By Carolyn Gray Anderson
Rachel Dailey is a female African-American general contractor — not exactly a common profile. She is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy, where she worked for four years in logistics, learning A to Z how to balance budgets, negotiate with vendors, manage inventory and deal with every possible personality in every rank of the Navy. When she launched Fort Lauderdale-based RTD Construction and Services Inc. in 2016, she was well versed in the pre-planning so crucial to operating a business and stewarding projects from conception to delivery.
“The role of logistics personnel is planning — monitoring budgets, putting together ops, learning how to move money from one project to the next,” Dailey says. “‘Staying in the black’ was always our slogan.”
Dailey earned an MBA but, as a mother of four children, she took the non-traditional route via online learning and found later that, whereas she had learned quite literally by the book, her course of study lacked exposure to real-world scenarios entrepreneurs might face.
She enrolled in UCLA Anderson’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) to drill down to the brass tacks of density tests and the nuances of various markets. And she needed a more strategic network that included mentors. “I didn’t want my next step to be so trial-and-error,” she says.
“I’m doing everything by myself,” she continues. “Being a minority female GC is already hard. I didn’t have a network of professionals I could reach out to. Every networking event included only people already in the same industry.” The EBV context provided welcome interaction with other students, an exchange of ideas and questions, and different perspectives — as well as mentors who could corroborate her good ideas and steer her toward new strategies.
An interest in community redevelopment, the performing arts and affordable housing led her to found RTD Construction and Services. A former school teacher whose public high school arts program enabled her to learn to play the cello, Dailey wants her company to be the launch pad for two new branches of the business: a community arts residency program modeled after Houston’s Project Row Houses and a member-based co-working space with amenities like workshops and an emphasis on networking across functions.
Dailey says EBV Fellow Rick Smith coached her into seeing herself as a “two-in-one package.” She says, “He asked me what value I was bringing to community redevelopment. I’m really hands-on in my community, I go to commission meetings, so a lot of developers come to me when they want to do this work. I know how to interact with the community and get them on board. So Rick and I talked about being a consultant or advisor to community redevelopment agencies. I thought of myself as a construction manager, he showed me I was also a consultant with influence in the community and with developers. That’s something I can definitely say distinguishes me among other GCs.”
Dailey had been thinking more abstractly about the notion of arts in a community somewhat bereft of organizations that made arts a priority. Anderson Professor George Abe further challenged her to establish and justify why anyone would give her money, to come up with a concrete reason that this particular program was worth investing in. He guided her to look closely at micro-segments and models that are succeeding.
Dailey arrived at EBV with energy and a good notion of what she was doing right. Thanks to partnership between RTD and Fort Lauderdale’s MFK/REVA Development LLC, the HotBox Arts Residency Program in West Palm Beach has already garnered substantive funding and Dailey is hopeful for a grant from the Knight Foundation. The team has student architects from Florida Atlantic University on board. But, she says, “Even with an MBA, I learned so much in nine days, it is unbelievable. I feel more confident than when I arrived. I know it’s going to take time for me to digest and execute everything, but I’m excited. And I’m not overwhelmed.”
She’s clearly envisioning the ribbon cutting ceremonies she’ll be sending Anderson pictures of.
And she pledges to support the EBV program — not just by publicly evangelizing its merits but with her dollars. “I will be spreading the word to everyone I know. It’s an invaluable resource that veterans need to know about. I’m going to make sure that I do my part. When I become successful I’m going to give back to the program. I’m going to put it in my by laws.”