Kate Clarke, Superintendent – Wolverine Building Group- Women Who Build West Michigan
Updated: Aug 1
Our next interviewee was Kate Clarke, a Project Superintendent for Wolverine Building Group. Kate has a unique story that began with going to Notre Dame for a Science-Business degree and followed with multiple career path transitions, such as engineering, logistics and eventually the construction industry. Kate’s first job as a Superintendent for Wolverine was constructing a Taco Bell, where she sat down to meet with us virtually.
Q: Did you think you would end up being a superintendent within the construction industry?
A: Not at all, and I get asked that question a lot. Construction was never on the radar. In college all the students were going into engineering, finance or medicine, and I didn’t even know if Notre Dame had a construction program. It wasn’t much of an option. With that being said, I am perfect for this industry.
Q: Give us a breakdown of your past, including your career journey. How did you come to work for Wolverine?
A: In high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do or go in to, but I knew it would be science based.
I went to Notre Dame as a chemistry major but ended up changing that major decision quickly to mechanical engineering. I got a few years into that program and realized I liked the application of this work versus sitting behind a computer designing something. At that point I was thinking about project or product management, so I switched my major for the 3rd time to science business. At that point I had two internships with Motion Analysis Labs where I was able to work with my hands, which I really liked.
Out of college I took a job with Anheuser-Busch for a logistics training program, which put me in St. Louis for six months to learn about the beer industry and then to New York to run a warehouse on a night shift. I didn’t mind the work, but we were putting out fires every night both literally and figuratively. I realized that I wanted to move back to the Midwest, preferably Michigan. I put out applications I thought were a long shot but eventually got a role in project management for Otis Elevator where I gained some great experience. I was seeking a little more responsibility and heard that Wolverine was trying to get more women in the industry. I interviewed there and loved the company, the people and the culture. Now I am a full-time superintendent at Wolverine, and I love what I do.
Q: When you interviewed, what role was that for?
A: An Assistant Superintendent. Within four months I was promoted to a full-fledged superintendent. I was told it was the fastest promotion in the history of Wolverine Building. I didn’t realize it at the time but looking back, I thought “that was kind of cool.”
Q: For someone who does not know what a Superintendent does, how would you describe that role?
A: It’s about keeping us and our job site on schedule, making sure people are where they need to be logistically and that things are getting done. If they are not done, I will try to figure out how we can fix that problem and how it will affect the schedule later.
I am working with an intern this summer and one of the first things I told her is that you can know absolutely nothing about plumbing, electrical, HVAC or anything, and still run a job site effectively. All you must do is ask the right questions. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know everything, but I have created relationships and trust with my contractors so I can ask them to break things down for me if I do have a question.
Q: What was it like going from Otis Elevator to Wolverine?
A: That process was great, Wolverine set me up with a veteran superintendent who showed me the ropes and was a great resource for me. He answered all my questions and made sure I was comfortable. We then did a health office renovation which was a basic job to get my feet under me. After the health office I was thrown in the fire for a Taco Bell job. I was nervous but had a great mentor, who I probably called every day for the first week and half of my new position. He took time to coach me. I made my fair share of mistakes on that first Taco Bell job, but I learned a lot. And if I made a mistake I would say, “okay how do we make sure this doesn’t happen again,” and plan accordingly.
Q: Would you say you’re happy working in construction?
A: Yes, I get to see a job from dirt to open and it is very fulfilling. I also like how much I get to learn and make relationships. As a Superintendent I want to be someone approachable. I don’t want to be rude to our people because it doesn’t lead to an effective jobsite. If you can build solid relationships, you can build trust and people are more willing to go the extra mile for each other. I really do enjoy working in this industry.
Q: What’s a skill that can be transferable to the construction industry?
A: Two come to mind. One is being organized. I have been super organized my entire life and now I have a system that makes things easier. If you’re organized and the jobsite is running effectively, use what’s best for you. The second is being a good decision maker or thinking on your feet. You must be able to make sound, rational decisions on a jobsite. That took me some time, but once I realized I’m a good decision maker I started trusting myself more and the other people on the jobsite began to trust me more as well.
Q: If you could go back to your younger years, what career advice would you give yourself?
A: I was a late bloomer; I would say be confident in yourself and your abilities. Play to your strengths and don’t apologize for those. I was quiet in high school; I didn’t really come out of my shell until halfway through college. I would say stick up for yourself and know that your decisions and instincts are usually right. And if your decisions aren’t correct, learn from your mistakes. It’s okay to mess up sometimes because it’s a blessing in disguise and you learn from it. Some mistakes are meant for learning.
Q: If you’re not sure what career field you want to go into, or what to do after high school, would you recommend the construction industry?
A: Absolutely, there’s companies hiring, technical schools, and if you’re interested at all do a deeper dive and get your hands in it. You might not even realize but if you like doing projects at home or building things as a kid, you might end up loving construction. I bought a house and remodeled it before I got this job and that was my introduction to the industry. Go with your gut if there’s something internally pulling towards a job or career Follow it. If you’re worried about being a woman in construction, talk to women from the company you are interested in and get their perspectives, or find a company that is actively hiring women like Wolverine is. Finally, I think construction companies can do a better job of sending women to the career and job fairs and even female field employees. I think it makes it easier to connect!
As an extension of Women in Construction Week (WIC) – The Construction Careers Council has a mission to celebrate, educate and promote the roles of women in construction. The Council set out to highlight the women who currently work within West Michigan’s industry through our “Women Who Build West Michigan Series.” The goal is to inspire and educate specifically young women but also those interested in being a part of our next generation’s construction workforce.
I sat down with women across West Michigan to discuss their career path, the work they do, what they like or dislike about their role, what motivates them and much more. Our conversations were authentic and the women I interviewed have a wealth of stories and tips to becoming successful.