GI Stone’s Sandya Dandamudi

Eschewing Tradition: GI Stone’s Sandya Dandamudi

The stone subcontractor executive reflects on her career and expresses excitement about what technology can bring to the construction industry
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Sandya Dandamudi, whose company, GI Stone, sources, fabricates and installs custom stone, has found success in a male-dominated industry. Based in Chicago, GI Stone has clients nationwide, with an impressive list of high-end projects, including the Four Seasons Hotel and the Salesforce Tower in Chicago, as well as multifamily projects One Chicago and Tribune Tower Residences.

Dandamudi’s expertise has garnered several awards. She was named the Stone World Fabricator of the Year in 2020 and a GlobeSt. Woman of Influence in 2021. In 2022, she was awarded the Albert Friedman Award by the Greater River North Business Association for her philanthropic efforts and contributions to the Near North Side Chicago community.

One of GI Stone’s missions is working with a Chicago church on an apprentice program that prepares underrepresented minorities for a career in the trades, particularly stone workers.

Built spoke with Dandamudi about her career path and her advice for others wanting to enter the industry.

Built: How did you come to own GI Stone and subcontract to the construction industry?

Dandamudi: My parents are from India and had the typical immigrant dream for me—that I should become a doctor. I have a master’s in biochemistry and communications, but it wasn’t my passion, so I tried a few other things. My last job before joining GI Stone was director of marketing for lab services at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. I worked alongside my mother, who started the business, and started subcontracting from there.

Built: Who is someone that inspired you to work in the industry and why?

Dandamudi: My dad inspired me because he pursued the American dream. He and my mother came here from India because he got a job as an engineer. He was the first generation of his family to leave for the US. My mother was 16 when they got married and didn’t even have a high school education. He encouraged her to follow her dreams, so I had that as an example.

My mother was also an inspiration. She fell in love with interior design and started a business doing this 30 or so years ago. I grew up with drapery and carpet samples and would go to the Chicago Merchandise Mart with her. Then stone exploded in popularity in the residential market around the 1980s and she became a distributor, pivoting to GI Stone in 1995. I was fascinated with stone, and when she needed help and asked me to join her in the late 1990s, I agreed. Although I said I’d never work for her, here I am. She retired a few years ago and now I have the business.

GI Stone’s Sandya Dandamudi

Built: What’s it like being a subcontractor?

Dandamudi: Someone said that human beings essentially are pack animals, and being part of a pack is the most unbelievable feeling when you’re building a 50-story building. At any given time, there are about 200 people working on the jobsite and we all have our role. It’s an incredible collaboration. I enjoy seeing the work that has nothing to do with me. The developer just broke ground for the Obama Presidential Center this fall, and they’re not ready for me yet, but I was there to see it.

Built: What advice do you have for people looking to follow in your career footsteps?

Dandamudi: Be fearless and be authentic. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is a difference between the saying, “Fake it till you make it” and just being too scared to admit you don’t know something. People actually love helping someone new. And finally, you need to genuinely care about your job, your clients and your colleagues. People can sniff out falsity very quickly—and they won’t tell you; they just won’t work with you. So, if you don’t come to love what you do, find something else. You owe that to yourself and others.

Built: What do you think the most pressing issue facing the construction industry is and why?

Dandamudi: We need to educate young people and people of color about the opportunities in the trade and recruit them to help solve the construction labor shortage. With a dwindling labor supply and a higher cost of living, we also need to offer a better living wage.

Also, construction has changed drastically in the last 10 years with the introduction of technology. There are people in the industry who started out working with their hands and understood how to build that way. They didn’t have three-week lookahead schedules or Bluebeam or takeoffs and three computer monitors.

I find a lot of people who have the attitude of “My way is the right way” and “I don’t know all this stuff these kids are doing.” I’ve also seen people who have all the programs and have embraced technology too much and don’t understand what it means to actually build something. We need the wisdom of people who’ve been doing this for years combined with the technology that exists now to make our jobs more efficient.

Built: What keeps you up at night as an executive?

Dandamudi: It’s more like what wakes me up. I usually awaken around 3 a.m. and solve the world’s problems. My team laughs because I walk in at 7 a.m. or whatever time, and they ask, “OK, now what?” I usually have a solution for something.

Built: How do you structure your time to fix the most important issues you face in your role?

Dandamudi: I’m a huge list maker, and not just for the things for the current day. I’ve had lists for everything from planning a company Halloween party to bidding on a multimillion-dollar project. I write them on paper, but I’m trying to find a computer application for all these lists so I have a historical record.

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