Women in Construction – Jacki Williams


This week we’re taking a look at another fabulous woman in construction, our own Payroll Manager, Jacki Williams. Jacki has been with Perlo for over 20 years and does more than ‘just payroll’. She is truly a force in our company that keeps the wheels turning every day. Jacki is one of our hardest working people, with extensive knowledge about accounting and a go-to person for a variety of questions. Day in and day out, Jacki is as reliable as they come and dedicated to her work, but you won’t hear her boast. Jacki is humble and hard-working and we would no doubt be lost without her.

Let’s learn a little more about her time in the construction industry.

What do you do for Perlo?

My title is Payroll Manager and I do all the payroll for the entire company, with help from Becky in Accounts Payable. I do a lot of things, though. I also help with month-end closing, bank statements, quarterly taxes, W-2’s, and unemployment claims. All things accounting, basically.

Since COVID started there’s only been three of us from accounting physically in the office full time, so I’ve had to relearn some of the basic AP functions like cutting checks and stuff. I’ve actually enjoyed that- it was a bit of a breath of fresh air to have that change. The process has changed a lot since I was on the accounting payable and receivable side of things.

I used to do all the owner billings and as Perlo has grown, the company has added more staff to handle that, so I’m a little more specialized. I’ve done almost every accounting function except controller in my time.

Would you say it’s been a rewarding career?

Yes. 100%. I’ve had so many opportunities here and trusted me with a lot of things, and I appreciate that.

How did you get into construction?

My first job out of college was in construction accounting. I was in eastern South Dakota at the time and started with a family run business – a very small contractor that built apartments and churches. That was my first job, but I went into retail, manufacturing and worked at the Navy Exchange in Long Beach, California in accounting support rolls before I came to Perlo.

I went to college for accounting, and after a few classes in auditing, knew I didn’t want to do public accounting. I wanted to go into the private sector, and construction happened to be where I got my first job offer.

We moved to Oregon in 1999 when my husband, Dan, retired from the Navy. We had been in San Diego prior to that, where I worked for a manufacturing company. It was then that I started with McCormack Pacific, which was Perlo’s name back then. They had posted an ad in the paper for a job opening – this was before the internet, of course. They interviewed me on a Friday, and the following Monday I interviewed with the owner at the time, Bill McCormack, and I started the next day. And I’ve been here ever since!

What do you like about working in construction?

In my world, I do a lot of the same things every day, but it’s very detailed and a little different than accounting in other industries. It’s fun because we’re always building different things all the time. And I feel like I’m a part of the whole process, it takes everybody to get buildings constructed. It’s really awesome to see the different types of projects we’re working on and see the excitement people have for their work. When we win a new project, there’s a company email that goes out called ‘Ring the Bell’ and we find out what we’re working on. That’s always exciting.

When I worked in manufacturing, we sold abrasives, and we never saw the customers. It was very impersonal. At least with construction, we’re a little more face to face with the owners. We get to see them and how excited they are, and we can drive by buildings that the company built and have pride in seeing that. It’s a little more tangible than other industries.

What are the challenges of working in construction?

I have been at Perlo since 1999, so a lot has changed at the company and with the construction industry. Over time, Perlo has worked hard to get the right people and procedures in place to get through anything. We have so many tools at our disposal now and can accomplish a lot more now than we did then. When I first started out of college, we didn’t even have computers. We did everything by hand. It makes me appreciate what we have now.

I’ve worked at companies where money was an issue and we didn’t have enough money to pay all our bills, which was a huge challenge. Thankfully, we haven’t had that happen in my time here at Perlo. I try to look at the company’s money as if it’s coming out of my own pocket. For instance, if I can buy candy that’s on sale for the community candy jar, I will. You never know when we might need that $4 I saved sometime down the road. You have to be prepared to work hard and not be afraid of that. I’ve been in the industry through great economic times and really crummy economic times, and we really had to knuckle down and work through it and eventually we came through it.

Do you feel like you’ve had any obstacles as a woman in construction?

Not in my role. The accounting roles in construction have always been female, typically.

What changes have you seen in the industry since you’ve started?

Technology has increased significantly. Having computers is huge. We used to use the ‘pegboard’ system with carbon paper and we had to transfer everything by hand. When I was first in construction, we only had seven phases where the labor and materials got charged. So that was easy, but it basically had to be because of the paper processes. By comparison, we have hundreds of phases now. Technology is great, but there was value to doing things by hand, because once you’ve done the process in the ‘old school’ way, doing it with a computer is easy.

Perlo has been really good at investing in technology upgrades and helping people make their jobs easier. The software changes have been great. Like today, we have a meeting to make documentation distribution even more automatic. While it’s a small thing, it will reduce my workload by at least an hour each week, and when you add up several small improvements, it’s a big time savings. I don’t worry about technology taking over my job. There’s still plenty of items that require using your brain, and a computer won’t replace that.

What are some of your favorite memories from working here?

That’s a tough one. Moving into this building two years ago was really cool. It provided such a nice atmosphere. I always enjoyed the company picnics. Pat (now retired receptionist) and I used to shop for all the door prizes and that was always fun. I liked doing that. Don Wheeler (now retired Superintendent) and Devin Koopman (Vice President of Construction) would put together all kinds of games. It was a good time.

The company gives us tickets to the blazer games, and that’s always fun. There’s always so many opportunities here. One time, Gayland Looney (current owner) gave me tickets to the Seahawks verses Packers game. The Packers are my favorite football team, and that was really awesome.

We tend to do some great parties for year-end and I always enjoy those. We’ve done a cruise on the Willamette, and a bowling event, and we did a dinner and dance with a live band at Portland Golf Club one year. Seeing Chris McInroe (Project Director) break dance was amazing. I loved that. For the most part, coming to work is always a good day. It’s happy for me.

Any advice for those interested in construction accounting?

Be flexible and be able to multi-task. You have to want to work hard. At Perlo, we work hard and play hard, but it’s important that you work hard and you will be rewarded if you do. If you like numbers, construction is a good place to be. That said, construction is a cyclical economic business, it does encounter hard times. You have to be ready for that. Overall, it’s a rewarding industry and you get to learn about a lot of things. I have learned a lot of construction jargon working here, which makes it a little more exciting.

Any final thoughts you want to share?

Many people think accounting is boring, but I enjoy it. I wouldn’t want to be a project manager, there’s too much stress involved in that. I admire the folks who can do that job. The jobs that project managers and superintendents do are harder than what I do, and I have a lot of respect for them. They’re responsible for a building, I’m responsible for getting people paid. It takes all of us.

Thank you, Jacki, for sharing your story with us! You are invaluable to us and are appreciated every day.