Alum to Alum with Jana Forsythe

Oct. 24, 2014

'I feel like I have a true passion for people and making connections.”

I first met Cohort 3 Alum, Jana Forsythe, one evening about four years ago when I answered my front door. “Hi, I’m Jana” she said. “Jana, like banana, I’m here for the book club.” Then sheepishly she added, “I hope it’s all right that I brought wine.” You know – some people you just like right away!

Since then I have gotten to know Jana as she attended our Cohort 8 book club meetings and other social events. It is now the running joke that though Jana went through the EMBA program with Cohort 3, we have adopted her as a member of Cohort 8. I have also worked with her extensively on the EMBA Alumni Board and my wife, Cheryl, and I have become good friends with her and her husband, Tim.

Therein lies the problem with writing this profile. While you would think it would be easy to write about someone you know pretty well, it becomes difficult to decide what to include and what not to include. And, with Jana there is a lot to choose from because she is one busy lady!

Jana is owner and president of F.E.I. Construction, a general engineering and general building contractor. But that is not nearly all. In addition to serving on the EMBA Alumni Board she is a member of, and the Corporate Partner Chair for, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), a member of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME), the Women of High Caliber (a shooting and self-defense club), Women on Wine (WOW) and Women in Diversified Services (WinDS). She also spoke at this year’s Governor’s Conference on Small Business and was honored to be assigned to sit at the Governor’s table during the conference luncheon.

Jana was working at an asphalt and grading company and being groomed to be a vice president when she decided she wanted to pursue an MBA. She decided on the EMBA program at UNLV because the every other weekend classes fit into her work schedule. After taking six years at six different colleges to complete her undergraduate degree, she liked the idea of finishing her MBA in 18 months.

Following her graduation from the program with her MBA in December 2005, she opened F.E.I. Construction in October 2006.

I asked Jana if going through the program had an effect on her deciding to start her own business.  “It did,” she said.  “I saw how things could be done differently than it had been done at my previous employers, and I also saw the value of cultivating relationships in business. Before I went through the program, I was all about climbing the corporate ladder, worked long hours and had very few other interests. While I was going through the program I realized how important it was to work with the other members of the cohort and cultivate relationships with them to get the most out of the EMBA experience. It’s the same in business; at the end of the day relationships with people are more important than how many yards of dirt you move or how the finished commercial tenant improvement looks.”

She continued, “Now, I feel like I have a true passion for people and making connections.”

I asked her about the rewards of owning her own business. “It’s rewarding to be a business owner. I feel like I have always worked hard for my employer. Now I’m working hard for myself but also for the client – I just eliminated the middle man.”

I questioned Jana about the biggest challenge of owning her own business. “Finding the right people and working together to grow F.E.I. Construction,” she said.

Her current goals and challenges include growing F.E.I. and taking a weekend off sometime soon. I asked her about her schedule and how many hours a week she works. “When you own your own business I guess you’re really working all the time.”  She smiled, perhaps teasing me a bit, and said, “If I’m at an event drinking wine, I’m still working, still representing F.E.I.”

Trying again, I asked about a typical work day. “I’m usually in the office by 7 a.m.  If I have an event, I’m out by around 5:30 p.m. If I don’t have an event I am usually here until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on a good day. If we’re under deadline pressure it can be midnight or later.”

I asked how she stays productive while working such long hours. “I get a third wind,” she said.

“If I’m working on something I get energized by it. I also just don’t sit well; I have to be doing something!”

I asked about all the organizations she belongs to that have a “W” in their acronym. “Construction is a male dominated industry, she said. “I spend most of my time at work around guys; sometimes women need their girlfriends.  It’s my downtime.”

I inquired about Jana working with her husband at F.E.I. “I like it,” she responded. “We spend more time at work than anywhere else, right?  Who else has my back?  Who’s my biggest fan?”  

Then I asked, “Who married the boss?” “He did,” she says emphatically. “I told him I was starting the business and he could join me if he wanted. I’m the President of F.E.I. and the ultimate decision maker, though we make most decisions together.”

Later, I asked Tim about Jana’s seemingly boundless energy. He laughed and said, “I have to admit she’s tough to keep up with.”  I can’t imagine even trying.

--Darwin Hopwood