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“The power of taking it one step at a time” With Allison Maloney of F.H. Paschen

Take it one step at a time. I was representing a client in front of a federal agency. The client was new, I had no experience with the federal agency, and I had just had a baby. It was like a perfect storm of anxiety-causing circumstances. The representation was a large undertaking related to regulations […]


Take it one step at a time. I was representing a client in front of a federal agency. The client was new, I had no experience with the federal agency, and I had just had a baby. It was like a perfect storm of anxiety-causing circumstances. The representation was a large undertaking related to regulations that were new to me. The task at first seemed completely overwhelming. Instead of being paralyzed by fear and the unknown, I broke everything down step by step. I submitted a lengthy document summarizing my client’s position and then my client and I met with agency legal staff. A short time later, the agency’s legal counsel emailed me to let me know that the document I filed on behalf of my client was one of the best he had read and that he was making it required reading for his summer interns as an example of how an attorney should present such information and advocate for her client.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Allison Maloney, who joined F.H. Paschen in November 2015 as Corporate Counsel and Compliance Officer. She provides legal counsel and is responsible for the design and implementation of the company’s compliance program and functions. Her responsibilities include matters regarding the participation of diverse businesses in the government contracting process.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After two and a half years serving as Legal Counsel in the Office of the Illinois Governor, I moved to a law firm, where I began to focus on regulatory, procurement, and contract compliance matters, including diversity in public contracting. I spent more than seven years in private practice, where most of my clients were small women and minority-owned businesses before coming in house here at F.H. Paschen. A colleague from the first law firm I joined let me know that F.H. Paschen was looking to enhance its commitment to diversity and compliance by hiring a Compliance Officer. With my background, and despite my lack of construction experience, my former colleague thought it would be a great fit. And it has been. It has been fun to continue to work with some of the women and minority-owned companies I helped in private practice as partners and subcontractors here at F.H. Paschen.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began (working as a leader at) your company?

We do quite a bit of work at O’Hare International Airport, and we were lucky enough to take our Paschen Engineering Scholars — students from George Westinghouse College Prep, a selective enrollment school on Chicago’s West Side — on a tour of the airport. We rode in a Chicago Department of Aviation bus all around the airport, driving next to a taxiing American Airlines Dreamliner and getting out of to watch planes land a few hundred yards in front of us. It’s not something that a lot of people get to do, and it was an unforgettable experience for all of us.

We welcomed our first class of Paschen Engineering Scholars in 2015. That year six freshmen in Westinghouse’s engineering program made up the inaugural class. Our staff works with the Scholars throughout the year, and the students complete an intensive summer internship. The Scholars join us for a month each summer and are exposed to all aspects of our business. Each summer the Scholars work on a project that encompasses all they have learned, from design to estimating to execution. Our first class of Paschen Engineering Scholars will graduate from Westinghouse in 2019 and we are looking forward to following their successes.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

See number 8 for what is now, but was not in the moment, the funniest mistake I made early in my career.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

More than any other place I have worked, F.H. Paschen is a true team atmosphere. Everyone is working toward the same goal, and your colleagues are always willing to help. As an example, we sponsored a young man with a local laborers’ union. He joined us from Chicago CRED, where he had been working for about two years as a demolition laborer. Those two years had taken a toll on this man’s work boots, so his team at the jobsite all pitched in to buy him a new pair of boots. This is just one of many stories like this throughout F.H. Paschen’s history. Our late founder, Frank “Bud” Paschen, was known for his generosity. There are countless stories of Bud helping people, from replacing cars to giving money to strangers in need. And Bud’s commitment to helping others has been engrained in F.H. Paschen’s culture, and it lives on today.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

At the urging of some of our clients, we have begun sharing stories about our individual staff through short documentary style films. By letting these individuals from minority backgrounds share their stories, we hope a new generation of workers will be inspired pursue careers in construction and in the trades. Themes you’ll see in these videos are our desire to provide opportunity for all through mentoring and helping our tradespeople to develop new skills.

