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Q&A Jun 22, 2022

Contributing to the Lives of Others in a Meaningful Way: A Q&A with Heidi Obie

Meet the first Black Governor to the Construction Management Association of America’s CMCI National Board of Governors, Heidi Obie.

Q&A with Heidi Obie Jacobs Vice President, Harambee Employee Network Co-Chair

From working on a project that would help contribute to the rebuild and security of Capitol Hill after 9/11 to learning how to build the strongest roofing structures to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, Heidi Obie has done a lot in her career to-date. Find out how she got to where she is today and why she was attracted to a career in STEAM in this Q&A for International Women in Engineering Day.

Let's talk with Heidi:

Tell us what you’re working on these days.

I’m working on showcasing and growing Jacobs as the company of choice for Program Management Construction Management (PMCM) and Construction Engineering and Inspection (CEI) in the Coastal/South Texas region. This involves engaging with teaming partners, amplifying supplier diversity, building the talent pipeline and enhancing relationships with new and existing clients. In my role, I’m responsible for the successful delivery of the current Jacobs PMCM portfolio of projects, as well as the overall growth of the PMCM book of business in my region. I support and serve our PMCM teams, as well as establish overall direction and strategic initiatives for our new and existing clients, which keeps me busy and energized every day! Occasionally I also get the opportunity to work on cool projects, helping them through their initiation, construction and closeout phases. 

What led you to this point on your career path?

I remember a time growing up as a child on a small Caribbean island which seemed so big to me, doodling unsolicited shapes of various sizes on my mother’s bright white walls. As years went by, I also recall not knowing what my future would be; I was quickly realizing that the island’s size seemed to shrink and my opportunities to go further would have to be elsewhere. My dream was to study buildings, how to design them, and how to build them. When that dream became a reality after being accepted to Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture & Urban Studies, I thought I’d won the jackpot, and the best thing that could have happened to anyone, happened to me. 

Here we are, years later, and although I most recently came to Jacobs via an acquisition, I originally joined Jacobs in 2003 to work on a project that would help contribute to the rebuild and security of Capitol Hill after the 9/11 attack. This was a project I’ll never forget, as its history, meaning and purpose lives on today as a symbol of the resilience of my newly-adopted country. It was a project that allowed me to become a part of U.S. history, building projects that matter to the country that allowed me to relive my childhood passion and dreams. Two decades later, I wake up each morning with that same drive and passion that motivated me back then — working with people that are also passionate about making contributions to the built environment. The idea of getting to connect with some aspect of our built world, connect with others who have similar interests, connect with clients about how I can help make their projects a reality, and being able to share my personal experiences with the next generation, keeps me energized about what I do every day.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEAM?

Besides my fascination with shapes, art, and the built environment as early as the age of eight, I was selected to work as an apprentice in design and construction estimating for a family-owned business in the 11th grade. That experience solidified my desire to pursue architecture, and later construction management, giving me practical tools and experience prior to pursuing my degree. I looked up to my manager who was an amazing architect on the island. He taught me all I know about building the strongest roofing structures to withstand Category 5 hurricanes! I was later inspired by the works of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, leading to a rewarding experience at Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

Tell us about a memorable project you’ve worked on that has helped build a brighter future.

What I enjoy the most about my diverse resume of large buildings and infrastructure projects are the many opportunities I’ve had to make an impact in the community, and for large groups of people. One of the things I enjoy the most is seeing people happy, both in my personal and professional life. I’ve worked on several projects ranging from large residential communities to pipeline projects serving water to communities, and both have made me feel like I’ve contributed to the lives of others in a meaningful way. I have fond memories of every detail that went into the community space and pool area of the residential community. I also have fond memories of discussing large diameter pipelines and miles of canal that would eventually provide water — an essential resource — to millions of people in my hometown. Additionally, working with a team of contractors and clients that share the same ideals makes all the difference.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

Many people who know me well would say that I always talk about the importance, or lack thereof, of time. Time is moving quickly; plan your work, work your plan, and do a good job, but don’t forget your family. The time with them can’t be reversed.

“My proudest career moment was when I appointed as the first Black Governor to the Construction Management Association of America’s CMCI National Board of Governors in 2010. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was blazing a trail, setting a path and example for other people of color to follow.”

