Ashlee Pforr joined Chicago-based Skender in 2010 and was recently promoted to project executive at the firm. In her time with Skender, she has overseen numerous interior construction teams on award-winning buildouts for clients like Bank of America, Cars.com, Echo Global Logistics, Hinshaw & Culbertson, SRAM and the Americas headquarters of HERE Technologies.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I grew up in a small town of about 3,000 people in central Iowa and went to Iowa State University for civil engineering. I moved to Chicago after college with the mindset I would stay for two years and then move to one of the coasts. Thirteen years later, I’m still here and can’t imagine living anywhere else. I’ve been with Skender for almost a decade now and have had the privilege of working with many of the industry’s brightest talent as well as managing dozens of great interior construction projects.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
I wish I had a great career aspiration as a child, but I spent most of my childhood dreaming about becoming an adult, living in a big city and wearing skirt suits. So basically, I wanted to be Ally McBeal.
How did you get your start in the industry?
Originally, I wasn’t completely convinced construction was the place for me. I’ve always enjoyed the girlier things in life (e.g., I played with LEGOs, but mostly built perfume bottles and makeup for my imaginary store and I selected which sports to play by the uniforms), so honestly my introduction to construction was a bit abrasive.
My first exposure was at a four-hour Saturday course in college. I was one of very few women and we were told to bring our steel-toe boots and hard hats to the next session. I didn’t own these accessories and didn’t begin to know where to purchase them. I shamefully hid in the bathroom at break and asked a friend to pick me up. After that, I explored all that engineering had to offer and eventually ended up with a civil engineering degree. I had an internship for a general contractor in college and really enjoyed it. I started my career in ground-up construction, but didn’t hit my stride until I completed my first commercial interior project. Commercial interiors is where I found a balance between the traditional masculine feel of the construction industry and being able to use my passion for the aesthetic to assist our clients and design teams to create beautiful spaces with custom architectural features that push the limits every day.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
I’ve always been a very independent person (and still am), but I have a wonderful husband that provides the balance I need in my personal life to continue to give my all at work every day. When we started dating, he understood my passion for my job and has continued to provided encouragement, stability and a good laugh when I need one.
What does a day in the life of Ashlee Pforr look like?
There is no typical day in my life, so I’d prefer to describe what my favorite kind of day looks like. I would start my day in the office catching up with my team to ensure they have what they need to be productive. Then I’d attend a project meeting or two at a job site where I can be involved in the details and challenges of the day. Finally, I’d return to the office to either strategize for an upcoming project pursuit or company initiative.
What do you like most about your job?
My favorite thing about my job is that I’ve found a company and industry that allows me to be myself. I’m allowed to share my thoughts and opinions, joke around with those around me and share my frustrations when I need to.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
I’m so proud of how far I’ve already come and cannot wait to continue this adventure. Over the last few years, I’ve been very focused on lifting up and mentoring women in the industry. At one point, I was one of very few women in the construction industry—and even in the last 10 years that number has increased exponentially—but there is more work to be done. I want to help lead this movement and eventually see an industry that we no longer call male-dominated.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
I love traveling and spending time with my friends. When I’m away from the office I also like activities that I find relaxing like reading (and listening to as many audiobooks as I can). A few of my recent favorites include Calypso by David Sedaris and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I recently picked up baking, a new favorite weekend activity. A few of my friends have been getting together to try our hands at new recipes, “Great British Bake Off” style.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
I visited Japan last year and was completely overwhelmed in the best way possible. The people were so nice, the food was fantastic, my karaoke was horrible but the history and the amount of things to see was overabundant. The list of places I’d like to see is infinite, but I’d say sailing the Greek islands or going on a safari is at the top.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
Cheryl Durst, EVP & CEO of IIDA. I had the privilege to work with Cheryl on the buildout of their space and admire her ability to lead and inspire those around her.