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Updated: October 16, 2023

Outstanding Women in Business: Vaillancourt built a career in buildings

Photo | Christine Peterson Holly Vaillancourt

Holly Vaillancourt has been investigating the secrets of buildings since she was a kid, helping out with her father’s real estate business.

“I’ve always been involved in helping him renovate the apartments and the buildings and keeping them up to date, going to different properties, determining which ones he would purchase next,” Vaillancourt said.

When she went off to college, studying architecture was a natural fit. Vaillancourt found she was fascinated by the way a building’s design is a silent component of the experiences people have in a space.

“Giving people that experience of living in a built environment is really important,” she said. “What people remember from being in a space matters.”

After graduating, Vaillancourt spent a decade building her career at various architectural firms in Boston, rising from entry level to project management positions. Then, she faced a crossroads. She and her husband were living in Worcester and planning to start a family. She recalls wondering, “Do I want to continue commuting into Boston while also trying to raise a family?”

Fortunately, another option was right in front of her. Her husband, Jonathan, also an architect, was working for Existing Conditions, a firm providing 3D scanning and digital models of buildings slated for renovations or other projects.

Vaillancourt joined Existing Conditions, starting out working limited hours around her responsibilities at home. Still, she used her skills and stayed connected with other professionals in the industry. As her children got older, she took on more responsibility, and in 2020, she was promoted to director of operations.

Over the years, Vaillancourt has been part of growth at Existing Conditions. As its volume of work increased, the firm divided its employees into different departments and reorganized its workflow to keep everything moving smoothly. A given project typically starts with sending a surveyor with equipment to do 3D laser scanning at a building. After that, employees working virtually from home offices in different places process images and create the drawings and information architects need.

“All that can happen very easily through remote work,” Vaillancourt said.

Much of Existing Conditions’ work is in Massachusetts, including Worcester-area projects like the renovation of the Worcester Art Museum. But the firm has clients all over the country, something made possible because only the surveyors actually need to work on site.

Existing Condition was entirely remote from the start, so it had a leg up when COVID hit and other companies were scrambling to figure out virtual work. That was especially crucial because building owners chose to use that time to upgrade their buildings, while homeowners took on their own projects.

Nancy Ahearn, director of operations for Patrick Ahearn Architect in Boston, said Existing Conditions is a great partner in the high-end residential work her firm does in Cape Cod. Much of these jobs are time-sensitive and work around the busy seasons, so flexibility and consistency are crucial. Ahearn said Vaillancourt makes sure everything comes together smoothly. “She’s a pleasure to work with,” Ahearn said.

Today, Existing Conditions has 40 employees and is still growing. Vaillancourt developed a new skills as she oversaw this growth. “Architectural knowledge is one thing, but learning to run a business is a whole other animal,” she said.

Vaillancourt said she has a great management team to lean on, starting with Founder and CEO Kurt Yeghian.

Vaillancourt helps up-and-coming professionals within Existing Conditions. She applies what she knows from her own varied career path to motivating the employees she supervises. Each worker has different needs and strengths. “I really, truly always try to bring out the best in people, understanding that what works best for one person may not work out for others,” she said.

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