Executive trades white collar for hard hat

January 28, 2012 12:14:12 AM PST
Career transitions aren't unusual, especially in this economy. But it is rare to see someone give up a seat in the board room for a hard hat.

For much of her professional life, Gina Centoni has worked at some of Silicon Valley's best known tech companies. Then a garage fire that started next door and spread to her house in 2001 prompted a career change.

A long simmering dream to become a real-life "hard hat Barbie" had her donning work boots as she put in five years learning construction. It was a dramatic career switch from high tech to contracting.

"I dreamed of it but it took a while to get the courage to actually get out here and do it," Centoni said. "All in all, this really is a dream come true."

Centoni now has her contractor's license and a business partner Mike Alioto. They formed Alioto Centoni Construction, specializing in renovation projects.

Their partnership is a rare in the male-dominated contractor business. But it also resonates with clients where women often make key decisions instead of men.

"They may be writing the checks but it's the women who are calling the shots," Alioto said.

Similarly, Alioto and Centoni divide their responsibilities.

"What I've been able to do is bring in some deep analysis and planning and cost estimation and running an operation and profitably where as Mike really brings in the skill of being able to manage the trades, understanding the building codes," Centoni said.

When Alioto Centoni remodeled a master bedroom suite, client Jen Chang recognized what Centoni brought to the project.

"I could see how some of Gina's background kind of melded in and was a nice combination with discussions about design and what-not so they were more realistic," Chang said.

A career switch isn't easy, but once accomplished, it can be rewarding

It does help to have a little fire in the belly to overcome the fear inherent in change of careers, but in the case of Centoni, a fire at her house was the big catalyst.