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Roxanna Horschel.

Roxanna Horschel

IF ROXANNA HORSCHEL CHOSE A theme song, it might be an old Cole Porter number, "Don't Fence Me In." She refuses to let others define her limits. She resents being pigeonholed or given special considerations because of her gender. She is an idealist, ready to speak out for her convictions no matter what the arena.

Besides, Horschel wants to build fences, not sit behind them. She heads Acme Fence Co. Inc. The Anchorage-based company, with 20 employees, builds residential and commercial fences and sells fencing materials. But the biggest percentage of its business comes from competitive bidding as a subcontractor.

As majority owner of Acme Fence, Horschel says she knows fencing inside and out. Her company has put up fences and guardrails for highway projects all over Anchorage and along the trans-Alaska pipeline. Last year Acme completed the largest guardrail project ever awarded by the state which ran from Birchwood through Anchorage to Bird Creek.

"I made sure I educated myself," Horschel says about her start in the industry. "It was hard to gain respect as a woman in construction, but it was impossible to gain respect if you didn't know what you were doing."

Today Horschel is president of the Alaska Subcontractors Association and chairman of the long-range planning committee for Associated General Contractors of Alaska. For someone who 12 years ago knew nothing about construction, she has come a long way. Her life is all but consumed by it, both the daily decisions that come with running a business and the issues facing the industry. In her private life, she is a single mother raising an active 13-year-old son.

Horschel's dad, Gene Stone, started Acme. He was working for another fence company when he decided in 1978 to form his own. Managing his business was the last thing Horschel planned to do.

Her background was in management, but of a different type. She was working for a figure salon company, in charge of 50 outlets in the New York city area, prior to moving to Alaska. She hated New York. She'd grown up in Seattle, but her dad had moved to Anchorage. She was 24 when she decided to join him.

Her first job here was managing a clothing store. Next she worked in purchasing for a state-operated school. Then she married, had a son, and moved with her pilot husband to Cold Bay. "There was no television, no radio, no fresh food. I felt the world could come to an end and it would take me a few months to find out," she recalls. That lasted less than a year. The marriage lasted less than two.

In the meantime back in Anchorage, she started her own business, a coffee-delivery service. When she divorced the pilot, she sold the coffee service and found herself in a state of confusion. She wanted no responsibilities, other than caring for her son, and told her father she'd work for him with that understanding.

But once a manager, always a manager. "When you've been in your own business, you have a tendency to dive right in," she says. "I hardly knew what a hammer was, but a few months later, I was up to my elbows in it. I read municipal, state, federal specs. I attended preconstruction conferences. I spent time on projects, watching, asking questions."

Her work earned her a place in her dad's business and in a male-dominated industry. "I remember another contractor I respected calling me and asking my advice. I realized I knew more about some things than people who'd been in it for years and years. I started giving myself some credit," she says. By this time she was head of the company; her dad has since retired.

Then came passage of a law that required a percentage of government contracts be awarded to female-owned businesses. "In some ways it's irritating, it's belittling, to have it," she says. "I can't tell you how many times someone has reminded me of that percentage thing, as if that's why I'm in the business."

She says she'd rather everyone compete on the same level. The law is circumvented anyway, she claims. "I'm finding that the good old boys are smart enough that they're able to put in female figureheads. They can afford to set up sophisticated fronts.

"I don't mind competition, but when I hear of another female knowingly fronting for another company, then I know she has done us all an injustice," Horschel says.

She become active in construction trade groups, hoping to change things that troubled her about the business. "I like to be involved in the industry and I like to see betterment of the industry as a whole," Horschel explains.

As president of the subcontractors association, she's pushed a "prompt pay" bill that was under consideration by the state legislature. This bill requires payments on time or with interest, both to prime contractors and to subcontractors. She's also concerned about liability and insurance issues, as well as seeing that subcontractors understand legal issues.

Horschel detests bid shopping - a not illegal but certainly questionable practice - and refuses to participate. In bid shopping, a contractor asks a subcontractor to underbid a higher subcontracting estimate. It's a way for contractors to drive down their costs to make a larger profit. She says she's spoken out against the practice in meetings with contractors. Her statements have been met with stoney silence.

Horschel knows construction is a tough and risky business. "There are so many variables. We're competing not only amongst ourselves but also with people from Outside. There is some incentive to go with Alaska contractors, but not all that much. Here we are just picking up the crumbs. We're getting what everyone else doesn't want."

But the owner of Acme Fence is finding ways to get what she wants, by working within the system for change and not compromising her ideals. "I'm not easily intimidated," she says. "If you allow someone to walk all over you, they will. I watch out for those things."
COPYRIGHT 1990 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:People in Construction
Author:Campbell, L.J.
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Jun 1, 1990
Previous Article:Conrad Frank.
Next Article:William Jones.

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