Business & Real Estate

Woman-led construction company revisits its roots


Courtesy of Harrell Remodeling
Iris Harrell founded Harrell Remodeling Inc. and built it from the ground up. When she retired in 2014, she handed the reins to Ciro Giammona. Now, Giammona has retired and is leaving the company in the hands of Lisa Sten, who joined the business in 2000.

Over the course of 35 years, Harrell Remodeling Inc. has undergone several evolutions.

Its founder, Iris Harrell, built the business from the ground up and turned it into a design-build company that clients in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View could trust. Then, when Harrell retired in 2014, Ciro Giammona took the reins and used his 17 years of experience to lead the company and convert it to a totally employee-owned operation.

Now, Giammona has retired and has once again put the responsibility of leading in a male-dominated industry in the hands of a woman: Lisa Sten, who joined the business in 2000 as a designer.

Sten, like Giammona, knew Harrell well, and she vowed to take the values the company has always rooted itself in and continue to invest in the business and make it the best it can be. Conquering a man’s world Harrell was a force to be reckoned with as she entered the world of construction in 1985, not because of bias against women in the trade – which existed and still exists today, Giammona said – but because she brought a kinder, more considerate attitude to the table in her dealings with clients.

“(A home) wasn’t a job site first,” Giammona said, explaining Harrell’s approach to her work. “It was a job site second, and a home first. That’s the policy she initiated, and it’s very much still part of our culture. … We’re always trying to innovate and make the same types of improvements in how we provide customer service.”

Part of what drove company history, Sten said, was the appeal to single women of having a female contractor.

“In the beginning, we did a lot of repairs or small construction projects on these people’s homes,” Sten recalled. “As time evolved, clients asked for design for their bathrooms and kitchens because they liked working with (Harrell) and her team. … Women are obviously major stakeholders and decision-makers when it comes to remodeling in the home.”

To this day, Harrell Remodeling takes on both large projects and small repairs. Primarily, Giammona said, employees “remove and replace” – meaning they update spaces to make them modern and functional, or “much better-looking than they were before.”

Then and now

Harrell Remodeling used to be based in Mountain View, and now it is just over the border in Palo Alto. The company did the most work last year in Palo Alto, but Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View are in the top five cities it serves, Sten said. In short, Harrell Remodeling’s reach covers its own backyard, extending from Los Gatos to Burlingame and Hillsborough.

According to Sten, Harrell Remodeling’s ability to attract work across the region lies in its strong foundation. Employees typically enjoy a longer-than-average tenure than others in construction.

“The average is a year or two, and our average is nine years,” she said. “People are committed. The fact we have worked together for a long time, I hate to say it, but we really are a well-oiled machine. The design side and the build side, our two hands, work together really well.”

Acknowledging construction is a business based on relationships also helps, Giammona added. “People mistake remodeling as a commodity,” he said. “They think it’s something anybody can do but they charge differently, which can’t be further from the truth. Our business relies on good relationships, and all kinds of long-term ones we are working to develop with contractors, vendors and partners in the design business or the remodeling business. … We want to move away from stereotypes of just ‘bang it out and get out.’”

Giammona did “get out” – of the industry as a whole – Feb. 28 because he came to the same realization as Harrell: Life is finite.

“I think along with the idea I was getting out of the way, so to speak, of the further evolution of the business, I was also moving toward something,” he said. “I was moving toward more time with my wife, who is already retired, and family in various parts of the country. I’m being open and available to a few new experiences because I have the space and time to do it.”

So as Sten leads and expands on the infrastructure Harrell Remodeling has in place during its third generation of leadership, the company will continue to work with clients – old and new – and host workshops for the community designed to help people who consider remodeling, whether they want to do it with Harrell or not.

“It’s not a sales presentation, it’s meant to inform people to make smarter decisions,” Giammona said. “It’s knowing what to look for and what to avoid as they proceed.” The team also plans to expand physically, with plans to hire carpenters, designers and estimators.

For more information on Harrell Remodeling, visit harrell-remodeling.com

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