We have also begun partnering with entities like Chicago CRED, ComED’s CONSTRUCT Program, and the Safer Foundation to provide construction trade opportunities to populations that have been historically underrepresented, like women and minority groups. Since December 2017, we have hired five men and women, all of whom we have sponsored with the local laborers’ or carpenters’ union.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Women are communal and consensus building by nature, but we need to balance these traits with the ability to make decisions and to have confidence in the decisions we make. I think self-doubt, imposter syndrome, whatever you want to call it, is real, is amplified in male-dominated industries, and contributes to the feelings of inadequacy. You have to push through it and, as trite as it sounds, truly believe in your abilities. For me, and particularly here at F.H. Paschen, support from my fellow leaders has been key in overcoming these obstacles.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Large teams require organization and delegation. You can be the best and most influential leader, but if you can’t stay organized, and if you can’t effectively delegate, your team will suffer.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The first boss I had after law school was a true leader who knew how to get the best out of his team. He never placed blame even when there was clearly a party at fault. I was the beneficiary of his approach on one notable occasion. The Governor’s staff, which was based in Chicago, relocated to Springfield for the 2007 legislative session that dragged on due to the lack of a budget. Office space was cramped, and we were spending inordinate amounts of time with our colleagues. To say tensions were high would be an understatement. I made a mistake in a document issued by the Governor that was related to the budget impasse. This mistake could have had undesirable consequences. When I approached my boss after learning of my mistake, in addition to coming up with a plan in the event this situation went south, he said something to the effect of, “You haven’t made a mistake yet and you deserve to get away with this one.” I think a lot of other managers would have read me the Riot Act. The way he handled this potentially disastrous mistake has stuck with me, and I keep it in mind when dealing with mistakes now.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Throughout most of my career, I have helped small, women and minority-owned businesses succeed — and that always felt like I was helping contribute to the greater good. I’d also like to think that I’ve been a part of F.H. Paschen bringing goodness into the world through allowing people to pursue careers in the construction industry and helping companies grow. As an example, one of our Paschen Engineering Scholars from George Westinghouse College Prep, Diana Mendoza, wrote an article about her experience as a woman in the constructions industry. Diana talks about pushing through self-doubt to gain the confidence to know that she can succeed as woman in the STEM field. Knowing that F.H. Paschen has made that kind of impact — even on just one person — is definitely bringing good into the world.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • Diversity creates strength. Throughout my career, I have seen how diversity of backgrounds, thought, and experiences serves to strengthen teams and organizations. At F.H. Paschen, we have a deep bench of subcontractors and partners, many of whom are diverse businesses. We have seen how having a diverse team benefits our projects.
  • Treat each person as a volunteer. My management style is not to demand that something be done. I always ask if someone has time to do whatever I’m asking them to do. I never assume that someone is available and able to help.
  • Take it one step at a time. I was representing a client in front of a federal agency. The client was new, I had no experience with the federal agency, and I had just had a baby. It was like a perfect storm of anxiety-causing circumstances. The representation was a large undertaking related to regulations that were new to me. The task at first seemed completely overwhelming. Instead of being paralyzed by fear and the unknown, I broke everything down step by step. I submitted a lengthy document summarizing my client’s position and then my client and I met with agency legal staff. A short time later, the agency’s legal counsel emailed me to let me know that the document I filed on behalf of my client was one of the best he had read and that he was making it required reading for his summer interns as an example of how an attorney should present such information and advocate for her client.
  • Own your mistakes. See #8.In addition to owning your mistakes, have a plan of action for addressing them when you tell your superiors.
  • Help others and be a team player. I think this is important at work, at home, and with friends, but this advice is really focused on women. Other women can be the worst to deal with both at work and in social situations, and it all seems so unnecessary. “Girl on girl crime” as it’s called in Mean Girls. I have no time for women who treat other women poorly — and it’s usually the result of one woman feeling threatened by another. We all need to work together if women are going to advance.Some of my closest and most supportive female friends today are former colleagues. In fact, I just got off the phone with one of them. She called to talk through a particularly tough work situation she was dealing with. Being supportive goes a long way.
  • (An unrequested 6th Lesson) The world is round. All but one job I have gotten has been due to personal connections. I’ve even worked for the same person at different times at different firms. You never know who you will run into or how that person will play a role in your life. It pays to be professional.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It’s not my idea, and despite the legal challenges that may come, I like California’s law requiring women on corporate boards of publicly held companies. Women can’t just sit back and wait for change to happen — we have to push for it. And even if this law fails, it’s a good start. Hopefully, it will raise awareness of the lack of female representation and will lead to other states passing similar laws and privately held companies following suit.

Other states and jurisdictions could also take this idea and implement it a number of different ways, creating incentives for companies that seek some benefit from the government — license, grant, contract — to put women on boards or hire women. But there would be legal challenges to those too… stay tuned to see if I crack the code.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Inspirational quotes really aren’t my thing, and I think the prevalence of memes has really sealed that distaste for me. The values drive me are hard work and doing the right thing. It may seem simple, but these have never failed me.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The legal fangirl in me says Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She’s totally having a moment that I hope never ends.

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