In its 14th year, the Guam Business Magazine Businesswoman of the Year award program this year congratulates eight women who join 119 past nominees in being nominated by their colleagues and peers as making significant contributions to their industries and demonstrating a strong commitment to their community.
Jessica M. Barrett, president of Barrett Enterprises Inc., which does business as Barrett Plumbing, was named the 14th recipient of the title and award at the annual Businesswoman of the Year gala held on April 27 at the Hyatt Regency Guam, the premier sponsor of the event.
The program has awarded a total of $279,722 in scholarships to 143 deserving college students in the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam communities.
A Jill of all trades
By Maureen N. Maratita
There are not many women in the plumbing profession. But Jessica M. Barrett, 49, has never let that become a factor in her success.
As president of Barrett Enterprises Inc., she leads a business that not only deals in the essentials of field work for construction projects, but is called on at short notice to provide the solution to urgent problems in offices and homes.
She became president in 2003, but has been around Barrett Plumbing all her life.
The company was founded in 1972 by Jessica Barrett’s parents — John H. “Jack” Barrett and the late Maxine Barrett — and is truly a family business. Jessica is supported by her sister, Jacqueline Barrett — who is the CEO — and her nephew Joseph Barrett, who has worked at the company since 2006.
She also draws inspiration from her paternal grandmother, Concepcion C. Barrett who would often collect Barrett and her sister from school, supervise their homework and get dinner ready for the family.
“She would always teach us how to pray in Chamorro and instilled in us the importance of our education and standing for what we believe in, even when it isn’t considered ‘the norm,’” Barrett says.
While Barrett learned plumbing skills from her father, she says, “My mom instilled in me perseverance and effort, which I have passed on to my sons.”
Barrett’s 30 year span in industry began in 1989.
Well on her way to becoming a professional photographer, Barrett was asked to work in the business when her mother was appointed to open the Guam Medical Office in Hawaii, and says, “I didn’t choose the business; the business chose me.”
Barrett told Guam Business Magazine in 2014, “In the beginning, I was just doing filing, paperwork — standard clerk stuff. But I would just listen to my dad as we discussed issues during morning meetings. Being a part of that world, I would hear about all the different problems and how to solve them, and I began internalizing the process. Of course, I went to school and got more formal plumbing training later on, but hands-on is definitely the best education you can get. You learn way more from getting your hands dirty than you can from any book.”
She would become office manager at Barrett in 1998, prior to becoming president.
Barrett holds a 1995 bachelor’s in business from the University of Guam. She also attended Guam Community College through a Department of Labor program to become a certified plumber in 2008, becoming the first Chamorro woman to do so. She is also qualified as a water treatment plant operator. In addition, she is certified in project management through her qualification in 2013 from the National Center for Construction Education and Research through the Guam Trades Academy. In 2018 Barrett graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. — a course designed to provide high quality and practical education to high-growth small businesses.
In February Barrett passed the Guam Contractors License Board exams to become an RME, or Responsible Management Employee, for Barrett Plumbing. She says, “I have all the classifications my father has, as well as two new classifications: solar water heating and leak detection.”
Her regular reading, she says, includes Cleaner, Installer and Plumber Magazine (all plumbing related publications) as well as business-related books for self-improvement.
Barrett Plumbing was recognized as the 2017 Guam Chamber of Commerce Small Business Excellence award winner on Aug. 31 of that year for its success as a small business, contribution to the growth of small businesses in Guam, as well as development of the business community and good corporate citizenship.
Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson, former attorney general and former judge of the Superior Court of Guam, is Barrett’s aunt. She says, “Jessica is self-driven. I think she always has been. She is incredibly smart.” Barrett-Andersen said Barrett was raised in a family of strong women which gave her examples of women in business, public life and community service. “Jessica gives back to the community through her business and extending her business skills to the community of Guam. I think that she is going to in the future give back even more.”
As to characteristics, Barrett-Anderson says, “A lot of people who know Jessica and have worked with her recognize that one of her best attributes as a businesswoman is she is darn tough. She can be a brick wall, and when she deals with you she is straightforward, honest and has great integrity. She knows the business she’s in. She knows plumbing.”
Away from the business, Barrett-Anderson says Barrett “has the greatest sense of humor. She’s very jovial and she’s a great person to socialize with.”
Barrett-Anderson says the family is very proud of what Barrett has accomplished, but also says Barrett “hasn’t finished yet.”
As her company’s leader, Barrett atakes the view that knowledge is to be shared.
“I strive to be a good employer for my employees and their families and to continue to help our people learn a marketable skill for their betterment as well — that they can take with them anywhere in the world. In fact, many of our former employees have gone on to manage local and federal agencies and have even started their own businesses. My dad always took pride in passing on his knowledge and I am humbled to be able to continue to do this.”
