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Stephanie Cesario

DNA of a VP of Construction

Stephanie Cesario HeadshotStephanie Cesario has more than 15 years of experience in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (A/E/C) industry in both the Tri-state area and Midwest, holding a Graduate Certificate in Real Estate Development from New York University and a BA in Architecture from Lehigh University. Stephanie began her career in Chicago designing renovations for elementary schools in the downtown area, while also working on a high-rise condominium complex at Northwestern University. After moving back to the East Coast, Stephanie played a leading management role in the execution of new building construction and renovations for some of the most prestigious private preparatory schools and academic institutions in New York City. She has led the top Construction Management teams in the industry, overseeing the renovation of historic landmark structures, corporate interior build-outs for Fortune 500 clients, and construction of resplendent high-rise residential towers.”

Stephanie Cesario
Managing Director – Project Management Division
Hillmann Consulting LLC

Hillman Consulting LogoWas construction always your career path?

I originally wanted to major in Art but studied Architecture in a Liberal Arts setting. I had aspirations to become a professional designer but exposure to the building process sparked my interest. 

My first role was with a design build firm which gave me further exposure to construction. This was my first stop from college and I was enlightened by the whole process. I was living and working in Chicago at the time of 9/11. When that happened I realized I wanted to build in New York City and contribute to the growth of the community. So, I came back to New York and started applying to CM Companies. I’ve never looked back since then.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path and how did you overcome it?

In my previous role with Hunter Roberts, I had the opportunity to help the firm establish its operational procedures.  It was a challenge, but through commitment and diligence in training our team and partners, we were successful. I believe this collaboration led to the strong presence Hunter Roberts has in NYC today.

The key to my success was finding mentors who could help me define our business principles, while developing my own core values and leadership skills. Throughout this professional journey, I had mentors from different backgrounds, both male and female.

What skills do you think are integral to role?

The ability to communicate. No matter what market or sector you’re in, across all professions, if you can communicate you’re already one step ahead. This business is very much about relationships and if you can communicate effectively across generations you will be respected and successful. 

What attributes/characteristics do believe are integral to the role?

Know your personal core values and how these translate to your business principles. 

I think having a consistent set of principles you work from is more important than having a routine or very strict way of operating within your business. The market changes, your team changes, and you need to be able to assess what is working and what is not working. Professional change, self-reflection and evaluation is important and healthy. You might need to adjust your behavior, your processes or your goals, but always based on those core values or principles. 

What is your advice to someone who is moving up the ranks in the field and wants to pursue a management/executive career?

My number one piece of advice is to get a mentor. Someone, or more than one person, who can help you guide and improve. It’s been crucial in my career.

I also rely on peer reviews. It can be difficult to receive, but it is certainly the most beneficial way to find areas for improvement. Welcome their feedback, seek it out, ask for frequent input. This will allow you to get used to receiving feedback and will improve your leadership skills. It is also a sign of respect back to your peers that you want them to grow and want to grow yourself. 

What’s your favorite part of your job?

In my current role with Hillmann Consulting, I especially enjoy the business development and entrepreneurial opportunity; the growth of a small business within a larger business. I’m currently launching a new service line focusing on Owner’s Representation. I am enjoying tapping into my creativity in an effort to market these new services, with the 30-year Hillmann brand behind me supporting the mission. 

What is the one thing you have to have to be a VP (or above) of a construction company in your opinion? 

Grit! Construction is a challenging and rigid business, and has the ability to be antiquated at times. As a young woman building in one of the most dynamic and complex markets in the world, you need to be able to deal with complicated situations, difficult conversations, and some big personalities. It’s exhilarating, but you do need perseverance and resilience.

In your opinion, how important is networking?

Networking is a very important part of the construction industry. You need to put in the face time and build relationships. It helps you improve your communication, hone your presentation skills, and increase your knowledge of different parts of the industry.

In today’s world of technology, smart networking is important. Social media is helpful, but it can’t be the only tool you use. People do research on you before you meet so you need to be professional online and off. 

Compared to 5 or 10 years ago, in your opinion how would you say your role has evolved?

I’ve gone from a day-to-day project manager, to department leader, to CEO of a small business with a bigger business. It’s the move from being an excellent manager, to being a business leader. 

Is there anything that the next generation should know?

Invite more face time with managers and rely less on texting and email. Recognize that in the construction industry face time is paramount. Gaining the confidence to walk into your manager’s office and follow up rather than just emailing will set you apart from your peers.  

What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become a construction leader?

1.Get a mentor. There’s no better way to elevate your career.

2.Establish your annual expectations, and check in on the goals you set professionally.  Do not allow yourself to get stuck in one role because someone else thinks that might be the best role for you.  

3. Test your ability to manage others as early as you can in your career; you will learn a lot about yourself.

4. Challenge and push yourself to grow and develop your skill set through exposure to different opportunities. Join a business organization, sign up for a club or program at work, donate your time to a non-profit affiliated with the construction industry.