Stephanie Findley – 35th Annual Black Excellence Awards Honoree

Women on the Leading Edge of Business

Stephanie Findley
Midwest Construction & Management Services, LLC

At an early age, those around Stephanie Findley knew that she was unique. For example, at the age of seven Stephanie created a brochure and went door-to-door to garner support for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign. Today, Stephanie is the CEO of Midwest Construction and Management Services, LLC, a residential and commercial construction firm that she started in 2012. While construction is typically a male-dominated field, Stephanie has no qualms about rolling up her sleeves and going up against the best to show that she not only knows what she’s doing, but she also knows how to do it. She is one of the first female Black contractors in Wisconsin.

“Midwest Construction is not a trucking company or a pass through (prime contractor). I’m self-taught and when I got into this field, I wanted to learn from the ground up. I like to get my hands dirty. I know how to demolish concrete and do all the jobs that my crew does. There are so many takers in this industry, so if you aren’t on your game, you can be taken to the cleaners. I need to know how long it takes to paint a 20-unit apartment building or I’ll lose my shirt,” she said.

Born in San Francisco, California, Stephanie grew up living between Beloit and Milwaukee. Her father—a fabricator—was hired by the Gardner Company in South Beloit, Illinois. When she was five years old, her parents separated so she split her time between them.

“For a time, I also lived with my grandparents in Ashley County, Arkansas. My grandfather was a sharecropper with about 100 acres of land. We basically grew everything we ate. I learned a lot about picking apples, oranges, and pecans. My grandfather wanted to make sure that his city grandchildren had good work ethics, so one of the jobs he gave me and my brother was taking the leftover food, putting it into a slop bucket and feeding the pigs. My grandmother taught me how to snap peas and pick greens. Working on the farm helped me appreciate individuals like President Jimmy Carter, who operated a peanut farm. That’s one of the reasons I supported his presidential campaign,” she said.

Stephanie split her time between her mother’s house in Milwaukee and father’s in Beloit, spending the most time during the year with her father. While attending McNeil Junior High in Beloit, Stephanie opted to take shop instead of the traditional home economics offered for girls.

“I didn’t know where my interest in shop would take me at the time, but I knew I didn’t want to pursue the traditional route of home economics. I never thought I would end up in the construction industry, but as I look back over the years, that shop class was the beginning. Then, in my early adult life, I worked for a drywall company headquartered in the Twin Cities with an office in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. I would go to the worksites and to the construction material stores, as part of my job. I was fascinated because constructing buildings was a part of history. I realized that these buildings would remain standing after the builders were long dead and gone,” she said.

After graduating from James Madison High School in Milwaukee, Stephanie earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Concordia University and a master’s degree in management from Cardinal Stritch in 2007. She also gained an appreciation for statistics, which she honed in her master’s program and she’s perfecting in her doctoral program through Grand Canyon University.

Her fascination with the construction industry deepened after becoming a board member of the American Chamber of Commerce, where she interacted with construction owners and learned of their challenges. She would advocate for them and interact with individuals in the industry on their behalf.

In 2004, Stephanie did some public involvement work on the Marquette Interchange Project and in 2012, while exploring other opportunities, someone suggested she start her own construction company. Intrigued but unsure if this was a route she should take, Stephanie consulted with her father and uncle, both of whom confirmed that she was ready and encouraged her to pursue it.

Armed with their blessing and encouragement, Stephanie tapped into her 401K, obtained all necessary certifications and started Midwest Construction. Eight years later, she runs a successful, woman-owned construction company that regularly employs 12 individuals depending on projects, and has employed as many as 30 individuals at one time.

“I had tumbled in politics and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to tumble with the guys in construction, but my dad reminded me that he helped build me for such a time as this. I listened and, today, I am a general contractor. On the residential side we do complete renovations and on the commercial side, we do painting, flooring, and concrete finishing,” she said.

Besides her father and uncle, Stephanie acknowledges a number of individuals that have uplifted, encouraged and empowered her along the way, including local leaders Ulice Payne, Martha Love, Faithe Colas, Sandra Robinson, Curt Harris, Wallace White, Jim Milner, Gerard Randall and Cory Nettles, to name a few.

“I pay it forward by helping quite a few individuals— especially African American females. I live by inspiring, uplifting and empowering others. I don’t think there’s anything else you can do but leave a mark for other people and leave a footprint for someone else. It’s rewarding to be able to change someone else’s life for the better. That’s why I get up every day. It’s not about me; it’s about what I can do and leave for others to make this world a better place,” she said.