Groundbreaker Profile

Angie Simon Is In It For the People

SMACNA’S first female president did what her mentors suggested: exactly what she wanted.

Angie Simon. Remember that name. In 2019 Simon became the first female President and CEO of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA). Simon’s father was an electrical engineer at Naval Base Point Mugu in Oxnard, California—and a proud dad who’d always told her she could become whatever she dreamed. Her beloved Aunt Ann—a spirited WWII nurse who led by example and greeted every day with no-nonsense gusto—was behind Simon all the way. Her mentors put the “you can do whatever you want!” wind in her sails.

Meeting Simon, one senses she took that inspiration and added to it her own good humor, hard work—and a thick skin, too. The mountain she had to climb may be summed up by something her former boss said when he hired her. “You know, Angie,” he told her. “I'm very chauvinistic. But I'm hiring you, anyway.” That their decades-long friendship developed from there is a testament to Simon’s Groundbreaking spirit—and the power that lies in embracing change.

Angie Simon presenting on stage

As the first female President and CEO of SMACNA, you’ve made history! Was this sort of leadership position something you aspired to?

It’s interesting. I wear two hats right now. I'm the CEO of Western Allied Mechanical, and this is my 34th year there. But I also wear a second hat—as the President of National SMACNA, the sheet metal contractors' national association. Was I seeking higher office? I first went on the national board in 2007, and I was already at that time the first woman who had ever served on that board. They wanted me to really get involved and rise through the chairs. And I kept saying no, because my kids were . . . I still had one in high school.

But four hours into one of the board meetings, something happened that made me think my going to the chairs would be a good thing for SMACNA, and for our industry. When the meeting broke for lunch—three different guys came up to me and said, "I didn't know a woman could know that much about air conditioning." And I'm like, "Really? So what rock did you come out from underneath?!” I knew it was a compliment but I also felt it was a time for a change.

large liquid storage tanks

If someone asked you to describe what you love, or find most satisfying about construction, what would that be?

I think because of my sports background, I liked the idea of working on a team—of putting a team together, going out into the field, walking the jobs and seeing something built. So the idea of working for a contractor was much more interesting to me than being a consulting engineer.  I've grown to really, really love the industry—I have a strong  passion about the people and the work. It’s so great to be able to see what you’ve made. One of our company's three core values is  Dedicated to Teamwork, which is construction! As an athlete, teamwork was what I always loved. Construction is all about teamwork..
 
The people make the industry. I can pitch our services, but my field crews that do the installation—they are why we get the return work. I mean, every person within our company is essential to our reputation and how we get work. And then just being able to see what you produce is really something.

Did you have a mentor early in your career?

Well, I did. I had one or two. One that wasn't really in our industry, my aunt—my dad's older sister. Super cool lady. Her name was Ann Zoll. She was a nurse in World War II. She ended up moving to the West Coast, worked for the Red Cross. She retired from the reserves as a colonel, and she ran the Northwest Red Cross branch up in Portland when a woman never had held that position. She and I became really good friends—and she was quite the mentor. Both she and my dad just always told me that I could do anything I wanted and don't ever let anything stand in my way. Another mentor was my former boss, who has retired. He was great. He said when he hired me, “I'm very chauvinistic. But I'm hiring you, anyway.” By the time he was done and retired, he was very proud of me, and a huge believer in and supporter of women.

Group shot with Angie Simon

What are your passions outside of work?

I ended up giving my boyfriend a trip to Giants Fantasy Camp for Christmas. And then two days later, he asked me to marry him and said, "Let's make fantasy camp our honeymoon!" So it was me and 90 guys playing baseball on my honeymoon. And I'm like, "I've never played baseball!" But it really wasn't that different from softball, and we’ve been playing baseball ever since. And I was a better athlete than probably most of those guys that were going to Fantasy Camp at the time. We just celebrated our 30 year anniversary. We have two great sons who are out of college and starting their careers.

What advice might you have for women considering a career in construction?

There are so many aspects of construction, so many ways to do what you love or find interesting. I mean, there's sheet metal, there's piping, there's electrical, there's general contracting. I was just on a Zoom call with the International President of the Sheet Metal Union, and we were talking about inclusion. It's great to get a diverse workforce, but if they don’t feel included and welcomed, they're just not going to stay. And that's one of the things we've seen with women in the trades. When they don't make it through the first five years—through the apprenticeship—it’s because construction has not been a welcoming environment for them. We’re extremely focused on changing the industry’s whole mindset to become a naturally diverse and inclusive space. When you think of construction, do you think of a crew of women, minorities, or  gay men out there working and being accepted? You don't think that. We need to rebrand construction as an industry where people who love to build and are good at it feel welcome. Period.

At Procore, we use the term groundbreaker to describe an individual who casually inspires, leads or embraces the cutting edge, and is driven to set a new standard. How might you personally define a groundbreaker based on your experiences?

I would describe a groundbreaker as someone who is not afraid of change. And in the construction industry, change can be quite an unpopular thing typically. We in construction are really slow to change. So I look at a groundbreaker as someone willing to take the time and effort to be a champion of the change that has to happen.

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