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Women in Construction Spotlight – Dawn Paris

Florida-based Viking Utility Services, the newest addition to the Danella family of companies, was founded by Dawn Paris and her husband Harold in 2010 and acquired by Danella this year. We talked with Dawn about Viking’s underground electrical expertise, Florida’s unique power challenges, and an entire career spent in male-dominated workplaces.

Dawn, as of January, Viking Utility Services is a Danella company. How did this acquisition come about?

My husband Harold and I were introduced to Mr. Danella by an industry friend. When we met him, it didn’t take long to realize that our values and ideas aligned. Before we knew it, we were having a discussion about Danella acquiring Viking. We’re really excited for our future joint efforts. My husband and I will continue to run Viking Utility Services here in Florida.

Did you have experience in underground electrical before you and Harold started Viking?

I didn’t, but Harold did. He’s a longtime electrical power lineman who’s been in the industry for many years. I’m a certified public accountant and was working for the Miami-Dade Police Department when Harold started Viking – so I’m definitely used to working in male-dominated fields! I’ve always been fascinated by the electrical power industry, always learning more. Initially my formal involvement in Viking was limited to accounting, but as the company grew, I became a full-time owner and Viking’s vice president.

Viking has grown tremendously in just ten years.

It has, and we’re proud that it’s been consistent, steady growth rather than one big boom! Today we have more than 125 employees, but we definitely didn’t start out with so many.

From the start, we worked hard to focus all of our energy into two key areas: Our customers, and the quality and capability of our team. A few years in, we applied to be a master contractor for a major power company, and were lucky enough to get the contract. We had three more large contracts by the end of the year, which positioned us to build stellar management, financial, and administrative teams. We’re very proud of our people.

Viking puts a lot of energy into training and equipping its team, especially in terms of safety.

We place a huge emphasis on safety and training. Florida weather and storms have made my husband uniquely aware of safety challenges and the importance of safety training. When you have downed lines and need to rebuild a grid, it includes so many more hazards than when you’re working on an existing grid. Harold has zero tolerance for unsafe conditions. This persistence has built our company philosophy, and our strong safety and training emphasis, and we’re finding that our good reputation for safety and workmanship goes before us. We need to make sure every one of our crew members goes home safe every day.

As vice president of Viking, what are your primary responsibilities?

I am responsible for the financial success of the company. I analyze every financial angle, every operational task, looking for opportunities for efficiency and growth. With the Danella acquisition, I’m able to further our efficiencies, which is really exciting. For example, we were able to sell a lot of our rental equipment because Danella has its own rental fleet. It’s exciting, the adventure of constantly assessing what works.

Have your daily responsibilities changed as Viking Utility Services has grown?

Yes! In the early years, I wore so many hats – accounts payable and receivable, HR, sales, marketing, collections. Now I’m able to focus on analysis and finances.

What might people be surprised to learn about the underground electrical industry?

People are often surprised to learn that major power companies subcontract a large portion of work to master contractors like Viking. People are also intrigued when I tell them that every new house in Broward County and half of new homes in Palm Beach County has electric installed by Viking Utility Services!

What’s the coolest thing you’re working on now?

In windy storm conditions, overhead lines are unreliable, and can be dangerous. So we’re hardening infrastructure in several towns, replacing old wooden electrical poles with concrete poles, and in some cases, actually transferring overhead power to underground power. We just finished doing this on Palm Beach Island – a conversion that included more than 400 homes. Palm Beach Island was one of the first municipalities in Florida to take on an underground conversion project, so now we’re kind of the forefathers. It’s exciting. Even more exciting is the fact that we completed this 18 month job in just 13 months, way ahead of schedule.

Is there anything you’d like to say to women considering careers in male-dominated fields?

To earn the respect of peers in a male-dominated industry is really empowering. I am proud that I can sit in a conference room full of men and answer their questions and have my opinion heard. I hope women don’t shy away from male-dominated industries. They need us! We bring so much value. And as women and for some of us, mothers, we have a responsibility to expose our children to more integrated workplaces.

Do you have any interests outside of work that you want to share?

I love the ocean! When I’m not working, I am boating, fishing, lobstering, diving, or snorkeling. There’s something about the ocean and sun and salt air that really helps your blood pressure. It feels like God’s way of helping me decompress.