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Big State 5th Anniversary: Interview with CEO Gabriela Smith

Big State Construction 5th Anniversary: Interview with CEO Gabriela Smith

Big State Construction has been in business for five years. Since its beginning, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Big State Construction has helped families and businesses in the Houston area rebuild, renovate, and construct their dream buildings.

This success was far from guaranteed, and it came down to the experience, hard work, and dedication of CEO and Owner Gabriela Smith. Smith started Big State Construction to help her community recover and prosper. She gives every project a personal touch to ensure all clients receive exceptional customer service and results.

Gabriela shares her journey in starting Big State Construction and what has driven her success in the construction industry for the past five years.

Tell Us About Your Background and How You Began Your Business

I knew I was going into business from a young age. When I moved to Houston in 2002 I worked for an insurance company and babysat for a family that owned a construction company. It was a formative experience that taught me a lot about business and the world of construction.

While working full time, I attended HCC night classes. My goal was always to earn a bachelor degree. I attended HCC for two years where I enjoyed studying public relations. I knew that foundation would equip me with the skills I need to succeed. After HCC, I went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Communication with an Art History minor at the University of Houston.

After finishing college, I submitted my resume to Dr. Laura Murillo’s office at the Houston Hispanic Chamber with the intention to work and help the community. Dr. Murillo invited me to handle corporate sales for the Chamber. I sold chamber memberships to different companies and organizations. Dealing with these companies rekindled a long-held dream to be an entrepreneur myself. 

The traumatic events of Hurricane Harvey made me reconsider entrepreneurship. In 2017 when the hurricane hit, I was working on my MBA at the University of Houston, Downtown. The scenes of devastation in Houston and nearby areas motivated me to help the elderly and those who lost their homes and businesses due to the flooding and winds. I felt I could educate them on rebuilding their homes and lives, so I started neighbors get back on their feet. I founded Big State Construction to help rebuild the city I love.

In January 2018, Big State Construction began subcontracting for the Houston Land Bank, working on getting homes back in livable condition. Since then, we adopted a mission to rebuild Houston.

What is Your Work-Life Balance?

I’m an entrepreneur, and that’s a 24/7, 365 job. I take one day per month as a personal day to ensure I give myself at least some self-care. My theory is if I take care of myself, I can take care of others.

What Motivated You to Change Your Career and Start Big State?

Hurricane Harvey and the birth of my first son motivated me to start my own business. I saw the city of Houston destroyed, with vulnerable people like the poor and elderly driven out of their homes. The aftermath inspired me to make a difference in some way.

Did Your Background in the Insurance Industry Help You Start a Construction Company?

I worked with construction industry clients for years in insurance, so I was familiar with the terminology and the property damage claims process. When I started in the construction world, I applied my knowledge of insurance claims to ensure that our clients got the best insurance returns possible to rebuild their homes and lives.

Who Inspired You to Make the Transition?

I’ve been inspired and mentored by many wonderful people over the years. My grandmother, who instilled in me the value of perseverance, always said, “you can do anything you put your mind to.” Then there is my husband, Quitman, who has constantly supported me and pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Dr. Laura Murillo, who gave me my first chance to help the community at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, also helped mentor and inspire me.

Rosalind Speed, a good friend and mentor, helped foster my entrepreneurship. She went back to school at age 70 to go into the arts, which inspired me to follow my dreams and reminded me that it’s never too late to follow your true passion.

What is it Like to be a Female CEO in the Construction Industry?

There are challenges, but I have found that how you carry yourself affects how people treat you. When you take your work seriously, people will treat you with respect. Based on this principle, I treat people well. I encourage people on my team to take their careers to the next level by learning new skills.

What Would You Say to Other Women Looking to Work in Construction?

Just do it! If you are open-minded and flexible while also able to work in a high-stress environment with tight deadlines, you can be successful in this industry. Helping people and businesses rebuild and expand is rewarding; you’ll love it if you can handle the workload.

What Organizations Are You Affiliated? How Do They Impact Your Business?

I love having the opportunity to positively impact our community and enjoy engaging with organizations that work in various fields. I work with the following organizations:

Lift Fund and Ascend Houston: These were the first organizations that gave us a loan in 2018, and I enjoy helping them assist other start-up businesses around the Houston Area.

Friday Harbour: This organization is a deeply personal one. Their goal is to “Heal Cancer One Night at a Time.” My mother-in-law, Quitman’s mom, died of breast cancer. His father was living in Maryland at the time and would make the long drive back and forth to Houston to see his wife, who was being treated at MD Anderson.

Friday Harbour’s mission resonates with me and I’m proud to have served on the board of this helpful, compassionate organization.  

Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: It’s a fantastic organization that radically changed the direction of my career, and I enjoy helping them continue their excellent work.

Catholic Charities Houston: I’m proud to volunteer my time and talents at this impactful organization.

Periwinkle Foundation: My sister is an oncologist at Texas Children’s Hospital. I feel a calling to work with any organization dedicated to assisting children, particularly if they are suffering or sick.

University of Houston Alumni Association: I’m a proud alumna, and it has been a great networking resource. Go Cougars!

Kids Meal: This organization is dedicated to helping kids who can’t get a free school lunch. They serve lunches to kids aged 3 to 6, a critical time in their cognitive development. They ensure these kids get the nutrition they need to grow healthy and succeed in school.

Why is Philanthropy Important to You?

Ever since Hurricane Harvey, I’ve felt it’s my mission to make a difference. I’ve seen what helping others can do, from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s assistance to businesses and to being able to connect others. I feel I need to do my part to help others succeed.

What Do You Think Back on Most About the Past Five Years of Owning a Successful Business?

Initially, it was a daunting, scary process, but I kept telling myself that I could do it. I started this company to help rebuild the community and help the Houston area navigate the recovery after Hurricane Harvey and Winter Storm Uri, which caused the Texas Freeze in 2021.

What Do You Hope to Achieve in the Next Five Years?

I hope to continue Big State Construction’s growth and help the Houston community. We have employed 47 workers, and I’d like to increase that to 100. Each new employed worker gives someone in our area a job and money for their family, helping build our community as we grow our business.

Work with Big State Construction for Your Next Construction Project

Big State Construction has helped Houston area families and businesses renovate, rebuild, and grow since 2017. We have satisfied customers who appreciate our personal touch and dedicated professionalism. We specialize in residential and commercial projects, including rebuilds, renovations, and home additions.

Call us to discuss your next renovation or construction project, and join us in building a better Houston community.

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