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Updated: June 10, 2024 Focus on Architecture, Engineering, & Construction

Now on the cusp of retirement, Jennie Lee Colosi has built roads and broken glass ceilings at the largest Central Mass. woman-owned construction firm

A woman in a black dress with a white, floral pattern stands with her hand on a large yellow front loader. Photo | Edd Cote Over 11 years, Jennie Lee Colosi went from a newly graduated civil engineer at E.T.& L. to running the family company as president and treasurer.

Though the construction industry may still feel like a boys’ club to Jennie Lee Colosi, she seems to have navigated it well over the past five decades.

Colosi has been president of E.T.& L. for more than 30 years, a company that in 2022 was the 13th largest woman-owned business in Central Massachusetts and largest woman-owned construction firm with nearly $44.5 million in annual revenue, according to information provided to the WBJ Research Department.

Now writing in “emeritus” after “president” on her business cards, Colosi will retire at the end of 2024 after a nearly 50-year tenure with the Stow-based construction company.

For Colosi, respect, loyalty, and perpetual hard work have been keys to not only hers, but her employees’ success. Though she’s had to open more than a couple doors on her own, she’s leaving them open for more women to follow.

Early days

Colosi hasn’t known much life without the presence of E.T.& L. She used to work at the construction company during summers in high school when her father, Anthony Colosi, owned and acted as president of E.T.& L. Going out on projects with him sparked her interest in civil engineering.

For a change in scenery, Colosi headed to Georgia Institute of Technology upon graduating high school. While earning her bachelor’s degree, Colosi recalled often being the only woman in many of her engineering classes. Though she said she had many great professors, she remembers others who would look right through her, not acknowledging her questions or even her mere presence in the room.

Though she originally had plans to work for a larger construction firm than her father’s, Colosi’s mother passed away while she was in college, prompting her to choose to return back to E. T.& L. upon graduating from Georgia Tech. She started working full time for the company in 1977 as a civil engineer, working her way up to president and treasurer by the time her father retired in 1988.

Blazing a trail

Women made up 11.10% of the construction industry workforce in 2023, according to Construction Coverage’s analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau data. Forseeing the hurdles ahead of her as a woman in the male-dominated industry, Colosi began working toward earning her professional engineer license in college, a process requiring a four-year college degree, four years of experience working under a P.E., letters of recommendation, and the passing of two eight-hour-long tests.

A chart showing percentages of women in construction in Greater Worcester, Massachusetts, and the U.S.
Women in construction chart

Being a P.E. adds credibility to your reputation, said Colosi, and she knew she was going to need as much of that as she could get upon entering her chosen field.

Colosi has noticed for herself and others, men and women alike, with age comes recognition in the construction industry.

“As you get older and more mature and people realize that you know what you're talking about and you know what you're doing, that they treat you with respect,” said Colosi.

Even still, Colosi still sees women having to work harder to prove themselves early in their careers, and though she’s noticed an increase in women business owners and workers in the construction industry throughout her career, she said construction is still very much a boys’ club.

Colosi’s status as a pioneer for women in construction is evident, said Jody Staruk, project executive at Milford-based Consigli Construction.

A woman with long brown hair wears a light pink suede jacket and a purple, pink, and black patterned sweater.
Photo I Courtesy of Consigli Construction
Jody Staruk, project executive at Consigli Construction

“She blazed her own trail, right? She owns that company. She runs that company. She did not have a woman that she saw in her generation that she was looking up to or saying, ‘Well, they can do it, let's figure it out,’” said Staruk.

Though she has had an overall wonderful experience in the construction industry, Staruk said she still doesn't “want this next generation to go through the struggles that I did. Right? I want it to be better for them. I don't want them to be in a room where they feel like they're the only. I just want them to go into the room.”

Female representation is important in the construction industry, said Judy Nitsch, founder of Boston-based Nitsch Engineering, who met Colosi at a Society of Women Engineers meeting in Boston in the early 1980s.

A woman with short blonde hair wears red glasses and a tweed jacket.
Photo I Courtesy of Nitsch Engineering
Judy Nitsch, founder of Nitsch Engineering

Colosi has been a role model for many women through her work with the National Association of Women in Construction, said Nitsch, where Colosi once acted as chapter president and is now a member of its board of directors.

Young women and girls need to see themselves represented in different professional fields, and that’s harder in construction, said Nitsch. Girls can see female lawyers on TV and female doctors at their pediatricians, but seeing women in construction is harder, which is why Colosi’s outreach is so essential.

“If she can see it, she can be it,” said Nitsch, quoting actress Geena Davis.

Leading by example

Mentorship is a key principle when it comes to Colosi’s philosophy as a leader at E.T.& L.

“It’s really important that you're able to mentor people and explain to them what we're doing and why we're doing it. And it makes a lot more sense, and they understand, ‘That's why I'm doing that, because we need this for that,’” said Colosi. “It really helps a lot.”

Devoting time to her employees and showing her loyalty to them is crucial to Colosi. That loyalty goes both ways as her employees see she doesn’t ask of them what she wouldn’t of herself, said Dennis Barbo, certified public accountant who worked with E.T.& L. for 25 years and is a member of the company’s advisory committee.

“She’s extremely loyal to her employees, and she expects that same loyalty back in return; and they do,” said Barbo.

A man wears a dark blue suit jacket, white button down, and blue tie in front of a stone wall.
Photo I Courtesy of Dennis Barbo
Dennis Barbo, former partner at Darmody, Merlino & Co.

Colosi’s intelligence and diligence have helped her get to where she is now, steering the helm of a multi-million dollar enterprise, said Barbo.

“She's very, very smart, very, very thorough, and very detail-oriented. She's extremely thorough and demands the highest quality of work of all aspects of the business, not only the construction and the engineering end but the accounting end. She demands perfection. That's one reason, if not one of the major reasons, that company's been so successful for all these years,” said Barbo.

Those high standards have helped Colosi achieve some of the proudest moments of her career.

That includes the company’s $37-million grade-separated interchange, which replaced the Sagamore Bridge rotary. The project was completed in 2007 when former Gov. Mitt Romney spoke at the interchange’s celebratory groundbreaking.

Another career highlight was the company’s $64.5-million Methuen rotary reconstruction project completed in 2017.

“It's pretty exciting to see a project on a set of plans, on a piece of paper or in today's world on a computer screen, and actually construct it, actually build it, and be able to say, ‘We built this,’” said Colosi.

Passing the torch

Colosi pays attention to not only the urgent, but the important, said Nitsch. She started coordinating her succession plan five years before she intended on retiring.

Because Colosi’s two daughters didn’t want to go into the business, she found she needed to look beyond her bloodline to find those who would continue to lead E.T.& L. when she stepped down. After conversations with staff, leadership, and a consultant, Colosi named employees Kerry Maynard as president and Marco Roffo as chief operations officer; the two assumed their newfound roles in May.

Now heeding the title of president emeritus, Colosi is looking forward to retiring with the confidence she has in her successors who, though not sharing the family’s name that has run E.T.& L. since the 1950s, are well-equipped to continue the cachet of her company, she said.

“A legacy of E.T.& L. to continue and be successful and continue on our fine reputation,” Colosi said. “That would be so satisfying, and I'm quite sure that the crew that's here, the team that's here, is going to do just that.”

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