We’re celebrating #WomenInConstructionWeek by honouring some of the women who have made our industry (and ICBA) the success it is today.

If not for Christina Koechl of Martina Enterprises, there may not be an ICBA today. The organization was struggling in the mid 1980s, until Christina took the chair of the ICBA Board of Directors from 1985-1988. Under her leadership, ICBA hired Phil Hochstein, won a major political battle in getting the open shop into EXPO 86 projects, signed up new members, and found financial stability. She was also the driving force in pushing ICBA to create a professional development program and directly train workers.

From a history of ICBA:

Two incidents helped shape Christina and Hermann Koechl’s resolve to operate non-union when they launched Martina Enterprises in 1972. The first was the relatively minor affront of being laughed at by a unionized contractor and told “you’ll never do more than a duplex, the unions will make sure of that.” The second was the much more chilling observation and advice of a union agent, passed along via Christina’s brother-in-law, that he “knew we had young kids and we should watch out for their safety.” The threat, she says, made her blood boil. And it drove her decision to become “part of a change, part of a movement,” and to take on a leadership role in the early ICBA.

The threat against her family was never acted on. But like those of other ICBA founders, Christina Koechl’s business faced huge hurdles. Suppliers refused to bid to it, its apprentices were denied study materials, and guard dogs and other extraordinary measures had to be taken to prevent vandalism at its work sites. In the end though, unions made sure of very little other than that Koechl’s resolve remained steely. “Give me a good fight any day,” she says. She and Hermann handled diverse and large mechanical contracting projects across North America – everything from multi-unit residential complexes, to a corporate head office, and an observatory in Hawaii. She also played an instrumental role in ICBA’s development, chairing its board and becoming a Life Member. But they faced some tough realities when starting out as an open shop contractor.