Construction pioneer returns
Triangle has a healthy backlog of projects as well as current projects in the Kalamazoo and Southwest Michigan region, including the $125 million bond project for Portage Public Schools, Prasher noted.
“What I’m looking forward to most is growing our presence with people in the community,” she said. “I’m a member of the Kalamazoo Downtown Development Authority: There are a lot of exciting things going on in Kalamazoo.”
For more than 19 years, Prasher has predominantly served as a project manager for health care and school construction projects, including the Richard J. Lacks Cancer Center of Saint Mary’s Health Care, the Helen DeVos Women & Children’s Center, Spectrum Health Pavilion South, and the Gratiot Community Hospital West Building addition.
“I had made just so many contacts both on the client side as well as in the industry that I was really excited about the opportunity to take my knowledge of construction, plus my contacts, and do something other than managing projects, but still stay involved in the industry,” Prasher said.
“I’ve always had a great relationship with the owners of Triangle and have kept in touch with them for a long time. This is a really good fit for me both from an organizational standpoint and in terms of the types of things I really want to do in the future.”
Prasher didn’t actually anticipate a career in the construction industry. The concept of money excited young Lisa Ann Prasher while growing up in Pauma Valley, Calif.: Early on she set her sights on becoming a stockbroker. During her college years at San Diego State University, Prasher passed the Series 7 broker’s test and graduated in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis on finance.
She went to work as a licensed sales assistant at the brokerage of Drexel Burnham Lambert in Denver, where she traded options, municipal bonds and stocks. It was during the era of Michael Milken, the high-yield bond financier who almost single-handedly created the market for junk bonds in the 1970s and 1980s. In her two-year stay with the brokerage, she also witnessed Black Monday — Oct 19, 1987 — when stock markets around the world crashed.
“It was a challenging yet very exciting time. In 1987, a drop of 500 points in the stock market was devastating. These days, it’s nothing,” Prasher recalled.
She and her husband relocated to Grand Rapids the following year, and she took a position in cost accounting for major construction projects at Butterworth Hospital.
“The next thing I knew, I was spending all my time managing construction projects on the hospital’s behalf,” she said.
In her nine years at Butterworth, Prasher coordinated and implemented design and construction activities for approximately $110 million of major construction projects, with projects ranging from $5 million to $50 million. She decided to change paths after Blodgett and Butterworth merged in 1997 to form Spectrum Health, and took a position as senior project manager at Triangle Associates.
“By that time I knew most of the local general contractors because I had worked with them,” Prasher said. “I literally picked out Triangle Associates and approached Craig Datema about my desire to transition from the hospital and get out into the construction industry. The timing worked and there was a position for me.”
At Triangle, she was project manager for more than a dozen projects in the health care, multi-family and K-12 education markets. She isn’t the only person who has returned to Triangle: About a half-dozen people have worked there, left to explore other avenues and then returned.
“I think it’s really unique that people want to come back. It says something about the company,” she said.
Prior to rejoining Triangle in September 2008, Prasher was group vice president and associate partner at CSM Group. She established CSM’s Grand Rapids office and was responsible for managing several project teams from pre-construction through completion, including the award-winning, $59 million Otsego Public Schools bond program for a new high school and major renovations to all district buildings. She also managed the $18.9 million Parchment Public Schools high school and site renovation. Another of her projects was the $5.6 million renovation of the YWCA of Kalamazoo.
Jenny Shoub, director and CEO of the Kalamazoo YWCA, said first and foremost Prasher is a “very smart” woman.
“You can see her figuring things out even before they become a problem,” Shoub said. “She knows systems and she knows construction, but she also knows people really well. She’s able to translate the scope and depth of a project to a novice. She has incredible communications skills. With her as a partner, you feel you can accomplish something you never thought you could before.”
Prior to CSM, Prasher was project manager at Skanska USA Building, where she managed multiple construction projects in West Michigan and served as the Grand Rapids office team leader for the firm’s SBC Design & Construction account.
In Prasher’s view, every project is an achievement in and of itself. Aside from the many projects she has worked on, she is proud to have established a career in the construction industry in 1988, at a time when very few women worked in the industry. She stuck with it and had the fortitude to forge ahead in the face of challenges.
“I’m proud to be a part of this industry and to be respected for my knowledge and what I’ve accomplished over the years,” she said.
Prasher is always interested in what motivates people and how to best inspire and lead them.
“There are always opportunities for people to do what they do best, but unless you know what they do best, how are you succeeding as a team? What motivates me is always to try to make sure the team is functioning in the best possible way — and that’s when everybody is functioning best individually.”
John Doherty, president and CEO of the American Builders and Contractors West Michigan Chapter, said Prasher’s professional strong point is the diversity of her experiences in project planning, design and construction. Her background has been predominantly project management so she knows how to get things done, he said. She’s articulate, works well in groups, brings good perspective to any discussions and is an active volunteer in ABC, he noted. She has really good insight as to how the different development stages of a project come together.
“It’s a unique background that not many women have, particularly the project management aspect of it,” Doherty said. “I think we’re seeing quite a few more women getting into construction project management areas and then going on to become officers and owners of companies. I think it bodes well for the industry and bodes well for women who are looking at construction as a career option.”
Mitch Watt, Lisa Prasher and Mark Storey meet at the downtown Grand Rapids site of The Gallery on Fulton, which will feature the new headquarters of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.