Heidi Obie

Heidi Obie

Jacobs Vice President

Proudest/most interesting career moment?

My proudest career moment was when I appointed as the first Black Governor to the Construction Management Association of America’s Construction Management Certification Institute (CMCI) National Board of Governors in 2010.  What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was blazing a trail, setting a path and example for other people of color to follow, ending my term as Chair of the Board in 2017. I have fond memories of feeling accomplished at the end of my term, having worked with the best team of professionals towards the same goal, touching thousands of construction managers around the world either in person, or through my contribution to their professional certification. It was an honor to have the opportunity to influence and shape policy that affected the professional certification for construction managers worldwide. This would lead to my drive to serving the younger generation of construction professionals, when I received the role as Adjunct Professor at the University of Houston.

What does the future of construction look like to you?

I’ve seen the construction industry evolve over the years, particularly in the areas of technology and innovation. In recent times, the industry has been further challenged to be even more innovative while being pushed to come up with new initiatives and keeping costs low. I see a shift towards more futuristic and energy efficient solutions. The future is bright, as construction degree programs have become more sophisticated, diverse and relevant as we move into the future.

If you could tell your 18-year-old-self one thing, what would it be?

If only I knew back then what I know now! Although there are so many things that I’d tell my younger self, the one that stands out for me is, “Push yourself out of your comfort zone to develop the skills needed to speak up.”  I would say, raise your hand, volunteer for something, put yourself in a situation where you can learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, find what you love and give it back in the form of service. For many people that are quieter, the quality that they have to offer often goes unnoticed and finding ways to differentiate yourself by the way in which you contribute will go a long way in the future.

People would be surprised to know that I…

I spent four years in the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and rose to the rank of Cadet Captain as a Regimental Recruiting Officer, then served as Captain in the Virginia Militia Adjutant General’s Office as Assistant Commandant of Cadets prior to joining the construction industry. Helping students and parents navigate the college decision process, as well as the important decision of joining a full-time military program, helped me learn how important it is to give back to the younger generation. It was there that I learned the values of leadership, humility, resilience and grit; ideals that helped me stay the course and turn challenges into opportunities along the way.

What do you enjoy most about being part of #OurJacobs?

 I’ve most certainly enjoyed the variety of project types and clients that I’ve had a chance to work with. I’m also honored and humbled to serve the people that are on my team all over the Texas region. Working for a company that makes bold and intentional moves to challenge the accepted and support not only its people, but their families and communities, makes me proud to be a part of the Jacobs team.

About the interviewee

Heidi Obie

Heidi Obie is a Vice President based in Houston, Texas. In this role, she oversees Jacobs' Program and Construction Management (PMCM) business in the Coastal / South Texas region, focusing on winning and delivering PMCM Services for our buildings, transportation and water clients in the region.

Originally from the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia, Heidi moved to the United States to study Architecture and Construction Management at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia Tech), that would lead to a rewarding career in the design and construction management field. Today, she brings over 20 years of design, construction, construction management and integrated project delivery expertise to the commercial and industrial construction markets and is highly skilled in preconstruction process methodologies.

In 2009, Heidi joined CH2M, now Jacobs, and earned her Executive MBA in Management at Tulane University that year. Since then, she has enjoyed roles involving working with people, building teams and creating a platform to support the next generation of leadership. Her commitment to excellence, service, client satisfaction and drive for disciplined construction management has been apparent throughout her career, having previously served as the first Black Board Chair, Vice Chair and Secretary for the Construction Management Certification Institute’s National Board of Governors, where she led the efforts leading to policies and procedures that enhanced the certification examination process for Construction Managers nationwide. Currently, she serves as Adjunct Professor of Construction Management at the University of Houston, as well as Vice Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee for the University of Houston’s Construction Management Industry Advisory Board.

Heidi is no stranger to community service and proactive advocacy, with roots firmly planted through her membership into the illustrious Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. in the Fall of 1997. Supporting her community, children and families seeking a second chance at life is Heidi’s passion. Since 2001, she has been a champion for numerous children and families evidenced by her work as a Court Appointed Advocate in Harris County, Brevard County, and currently Bastrop, Fayette and Lee Counties.

Most of all her proudest accomplishment is her family, spiritually led by her amazing husband, and grounded by the daily adventures of their 4-year-old daughter.

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