Illustrated by Jonny Ruzzo
Guiomar Obregon owns Precision 2000 (P2K), a civil infrastructure engineering firm in Atlanta with her husband Carlos Sanchez, who is also the firm’s co-founder and president. Together they’ve been in business for 23 years and have focused on federal and local government clients for more than a decade.
Obregon, the company’s chief executive officer, believes strongly both in giving back to the industry and providing opportunity to other Hispanics interested in construction. She’s on the board of directors of the Georgia Hispanic Construction Association and has served as its chairwoman as well as president of the organization’s economic empowerment committee.
Among Obregon’s other honors, she has been awarded the group’s Leadership Award as well as its Hispanic Entrepreneur of the Year distinction. P2K also provides a scholarship for engineers from two universities in Colombia to study at the nearby Georgia Institute of Technology, also known as Georgia Tech.
The Built Blog spoke with Obregon about her experience as an engineer and a Latina in the industry. Edited excerpts follow.
Built Blog: How did you choose the construction industry?
Obregon: I’m an engineer by training and so is Carlos, who I met in my undergrad program. I was born in the U.S. and raised in Colombia, where I got a B.S. in Civil Engineering. Both my parents are civil engineers, and I always knew this was the job for me. At 26, I returned to the U.S. for a master’s in engineering and an MBA at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Carlos, who worked at the Atlanta airport as the resident engineer supervising construction work, got the idea for the company after seeing the opportunities in the industry. My passion is financing, so I took charge of that area and of planning and administration, such as hiring a CPA. Carlos’ passion is more on the technical side. He likes to be on the jobsites and is more involved in the actual construction.
Built Blog: Who is someone who inspired you to work in the industry and why?
Obregon: My mother was the first person. She urged me to return to the U.S. and further my education in the field so I could be financially independent. She knew that in any male-dominated field I had to be able to stand on my own two feet. Carlos also inspired me. We were young and had a baby and I worried whether we could be successful starting a company. Carlos reassured me; he said he knew we could do it.
Built Blog: What advice do you have for people looking to follow in your career footsteps?
Obregon: Have patience and persistence. It’s a difficult field, and as a minority you have extra challenges. You need to work toward being better every day and you’ll reach your goals.
Built Blog: What’s your favorite part of the job?
Obregon: I like seeing how you go from drawings of an idea to the finished product, to go from nothing to something, through the efforts of so many people. Something where in the future you can tell your children, “Our company built that.”
Built Blog: What’s the best advice you ever received about this industry?
Obregon: The advice I now give others: patience and persistence. Sometimes it’s frustrating when something doesn’t happen the way you want, or when it doesn’t happen fast enough. Over the years I’ve learned to just keep working toward the goal.
Built Blog: What’s a time your company was resourceful?
Obregon: When the 2008 recession hit, we decided to focus more on working with the federal government instead of the commercial sector. The majority of our work was focused on city and county governments in Georgia, and then we expanded to military bases in North and South Carolina. It has served us well.
Built Blog: How do you feel about you and your company having received numerous awards?
Obregon: It makes me proud of what we have accomplished, but I’m also glad to serve an example for others in the Hispanic community who have been underrepresented. It shows what’s possible. It’s a tough field, but a good one to find success in. I mentor other small business owners in the Georgia Hispanic Construction Association and encourage them to be prepared, to get the training they need, and to network and get outside of the community to promote their business. I also belong to Latinas in Construction because I know how hard it is as a Latina. I say I’m a triple minority because I’m a woman, I’m in construction engineering and I’m Hispanic.
Built Blog: What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the construction industry and why?
Obregon: One big challenge is the labor shortage. It’s hard to find skilled and STEAM workers. (The ‘a’ has been added for the arts, for architects.) Also, access to capital. Construction is a risky business; banks don’t always want to support you, and the process can be difficult to navigate. We’re a mid-size business, and the Small Business Association can be helpful. Sometimes you have a government entity like this that is willing to invest in your business.
Built Blog: What keeps you up at night as an executive, and how do you structure your time to fix the most important issues you face in your role?
Obregon: The uncertainty during COVID-19 keeps me up. We don’t really know what will happen in one month or three or six; it’s hard to predict. As an engineer, I like to plan, I don’t like uncertainty. There’s a new variant. The government is talking about working on infrastructure, but they’ve been talking about it for years. What if it doesn’t happen? I sometimes struggle with having too many things to do and too little time and balancing work and family time. I have a 24-year-old and a 14-year-old. I prioritize things and I delegate. I realize I can’t do everything.