Family Focus

Acuity with Allison Otto

Back Q&A Sep 1, 2013 By Douglas Curley

A third-generation member of the family business, Allison Otto joined the Otto Construction team as its marketing director in 2000. Three years ago, she was named vice president for business development. Family patriarch John F. Otto launched the Sacramento-based company in 1947. John’s son Carl took over the company in 1971 and served as president until his passing in 2007.

“When my grandfather came home from World War II, he launched the company out of the back of a pickup truck. He was building projects for family-owned car dealerships and grocery stores. Everything was done on a handshake. Of course, you can’t really do it that way today, but our word is still good.”

“I wanted to be an architect. But while I was attending [the University of Southern California] I got a handwritten note from my grandfather that was titled, ‘The Top 10 Reasons You Cannot be an Architect.’ It basically outlined the constant conflict between architects and contractors. So I got a business degree instead.”

“When I graduated, I wanted to do my own thing for awhile. There was no pressure for me to come into the family business. I worked for a lobbyist for a couple years. Then my dad called me in 2000 and asked, ‘Are you done messing around?’ He had decided it was time for me to work for him and launch the company’s marketing department.”

“As a family member, everyday I feel I have to prove myself. I put myself under more of a microscope than anyone else. I don’t want people to ever think I’m not working as hard as I can. Because they all work their tails off.”

“Working with my younger brother John also has its challenges. As the senior employee, I try to present things to him in a careful and thoughtful manner that promotes a healthy team environment. The last thing I want is to simply come across as a bossy older sister.”

“I feel like I come across very relaxed in my management style. But I do like things done in a certain way. When I joined the company, there was no marketing program. Business development was pretty much my dad going out and talking to people. For 10 years I got to develop a marketing plan, a company message and a professional image that was consistently presented. It was hard for me to give that up, even if it was to my brother (who is now marketing director). I asked him to please be careful with it.”

“Since my dad was 60 when he died, some business transition plans were already in the works. There needed to be a next president anyway, and John and I were a little too young and had not had enough experience to run a company. Mike (Fuez) was slated to be the next president. It just happened sooner than everyone expected.”

“We all realized that nobody could fill Dad’s shoes, but we all rallied together when it happened. Everyone wanted to support Mike. There was no turnover. We wanted Otto Construction to stay the fair-minded business my dad had intended. We come to work every morning to fulfill his legacy. It’s very cool.”

“My mom is now the owner. It was a very tough learning curve for her. My dad went to work every day, but when he got home he turned off the switch. He was a great person at home, but he was not there to talk about work.”

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is just to be a fair person. It will come back to reward you at some point. Treat people how you want to be treated. It sounds simple, but it goes a long way. Sacramento is a small town, so you never know what people might be saying about you.”

“There has only been one time when I felt me being a businesswoman made a man uncomfortable. It happened very recently. I walked into a room and there were three gentlemen and I taking seats for a conversation. One of them never looked at me. He would talk to everyone but refused to make eye contact with me. It was odd, but other than that meeting I’ve never felt being a woman in a traditionally male industry presented any significant hurdles.”

“Some people define themselves by their work. In some ways I do too. But I definitely know how to kick off my heels and run away to have a good time. I think that ability makes me a much better person.”

“My dad built this company on the principles of honesty, integrity and compassion for others. That’s what has kept our employees here. We are an open-book company; there are no hidden agendas. Everyone can leave a meeting with the knowledge of exactly what happened. There is nothing else going on.”

“Now that the recession is over, everyone knows it’s the renovation type of work that will come back first. I’m hopeful, but maybe because it’s my job as business development director to be hopeful. Just the fact the commercial real estate people are talking about potential activity is a good sign. They weren’t talking about that a couple of years ago.”

“We have worked as a subcontractor with Turner Construction (recently named general contractor for the downtown entertainment and sports complex) in the past. We will be exploring bidding on some portion of that project. They are interested in reaching out to the community and working with local companies. I hope Otto Construction can be a part of that team.”


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