Owner of Haley Construction aims to create an environment where her team can grow and thrive … while also making her company the local go-to for even the biggest projects

By Hilary Dartt

Haley Construction has come a long way in the nearly 70 years since Jim and Frances Haley launched it in Globe with nothing more than a borrowed $1,000 and an old Ford truck. Today, their granddaughter Gillian Haley strives to secure the company’s reputation as a local firm that can handle all types of projects, from custom homes to even the biggest commercial buildings.

“There’s an attachment to legacy that drives me to want to excel, but also a desire to forge a new path,” Gillian said. “I want to live up to the way the men and women who came before me supported this community, to the quality of their work, their craftsmanship, and the customer service they provided. Building on those qualities, I am also not afraid to take a calculated risk, grow, or try new things. Go big or go home, right?”

A rich history

In 1955, the mayor of Globe approached Jim Haley, who worked for another home developer and general contractor in Phoenix at the time and asked him to build houses to fill the backlog of needs for the mine. He borrowed $1,000, loaded up the old Ford truck, and got to work. He and Frances moved to Prescott in 1960, and their sons Tom and Bill bought the business in the 1970s.

Gillian and her stepbrother Allan bought it in 2014 and continued to grow it with a specialty in innovative custom solutions. In addition to custom homes, the firm’s team has completed commercial buildings in sectors including industrial, higher education, medical, aviation, retail, municipal, and green projects.

They renovated the historic Elks Opera House over several years starting in 2010, as well as the ‘Tis Gallery and several historic homes.

Taking the helm

In January of this year, Gillian bought out Allan, becoming the sole owner of Haley Construction (the two remain close; Allan sought more flexibility and has stayed on as an advisor).

Running this company wasn’t part of Gillian’s original plans. “When I turned 18, I thought, ‘I’m out of here,’” she said. “I thought I would go to law school, move to New York City, become a human rights attorney, and save the world.”

After earning her bachelor’s in international relations (with a minor in history), she went to work for a large multi-national law firm, first in London and then in New York, and realized maybe the lawyer life wasn’t for her.

Driven by her interest in design and architecture, Gillian returned to Arizona and earned her master’s in real estate development at Arizona State University. She intended to return to New York—having lined up an internship with the developers of the World Trade Center—but then the recession hit.

“It was not a great time to get your master’s in real estate development,” she said. “It was pretty much the worst possible time ever.”

“My dad suggested coming to work for the company, but I didn’t think I would stay in Prescott. Clearly, I did stay, and I am grateful I did.”

It was 2010, and Gillian assisted her stepbrother Allan in working on the historical restoration of the Elks Opera House. The two quickly realized they had worked well together.

By winter 2011, the Elks project was complete, and the recession was in full swing. Allan and Gillian, now working together as a team, considered a possible partnership. They began to evaluate what strategies would help the company to overcome the challenging economic time. The answer they came up with surprised then-owners Tom and Bill Haley.

“We thought we should hire more management positions, open a second office, and go after more work.”

They talked to Tom and Bill about their idea, and as they expected, Tom and Bill were skeptical. “My dad and uncle were like, ‘That’s hilarious. You are out of your mind,’” Gillian said. “But they gave us a week to present them with a formal proposal.”

“A week later, we had the go-ahead. I’m not sure they were completely convinced, but with retirement on their minds (at least for my dad), they gave us just enough rope to (hopefully) not hang ourselves, and it worked!” Gillian said.

By spring, they had opened a second office downtown and hired four new positions – a powerhouse team still with Haley today. They had secured several multi-million-dollar commercial projects with Yavapai College and beat out all the competing large-scale corporate general contractors outside the Prescott area.

The new structure “allowed us to help keep many other businesses here in town going during the recession. It’s one of the examples of why we try to hire local, we try to work local, and why it’s important for us to get hired as a local company.”

“For me, that’s when it hit home. These companies have been taking care of us for all these years. Not just the team of people I work with, but the whole team of subcontractors and trade partners throughout this area, some of whom I’ve known since I was a kid.”

Gillian acknowledges that she works in a male-dominated industry; she said some people are still surprised when they learn she owns the company.

“There are not a lot of women-owned general contracting businesses—less than 10, I believe—in Arizona,” she said.

Still, most professionals she works with are supportive and great about answering her questions. “I haven’t encountered a situation where they haven’t been willing to teach me, and I have been fortunate that some of the men I have worked with have become mentors and advisors to me (I won’t mention names, except for my dad and my uncle, but they know who they are and I am very grateful to them).”

Building on a legacy

Gillian quickly points out that the organization’s growth is the result of her family’s hard work and expertise and an entire team of people.

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all the men and women who came before me,” Gillian said, adding that she considers each team member indispensable.

Women have also always been an integral part of Haley Construction. Early on, Gillian’s grandmother ran the company in the background. More recently, Gillian said, long-time employee and former Controller Diane Travis was known as “Ringmaster of the Circus” before she retired.

When talking about the legacy her family has built, Gillian said, “I think about how [my grandmother] was such a quiet part of this legacy. She was the one who held everything together, and she was a smart businesswoman who was always fair, loyal, and honest. Most people may not realize it, but Haley started as a part of a woman-owned company. My grandmother was also an owner, which is notable for the 1950s.”

Although Gillian never knew her grandfather, she said, “I think I would have related more to my grandfather’s role, looking at the big picture, the overall vision. I get excited about ideas, and some of the people [around me] have to be like, ‘Let’s talk about how we get from A to B.’ My grandmother was that person. So was my uncle.”

“Everybody has had their qualities and strengths throughout the creation of this legacy. Not just family, but all the other people as well.”

Looking forward, Gillian said she has two goals:

First, she wants Haley Construction to become known as the local solution for large-scale commercial projects.

“We’re set up for that. We have built our company structure as a local option for high-level construction management, large projects, and new innovative developments. Still, we haven’t lost the character of a family-owned firm. I hope to show the community they have a local option and the local talent that can do these projects.”

Second (and “the highest and most important goal”): “I want everybody in my organization to have the best quality of life possible.”

Gillian knows what it’s like to strive for balance; life can be challenging as a business owner and a mom to two children. She does her best to make time for self-care and surrounds herself with other strong, uplifting women, supportive men, and her wonderful family.

“My goal is that we all have opportunities to grow personally and professionally within the company and that, as an employer, I can provide a working environment that encourages collaboration and support and promotes personal satisfaction and pride while also providing the means for each person to achieve their own life goals.”

In everything she does, Gillian strives to follow her grandmother’s advice: “Be fair and decent. Do all things with grace and integrity.”

To learn more about Haley Construction, visit https://haleyconstructionaz.com/.