Strength Through Compassion
President of Collins Construction Co., Inc. honors and fortifies a multigenerational legacy
As early as age 7, Rebecca Collins articulated to her parents her desire to work in the construction industry. “Construction always intrigued me,” says Rebecca, who is now President of Collins Construction Co., Inc. (Collins). “This was largely because Collins was my family’s business and because the industry was so important to my dad.”
As a child, Rebecca hoped to one day become a project superintendent working outdoors; however, with age and experience, her preferences changed. “After working outdoors for a few summers in Massachusetts, I learned to appreciate roles based on job sites, but realized that I’d prefer to pursue managerial roles,” she says.
Rebecca’s conclusion was correct. By the young age of 41, she became the first female to assume ownership of the near-century-old general contracting and construction management company run by her family.
A Family Business
Throughout its 92-year lifetime, Collins has undergone two name changes and three transfers of ownership spanning four generations of the Collins family. The company was founded in 1928 by Rebecca’s great-grandfather, Francis Collins Sr., under the name of F.L. Collins Builder. “My great-grandfather was a mason by trade and slowly grew the company over time,” Rebecca says.
Later, Francis’ three sons became involved in the company, transformed it into a union-employment shop, and changed its name to F.L. Collins & Sons Incorporated. In 1984, Rebecca’s father, Jim Collins, and two of his brothers assumed ownership, converted it into a non-union employment organization, and changed the company’s name for a second time to Collins Construction Co., Inc.
Jim remained actively involved in the business until his death a few years ago, at which point Rebecca became President of the established company with a rich history of providing quality general contracting and construction management services across the southeastern New England commercial market.
Rebecca’s Route to Collins
Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, Rebecca attended public schools in her hometown before attending Roger Williams University (RWU) in Bristol, Rhode Island, where she received her bachelor’s degree in construction management and a minor in business.
Upon graduating from RWU, she applied for a job at Collins, but to her surprise, her father refused to hire her. “He thought I requested too much money,” Rebecca says, laughing.
At this point, Rebecca redirected her course and through an RWU co-op began working for a large general contractor in Attleboro, Massachusetts, that specializes in clean room and assisted living construction. Three years later, she started working for national construction management firm Gilbane, Inc. in Providence, Rhode Island, as a project engineer. Though Rebecca thoroughly enjoyed her time working for the two large companies and appreciated working on large-scale projects, she desired a change from traveling across all of New England and upstate New York for her work. In 1999, she called her father and again requested that he hire her so that she could move home to Fall River. This time, he agreed.
The Rise to Ownership
In 2000, Rebecca assumed the role of Vice President of Collins, co-leading the company’s operations and working alongside her father as an Assistant Project Manager. Over time, she and her father reversed roles. Rebecca began running the company’s jobs while her father transitioned to a secondary role, managing the company’s finances and working sparingly as a project executive.
Rebecca remembers fondly her time working with her father and describes their special bond. “A father-daughter relationship is much different from a father-son relationship,” Rebecca says. “I know several men who worked with their fathers and adopted sink-or-swim mentalities. My interactions with my father were much more nurturing, and the fact that I was given opportunities to make mistakes and take chances made all the difference.”
When Jim passed away in 2017, Rebecca was well-equipped to continue his legacy and transitioned naturally to the role of President.
Building on the Legacy
Though honored to lead Collins, Rebecca notes the pressure that accompanies owning and operating a reputable, multigenerational company. “You don’t want to be the one to halt the company’s success or to let down your predecessors,” Rebecca explains.
However, by the same token, Rebecca appreciates her unique opportunity to build upon the solid foundation of her family’s legacy, not only figuratively, but also literally. For example, Collins is currently renovating the front entrance of an elementary school in Swansea, Massachusetts, that was built originally by her grandfather.
Collins is also remodeling four buildings that are part of the Catholic residential treatment facility known as Saint Vincent’s Services, which her grandfather constructed, and for which her father provided carpentry services as a young adult. “It’s projects like this that keep me coming to work every day,” Rebecca says. “Because of my family’s history of work on the project, I have a unique appreciation for the buildings’ original construction and want to ensure my team and I provide quality renovations.”
Rebecca notes that another benefit of owning and operating a multigenerational family company is the opportunity to foster time-honored relationships. For example, the Director of Systems and Operations at Saint Vincent’s Services, Paul Michael, is working with Rebecca on the current campus renovation project—and he also worked with her father. “They are both cut from the same cloth,” Paul says. “We have a continuous and comfortable working relationship with Collins because Rebecca, like her father, is reliable, straightforward and well-respected.”