Barrett has not shied away from leadership roles in the community.
She is the incoming chairwoman of the board of the Guam Contractors Association and currently serves as vice president. It is not an easy time for the contracting and construction industry on Guam with an outside workforce of H-2B workers held back by the federal government. “We are in dire need of local workers due to the military buildup, as well as the projects that are outside the fence on Guam as well,” Barrett says.
She is also vice chair of the Small Business Committee of GCA, and is a founding member of the National Association of Women in Construction on Guam. She was the NAWIC president from 2015 to 2016 and chair of its Beer, Boys and Toys Committee in 2016.
Conchita D. Bathan, CEO of Core Tech International and the 2017 chair of the GCA, says, “Jessica is very passionate about what she is doing on the GCA board. … She is currently involved in many different GCA committees such as Small Business, Activities and the Membership Committee. She is also on the education committee in charge of reviewing scholarship applicants.”
She says Barrett recognizes important groups for now and for the future — referring to Barrett’s efforts in GCA’s programs for young people. “She is committed to supporting the small business contractor members of GCA, most especially the women in construction.”
Bathan says the trend of having more women on the board of GCA and in leading positions in the construction and contracting industry is a positive one.
“It proves that the construction industry is created not only for men but also for women. The misconceptions about gender specific roles are slowly weakening as the number of women who chose a career in construction grows or increases.”
As a woman in business in contracting and construction, Barrett has had to deal with the extra load that accompanies that.
She says, “Faced with the realities of being a female in a predominantly male industry, I am often challenged and somewhat forced to prove myself as capable and knowledgeable. … And sadly, sexual harassment is still an issue. I must say having been in this male dominated industry for 30 years now … society has begun to make great strides in acknowledging women and their potential for making valuable contributions to the business world.”
So it is understandable and commendable that Barrett is not only hands-on when it comes to the movement to develop a local workforce, but also focuses on offering young women the chance to explore the contracting industry.
“I have been a teacher/mentor for the [GCA] Annual Pizza, Pop and Power Tools since 2011, whose purpose is to encourage young girls to explore career and technical opportunities in the construction industry. I also assisted with Construction Warriors, which is a new program to encourage high school students, both male and female, to consider a trade in construction. It included visits to the high schools to address the student body and the administrators as well, and then we held a two-day, hands-on event at UOG for the participants.”
Since April 2007, Barrett Plumbing has partnered with the Guam Department of Labor as an apprenticeship member partner. The partnership enables individuals seeking job opportunities to learn valuable skills which eventually will help them find gainful employment.
In addition, Barrett says, “Barrett Plumbing has been instrumental in the certification of four plumbers and will begin classes for new apprentices.”
As part of its corporate community service, Barrett Plumbing particularly supports Catholic Social Services through plumbing support, as well as donations to Special Olympics Guam.
Plus, Barrett says this year she has taken on a meaningful obligation with clients of the Guam Department of Corrections.
“Fu’una Rising, named in honor of the Chamorro goddess of creation, which was formed by locally owned women businesses … was formed to provide support and soft skill development, such as anger management, stress management and other fundamental skills for incarcerated women to help them be productive citizens and hopefully prevent recidivism.”
Barrett says, “We are planning to start another cycle and continue this program to support our women in DOC. It is a great feeling and every time we gathered there, there were lots of emotions and great things were accomplished.”
When she is not preoccupied with the business, Barrett’s other important role is a single mother to her sons — Luis John, 11 and Alexander Jude, 10 —who she makes personal time for. She often looks to the Food Network, she says “for recipes to change up dinner time for my two growing boys — who eat like men — and for healthy options as well.”
She also enjoys riding her Harley-Davidson motorcycle and rides with the Cheluship Guam group.
Barrett says if she has a message to young businesswomen on the threshold of their own careers, it would be straightforward. “Whatever you choose to do, do it with passion and love and wholeheartedly; this applies to life and business. Be honest in all your dealings. And when you fail or make a mistake, as we all do, learn from it. Do your best not to repeat it and dust yourself off, take a deep breath and try again.”
She also says, “Answer and take on challenges. When we engage in activities we don’t normally do, it allows for growth and learning. Never, ever stop learning.”
Barrett says she has improved her delegation skills as the business has grown, but she has always retained a close and personal connection to her profession.
She told Guam Business in 2014 that the plumbing industry always offers something new, whether it be a new challenge or a new solution to an old problem. “It’s not tedious or repetitive. It’s an ever-changing field with new technology and new techniques coming out every day. Plus, it just feels really good to know that I have the chance to help people.”