Erika Cleaver, Tri-North Builders

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Erika Cleaver
, project manager, Tri-North Builders.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

The most challenging thing is the labor shortage that the construction industry faces. Finding qualified workers has been and continues to be a challenge, which is why I help with an event called Kids Building Wisconsin. College does not have to be the only option for students after high school. Construction offers exciting, rewarding, and well-paying career options for those who enjoy hands-on work, math, and problem solving. Every job is unique and presents its own set of challenges, which makes construction so fun!

The most rewarding aspect is the sense of pride you feel when a project is completed and the client is happy with the final product. I love getting to see a project develop from conception to completion. What starts as just a design on a piece of paper becomes an actual restaurant, hotel, student housing facility, etc. that will be used and enjoyed by people for years to come. It is the best part of the job to be able to say, “I helped build that!”

Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

I have always admired Judy Faulkner, CEO of Epic Systems. I admire the company she has built from a few employees working out of a garage to the now 8,000-plus working at the campus in Verona. I admire her for being innovative, humble, fair, and for her philanthropy, to name a few qualities.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

I am honored to have been part of the construction team that built the Deep Space Auditorium for Epic. Although it was a project very early on in my career, it was an once-in-a-lifetime project that I will never forget. I learned a ton and got to experience firsthand many construction means and methods that you do not get to see every day. The result was an amazing building, well deserving of all its awards.

Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

I would tell my 21-year-old self to be confident, practice patience, and take advantage of any opportunity to practice networking and/or negotiation skills. Find a mentor and take advantage of their knowledge and lessons learned. I would also remind myself not to “sweat the small stuff,” and to continue to work hard and have fun.



What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

Living in Dane County is fun because we are so close to downtown Madison. We are easily able to enjoy things like the Farmers’ Market on the square, Badger sporting events, and shows at Overture Center. The best part about working here is that there are some great companies in Dane County. We are very fortunate to be able to work with some amazing clients, architects/engineers, subcontractors, suppliers, and many others who are dedicated to their professions and our community. It is inspiring to be a part of the cultural and professional exchange here.

Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

I have played piano since I was in grade school. If I had not gone to Milwaukee School of Engineering, I would have been set along a very different career path because I would have attended Cardinal Stritch on a scholarship for performance piano.

I am also a DIY-er; I even have a room at home dedicated to “arts and crafts.” I dabbled in Pinterest-type projects — mostly chalkboards and home décor signs, but I’ve also done silk flower bouquets/boutonnières for weddings, photography, and diaper cakes for baby showers.

What are your guilty pleasures?

I love looking through antique/craft stores. I am always on the lookout for fun rustic furniture and picture frames, or items for my DIY projects. My husband does not necessarily share my enthusiasm for “antique hunting.” One time I was visiting a friend for a girl’s weekend up in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin (approximately four hours from our house). We found this amazing little shop and I just could not pass up all the good deals. I bought so many items — mostly furniture — that we had to rent a small U-Haul trailer and go back to St. Croix Falls the following weekend. My husband was not thrilled, but at least it was a pretty drive with all the fall colors!

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