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Mary Farrar: A force in the metal building industry

2013 Metal Construction Hall of Fame

Farrar Mary

Mary Farrar has lots of energy. The Kansas-based contractor even came out of retirement to start a new metal erection division at All Pro Contracting, based in Olathe, Kan. That restlessness defines her career.

Farrar admits that she's uncertain exactly how she got into the metal building business. "Somedays, I don't know myself," she says, but it begins when her youngest of five children started kindergarten, and through a series of connections, she took on a part-time bookkeeping job at Metal Building Sales and Erection Co., which was owned by Bill Todd. That fateful landing in 1972 resulted in a career that has helped define the metal building industry.

Todd encouraged Farrar to become involved in the local chapter of the Metal Building Dealers Association (MBDA). "He immediately got me involved in the trade association," she says. "It was a very important thing for him, and he taught me that early on."

During that period, Todd contracted a serious illness that took him out of commission for several months. "And that left me and the oronworkers," says Farrar. "We managed to make things work and get things done." That willingness to jump in and make things work is a trait that follows Farrar throughout her career.

Her involvement in the local MBDA grew and by 1977 her presence was being noticed by others in the association. A large general contractor encouraged her to begin work on her own, and in 1978, Farrar started her own company, Systems Erectors.

"It was an on-the-job learning process," she says. "I didn't know what I was doing. It just seemed like you'd do step one, step two, step three. It was pretty sequential. But it was a real struggle. And with all the things I know today, I would never do a thing like that."

But it worked, and Systems Erectors grew and was a successful company.

"The most important thing to me about the metal construction industry is without a doubt the people I have met and interacted with, both my 'union ironworker employees' and the many associates I have throughout the industry."

Mary Farrar

When her father became seriously ill in the mid-80s, Farrar felt her focus changing a bit and she took the opportunity to merge her company with Builder Erection Services. That allowed her to focus on running production and not have to worry about payroll and other business issues. For 20 years, the relationship worked great and Farrar thrived.

The freedom also allowed her to become increasingly involved in the metal building industry and pursue other ventures. After MBDA evolved into the present-day Metal Building Contractors and Erectors Association (MBCEA), Farrar had emerged as an influential person on the national stage. The culmination of that were her two terms as president of the association in 2002 to 2004.

During that time, she accomplished two important goals. The first was to get the association back on a firm financial footing and the second was to work with Bob Ketenbrink-Hall of Fame Honoree in 2012-and others, to create the Craftsman DVD Training Series, which has become an essential backbone of the industry. The strategy was to create value for the association by offering education, and the result was a bank account with funds in it that had been empty when she took office. "Mainly, I wanted the association to be healthy before I left office."

But MBCEA was not the only group Farrar was aligned with. She was also a founding member of the Committee of 200, which started in 1982. "We were trying to identify 200 women in the U.S. who had gross revenues in excess of $1 million," Farrar says. "One of the biggest things I pushed for was women's access to capital. That was a challenge. It seemed like if you didn't have your dad or your brother or you uncle or somebody, they had trouble even talking to you." 

Farrar is still involved in the organization and has testified in front of Congress about issues related to women entrepreneurs.

In the early '90s, another cause also garnered her attention. While working with Bill Miller, who owned Builder Erection Services, they became concerned about new contract language that put subcontractors at a significant disadvantage. The language included such things as "pay-when-paid" and indemnification clauses. "It was unreal," she says. "People were so excited to get work, they were just signing this stuff. Ninety percent of the time you'd get away with it. But that 10 percent, people were losing their businesses."

Working through the American Subcontractors Association (ASA), Farrar pushed for greater education of business owners about contract language and pressured the state legislature to step in and protect small business owners from the onerous language. Today, much of the language has been rooted out and subcontractors are garnering greater respect.

Farrar's energy and devotion have helped the metal construction industry through a myriad of ways, and for that she has received recognition as a member of the 2013 Metal Construction Hall of Fame.