Tammy Birklid can vividly recall the day in 2012 that she first stepped onto one of Merit Construction Northwest’s sites to manage her first project. She said it was the first time she ever felt out of place in the construction industry.
“I had to put my hard hat on and my safety vest, (but) my Velcro wasn’t Velcroing, and for whatever reason, that was really important to me; (I was) just terrified,” she recalled with a laugh. “What if they asked me something that I didn’t know the answer to? (I was) just feeling like no one is going to respect me as the boss.”
The Edgewood resident had been an office worker throughout her 25-year career in various aspects of the construction business — including human resources, business management, and finance. But, on that day in 2012, Birklid needed to thrust herself into the field and learn every aspect of Merit’s operations. It was a move that eventually would culminate in her becoming the principal of Merit earlier this year.
Originally founded as Merit Co. in 1957 by E.J. Zarelli, the Tacoma-based legacy business was known for its work on many of the region’s commercial buildings throughout the years, including a remodel of Fife’s iconic destination diner, the Poodle Dog — also owned by Zarelli. The company’s biggest claim to fame, however, is as the commercial builder that erected the Tacoma Dome in the early 1980s.
After lengthy stints with Sierra Construction and Northwest Electric & Service, Birklid was hired by Zarelli’s son, Len, in 2007, and she rose through the ranks as a manager and partner. Later, a succession plan was put in place for Len’s eventual retirement.
“We knew that we were going to be working toward ownership, and it was like, ‘If I am going to do that, I’m going to have to get out there and figure out this other side of the world,’” Birklid said of her field work beginning in 2012. “I had always been in accounting, and I had always been the administration, and HR, and the office side of (the business).”
Despite excellent guidance from Len and other mentors — to whom Birklid said she owes her career — Birklid said the greatest business lesson she has learned had been born out of her own experiences as a woman in a male-dominated industry.
“Once you get to where you’re going as a woman, it’s so important to stay authentic to yourself and be OK with the fact that you are a woman,” she said, citing a recent on-site speech she gave to her workers surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and their commitment to the mission. It was a speech, she admits, that made her emotional.
“It’s OK to show vulnerability; it doesn’t take away from your strength.”
Photos below courtesy Tammy Birklid
7 a.m. | The workday starts early in construction; I am already at work in our front lobby and ready for the day.
10 a.m. | This is what a collaboration meeting looks like during the COVID crisis. So grateful for Teams, Zoom, and quick learners in our company.
11 a.m. | I head over to the Tenino Food Bank to celebrate the securing of the building for our friends. I am so proud of the generosity of my staff and our subcontractor partners on this.
11:30 a.m. | The team at KIRO-TV wanted to share a good-news piece on our Tenino Food Bank project. It was such an organic partnership with our project manager Adam Coleman because he is from Tenino.
1:30 p.m. | I get my temperature taken to gain access to a jobsite for a project meeting; this process is part of our COVID-19 safety protocol.
3 p.m. | I end almost every day by taking a walk with this guy; Jaxon is my 9-year-old golden retriever.
3:30 p.m. | Our walk turned into an amazing afternoon when we saw a duck-crossing sign and the actual ducks — the sign was for real.
5 p.m. | On Fridays, we get takeout for dinner. This week, we are supporting one of our favorite local restaurants, Toscano’s in Puyallup.
6 p.m. | My daughter presented me with these two planter boxes she built from raw materials for my Mother’s Day gift — they add so much to our patio.