Posted on 31 Mar 21bySheri Pepper
On the very day Chandra Pappas joined Nelson as Executive Vice President in October of 2017, the Northern California wildfires started in Sonoma and Napa counties. From that very first day, Chandra has led with a flexibility and adaptability that embody Nelson’s core values of Empathy, Integrity, Excellence, and Innovation. Here’s a bit of her story:
Tell us about your first day on the job.
After I accepted the offer with Nelson, I moved to California from Virginia. Within 48 hours of leaving my Virginia home, I found myself passing out water in a Sonoma hotel to people reeling from the devastating 2017 wildfires. It was an eye-opening welcome to California –I’ve learned a lot since moving here and often relate to my East Coast friends that living in CA is not for the faint of heart. It struck me how natural disasters are almost considered normal, and Californians respond with courage and generosity.
How did you find your first career job?
I went to Towson University in Maryland. Around the time of my graduation, my dad, who was in construction, was building the family log cabin. I helped and loved the project planning and hard work. I decided that I wanted to be a construction superintendent. That’s the person who either takes a house from the front-end (excavation through mechanicals and drywall) or the finish end (drywall to final inspections). I interviewed for a year to get an assistant superintendent job. I didn’t consider the fact that it was a male-dominated career at the time.
Finally, I interviewed with a national building company for an entry-level role and found myself interviewing with the president. I asked if he interviewed all candidates, and he replied, “No, we’ve just never had a woman apply for this before, so I wanted to meet you.” I wound up getting the job and loving it.
On the other hand, people would sometimes confuse me with the maid or think I was the Roach Coach driver. I had to learn to see the humor in those situations. In the beginning, men would say that I was taking a job away from a guy, but I’d tell them, “No, I’m not. I’m hiring! Tell your friends to come to apply.” And ultimately, I had great male mentors who were genuinely excited to see a woman succeed in the field.
Since you began your career, what changes have occurred for women that excite you?
We’re almost at pay equality – we’re not all the way there but getting closer. Women are in every single industry, including previously 100% male-only sports. Some careers may not be as easy for women to gain entry, but women have knocked down almost every barrier. That’s very exciting.
How has your role changed over the past year, given the pandemic, social events, natural events/emergencies, etc.?
Empathy is more top of mind and the importance of timely communication. During this past year, we’ve seen people’s situations change overnight and continuously. We’ve learned not to assume anything and instead meet people where they are. These crises have allowed us to talk to people more intimately than ever before: clients, Associates, our own team members. Those interactions build trust and have made us a stronger partner. It’s a shift we’ll carry forward.
Who is a woman role model you admire?
Condoleezza Rice, the first female U.S. Secretary of State and current director of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. She’s a Russian specialist, an accomplished pianist, and was a Stanford professor before going into politics. I admire her ability to stay positive, focused and clearly above the pettiness that is so endemic to the political realm. She’s graceful and handles criticism and praise in the same way, almost with indifference. She’s incredibly smart, and you walk in her world when she tells a story. Some people do not hold her in high regard and think she’s left her heritage behind. She doesn’t think in such a limited way. She still dreams of being Commissioner of the National Football League!
What is one piece of career advice that you’ve found useful?
My dad taught me to never quit over single issue. If you have a problem episode at work or elsewhere in your life … don’t quit too soon and push yourself to bring your best daily.
For example: When I was in construction, we had a team contest to finish 50 homes during the year, and the winning team would win a trip to London. My team got the 50, and I was thrilled to be going to London! When it came time give out the plane tickets, (pre e-tickets) I was told I did very well for a woman and was given tickets to a hockey game. I was so angry and wanted to quit. Thankfully my dad advised: Don’t ever give someone that power. Stay put, see what happens, and keep doing your best. Quit in six months, but not today.
As it turns out, while everyone was in London, the company’s new president visited the office, and I ended up showing him around multiple projects for 2 days, which put my expertise front and center with top leadership. Not long thereafter we had company layoffs, and every single person who’d gone to London lost their job, but I was promoted. So it’s always stuck with me: Don’t quit today. You never know what might happen.
How has the move to remote work affected your daily work?
Zoom fatigue. I find I’m just working all the time, and I miss the interaction with people.
What are three things you like to do outside of work?
Pre-covid, it was spending time with friends and family and cycling.
What is something you’d love to do if you had more time?
I’d love to start an online marketplace, something that fixes a problem. An example is Rover, the online platform for finding dog sitters when you travel. It’s just so cool and fixes a real problem. When built right, these types of marketplaces are a game changer.
If you were to make a mark on history what would that be?
I’d like to be part of a legacy of DEI, where diversity is just natural and woven into every piece of the cultural fabric – with friends, at work, in our communities. We have a long way to go, but it’s definitely an aspiration for me. I also want all six of my nieces to be at my funeral one day, laughing at all the crazy stuff we’ve done. I try to show them that you can be fearless in your life choices and try not to take yourself too seriously.
For help finding a great job or a great candidate, contact the professionals at Nelson today.