Mackenzie Carolan grew near half as tall as the corn fields across from the Indiana home in which she grew up. She grew strong, too, a runner since middle school who was fast on her feet and later recruited for high school rugby.
But when her mom married her stepdad – an Argentinean architect – and moved Mackenzie and her younger brothers to Miami for her last bit of high school, that heartland blood was spiked with a heady amalgam of cheery Florida sunshine and potent Cuban cortado.
“I had been in school in Indiana my whole life,” she told Growthspotter recently. “And you know, Indiana wasn’t very diverse. Everyone kind of looked the same, had the same background, similar culture, everyone is German-Irish.
“Think about it,” she continued, “you’re in high school, you’re a young lady, going through all these changes and your family uproots and moves you somewhere where you don’t know anyone, and you have to leave all your friends. I was pretty resistant… .”
The culture shock of Coral Gables High was all at once frightening and exhilarating.
“It’s a huge school. Sixty-five percent Hispanic, 30 percent black or Haitian, 3 percent ‘other’ and 2 percent white. And looking back now, being exposed to so many cultures and people of different backgrounds was one of the best things that ever happened to me… . I learned so much and I embraced it.”
Within two weeks of the move, from their Key Biscayne condo overlooking the ocean, Mackenzie told her mom she was very happy with the change.
She kept up with the running, as well. These days she’s up to running half marathons. She credits her parents -- also runners – for encouraging fitness and a healthy lifestyle, which is why her very first job out of college was – interesting.
Carolan, who graduated from the University of Florida in 2007, went to work for Phillip Morris Altria Group.
“I had a $17 million territory in Fort Lauderdale and was managing 163 retail accounts – Walgreens, Citgo, Sunoco – gas stations and drug stores,” she explains. “And of course, I had never even been a smoker.”
While Carolan admits the job was a great opportunity, it wasn’t a good fit.
“I just didn’t believe in the product and ultimately that was the lesson for me: I have to work for a company I believe in and respect. I felt like I was causing harm to people in doing what I was doing.”
After landing a job with a firm who’s M.O. was LEED-certified and sustainable buildings, she felt far more satisfied and two years ago, her move to Gilbane Building Company made similar sense.
“We’re building health care facilities, educational facilities and institutional work that gives back to communities,” she explains, noting that her company’s practices make her feel proud. “For example, they use recycled ash for the concrete – these are little things that make you feel good about what you’re doing and who you represent.”
As the Business Development Manager for Central Florida, Carolan is responsible for client satisfaction and community development, including getting involved with charities and other organizations that support the construction industry.
Gilbane, she notes, is a relationship-based construction management firm. That idea pairs beautifully with the work she does with Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW), helping to build membership in Orlando.
“I’ve been on the board three years and in that time we’ve grown from 140 or so to 220,” she notes. “My favorite thing about it is that the organization really supports business with other members, so say I’m trying to reach out to an architectural firm or an owner, I can go to CREW, ask one of the other members who has that relationship to connect me, and I am never shot down. The organization is so wonderfully supportive.”
It’s also a place where family is made. Mackenzie met her now sister-in-law, fellow board member Nikki Carolan, at a CREW meeting.
“She came up to me and said, ‘I think you’re dating my brother-in-law…’ and it was nice that we hit it off!”
She married into the family two years ago and is now a doting aunt to Nikki’s two boys, Penn and Myles.
Carolan has yet to have her own children, but she runs regularly around Delany Park – Lake David, Lake Cherokee and sometimes Lake Eola – and she and her husband have some loose plans.
“We’ve run a couple of half-marathons together,” she says. “After I have kids one of these days, I’d like to get back in shape by running a full – that would be a great motivator!”