HMC Inc. President and CEO moved from teaching into management

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Editor’s note: This story appeared in the Baltimore Business Journal on January 1, 2016.

When Kara DiPietro graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, she had only ever thought of herself as a teacher. She majored in education, and went straight into a job at a Montgomery County elementary school. Thirteen years later, she became the president of HMC Inc., a design firm that specializes in hospitality millwork and construction, mainly focusing on food service for large customers such as military bases and hospitals.

DiPietro’s father, Gerry Dzurek, started the company over 20 years prior in Columbia and it began to thrive while she was still teaching. She eventually got out of teaching when she was pregnant with her first child. After spending time at several other jobs, Dzurek asked DiPietro if she had ever thought about taking over the company so he could open a new office in Los Angeles. DiPietro became the company’s director of marketing in 2013, and spent a year observing the company and making recommendations to her father before taking over as president. She wanted to make her mark on the company before she felt comfortable taking on the new role. A year and a half into the job, DiPietro says she’s still learning every day.

What was it like to observe your dad and make critiques for that year? Was it ever weird?

I didn’t really feel like I was critiquing him. I was just providing insight. Since he’s not here on a day-to-day basis, he’s not seeing how the teams are interacting. When you’re not on-site and don’t have those day-to-day interactions, you don’t necessarily see how the teams are communicating or what the processes actually are. The way that I look at things and the way my father looks at things are totally different. I was bringing up things that he maybe hadn’t thought of. I felt like I could come in and give him insight. I almost was able to go undercover and tell him things he didn’t know already.

You spent a good chunk of your professional career as a teacher. Do you still use any of those skills in your job today?

Being a teacher was invaluable. I was very student-centered when I was a teacher. I taught every child differently, because every child learns differently. I would make sure I got to know them, not just to say, “Here’s a test, take it.” I would have conversations and identify where their strengths are, and I’d used their strengths to pick up their weaknesses. But each kid was different, and the way I communicated with them was different. You can’t force people to do things and expect them to do a good job. So we have to be really creative as leaders in figuring out how to make employees want to do whatever it is. So yes, treating every person individually is something huge that I took away from teaching.

Is there any extra pressure that comes along with taking over the family business?

I’m grateful. I’m proud of my father. Those are the things that cross my mind often. I don’t feel pressure, I feel busy. Sometimes I’m so busy my head is spinning, and I don’t know what day it is, and I’ve forgotten to eat. … This has been my father’s life’s work. I can’t remember a time in my life when my father wasn’t working. And remembering that pushes me to even do better. There have been a couple times when I’ve been out of town when I go and visit a job site, then go to an event and I need to go to another site the next day and I’m tired and I just don’t feel like going. But then I think, “What would my dad do?”

Where do you feel like the company could grow?

I want to grow, and I want to grow because I feel that there aren’t a lot of companies out there who do what we do. And if there are others, we do it better. There are few places where you can call one company who can design their space, manufacture it, do the general construction and install everything. That’s a lot of coordination and phone calls that the customer doesn’t have to make. … I feel like we can especially grow with our government clients. Now that we’re certified for being a woman-owned business, there’s a lot of potential in the government space.

What have you learned since taking over as president?

In the past year in a half, as I’ve been meeting more people and as I grow professionally, I listen to people’s advice and I listen to a lot of different people speak. You hear a lot of what “I’m going to do,” and not a lot of “What I’ve done.” Something that I’ve learned, and I know I’ve done this in the past, I’ve talked about what I’m going to do. But now, I just want to save it until after I’ve done it. I want to say, “This is what I’ve done.” I wish I had that advice for myself a few years ago. It’s nice to plan and brainstorm but what’s really important for me is getting things done.

Source: Baltimore Business Journal

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