The longstanding relationships formed originally by Rebecca’s predecessors not only include those formed with Collins clients but also relationships with personnel, subcontractors and designers. Rebecca says an 80-year-old man once stopped by a Collins job site and told her that he worked for her grandfather 50 years ago. Additionally, Steve Chouinard of Mello Electric Co., Inc. met Rebecca’s father at the age of 18; since then, he has worked with both Jim and Rebecca as a subcontractor on various Collins projects.
“I knew Rebecca’s father for almost 40 years before his passing, and I’ve known Rebecca for about 15 years,” Steve says. “Jim and Becca have always given me a fair shake. This is a tough industry in which you identify your friends and enemies really quick, but everyone at Collins has always supported my company.”
Expanding the Company Portfolio
One of Collins’ most noteworthy projects completed under Rebecca’s leadership includes significant renovations on the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMass Dartmouth) campus. Originally designed in 1963 by famous Brutalist architect Paul Rudolph, the UMass Dartmouth structures follow challenging design patterns and are constructed entirely of concrete masonry units. Full-service architectural, planning and landscape design firm Civitects completed the renovation designs and selected Collins to execute the challenging task of retrofitting the decades-old campus buildings to accommodate the school’s 21st-century educational needs.
“The university requested that our team’s renovations mirror Rudolph’s original building designs,” Vice President and Owner of Civitects, Mike Keane, says. “The way in which Rudolph formed the concrete of the campus buildings and differentiated the floors, walls, ceilings and textures was detailed and very specific, so I was nervous about trusting another firm to recreate this aesthetic. Collins delivered and created a fantastic end product. One would be hard-pressed to distinguish differences between the original and new constructions on campus.”
Mike says that Civitects has worked with Collins on a number of projects since the completion of the UMass Dartmouth renovations, including an adaptive reuse project at his former church. Not only did Mike’s grandfather help secure the property for the church, but Rebecca’s father built the church and Rebecca served as a laborer during its construction. “This was another project where it was paramount that the general contractor possess strong attention to detail, and Collins was perfect for the job. We’ve developed an all-around strong partnership,” Mike says.
Securing a Strong Future
With an eye for growth and innovation, Rebecca spearheaded her team’s adoption of project management and estimating software to keep property owners and design teams abreast of job site progress in today’s technologically driven era of construction. Previously, Collins employees would handwrite all project deliverables.
Additionally, Rebecca invested in cloud-based project management software, which can be accessed for free by all Collins project partners. She explains that this is a huge value-add for Collins’ partners, as it is common for general contractors to require partnering firms to pay upward of $7,000 to access their specific project management software.
What’s more, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rebecca has not only retained all workers employed before the onset of the global health crisis, but also increased Collins’ workforce. Additionally, she used this time to take advantage of a virtual workforce training for employees and obtained the company’s Women Business Enterprise (WBE) certifications in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Prioritizing Workforce Development
Since transitioning to President of Collins, Rebecca explains that her most unexpected worry is the pressure of ensuring her employees are well cared for. “This isn’t something people often discuss,” Rebecca says. “However, it’s a huge responsibility knowing that every decision I make affects an entire workforce—I no longer worry solely about feeding my own family.”
With this in mind, Rebecca developed a stronger employee benefit package to facilitate employee retention and recruitment. She’s also cultivating a supportive, flexible working environment. “I want people to have a work life but also a life,” Rebecca says. “As a working mom of four, it is my goal to ensure that if a superintendent wants to see his son’s Christmas concert, he’s permitted to do that.”
What’s more, one of Rebecca’s favorite parts of her job is the opportunity to help her employees advance their careers. She elaborates, “One woman who was busy raising two children began working for me as a receptionist. I allowed her to work part time until she was available to transition to working full time. Once her children grew older, she became an estimator coordinator, obtained her Professional Certificate in Construction Estimating at San Diego State University, and now works for me as a full-time estimator.”
The Future of Collins
In just three short years, Rebecca has proven capable of honoring Collins’ past while simultaneously solidifying its future. Looking forward, Rebecca envisions increasing Collins’ current workforce of 12, serving a larger geographical area and cultivating Collins’ strong construction management operations.
Additionally, Collins recently became the Massachusetts and Rhode Island dealer for Britespan Building Systems Inc., which provides pre-engineered fabric building systems. This partnership will allow Collins to offer its clients quick-to-install, cost-efficient, pre-engineered structures.
A Kinder, Gentler Way
As one of few female company owners in the construction industry, Rebecca believes her unique perspective and management style provide Collins with a competitive edge. “Rather than focusing solely on business like my male predecessors, I offer a kinder, gentler way of managing construction and Collins employees—but I don’t get pushed around,” Rebecca emphasizes.
She adds, “I think my demonstration of compassion [and] understanding of others’ needs, coupled with the expertise and increased level of attention to detail that I’ve brought to the business, serves my clients, employees and subcontractors well.”