry largely dominated by men, Mulready shrugs and says her gender has had both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that being a female sets her apart, gets her noticed and helps her stand out in the marketplace.
The disadvantages include what she calls the “confidence factor.”
“People who don’t know me take one look and ask: ‘Can she really do this kind of work?’ ‘Does she really know what she’s doing?’ ‘How can a woman know anything about pouring footings?’” What she doesn’t say is that most of those kinds of questions are answered the moment she takes off her jacket.
“PEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW ME TAKE ONE LOOK AND ASK: ‘CAN SHE REALLY DO THIS KIND OF WORK?’ ‘DOES SHE REALLY KNOW WHAT SHE’S DOING?’ ‘HOW CAN A WOMAN KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT POURING FOOTINGS?’”
OWNER OF CBJ FOUNDATIONS LLC OF BETHLEHEM