A Chip Off The Ol’ Block: One Woman Follows in her Father’s Footsteps

Words: Joanne Anderson

Words: Joanne M. Anderson
Photos: Christy Crook 

Christy Crook is in the unique camp of following in her father’s footsteps. Many famous names and lots more not-so-famous people have embraced their dad’s work passion enough to make it their own. Hollywood may revere Bruce Willis’s daughter Rumer Willis, Jon Voight’s daughter Angelina Jolie and Billy Ray Cyrus’s daughter Miley Cyrus. 

On the political stage, political commentator Meghan McCain, daughter of the late U.S. Senator John McCain, and Liz Cheney, U.S. Representative from Wyoming and daughter of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, have both entered the political realm like their fathers. In the medical arena, Irene Curie worked with her Nobel prize-winning parents, Pierre and Marie Curie who discovered radium and polonium and went on to become a Nobel prize winner with her husband. 

According to one report, some of the more common parent footstep-following industries include commercial fishing and textile machine operation along with becoming a librarian or lawyer. Masonry may not make any list, and Crook might not be a household name, but she has excelled on her circuitous journey in masonry in much the same way as her father, Steve Crook. 

Some of the best kind of personal pride comes not from having been born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth or with having been handed a job or a company. Like in Crook’s case, it came with hard work, innovative thinking, creative strategy, and taking risks. And it started with the highs and lows of a roller coaster.

Resilience and Determination

“My dad owned masonry companies my entire life, so I grew up in the industry and worked for him in a number of different ways,” Crook recalls. “When I got my driver’s license in 1995, I started going around town picking up plans. Three years later, I went through all the OSHA training to become the safety director. I found myself growing out of that position, which honestly, I was not that interested in, to begin with. What did interest me was marketing, and he created a marketing position for me at his company, Metro Masonry.”

Crook enjoyed the marketing angle and at the same time attended Metropolitan State University for her bachelor’s degree in organizational communication and business management. In 2007, she received her International MBA [IMBA] from the University of Denver. 

Financial tragedy struck the Crook family with the Great Recession which crept into the country very late in 2007 and lasted throughout 2008 and into the first half of 2009. “It was just a fantastic loss of everything for my family,” Crook states. “My dad lost his company, and in turn, my parents lost their home and went bankrupt. Everything rolled downhill from there.” Crook floated around a few years, working for competitors in the area, but the entrepreneurial fire inside her would not be snuffed out. She approached her sister about starting a new masonry company, and they asked their dad to come out of retirement to mentor them. 

Fast forward 10 years, and Phoenix Masonry, with Crook at the helm, has expanded into a highly respected Colorado firm with 40 employees and annual revenues in the millions. 

Legacy from Dad

“The legacy I got from my dad was entrepreneurship. He is still my mentor, and I’m grateful for his confidence in my skills to start, operate, and succeed in a masonry company of my own. He does some estimates and helps out, but he is enjoying his retirement too much to become an employee. Besides, we run the business a little differently.”

Phoenix would not be successful, Crook points out, without her faithful, skilled, honest, and stellar employees. Several are profiled on the website, phoenix-masonry.net, including the director of pest management, a handsome orange tabby cat named Genghis. 

When We Look You In The Eye, Shake Your Hand, And Give You Our Word It Means Everything To Us.

That’s how our founder, Christy Crook does business and how we believe business works best. We believe our word is our bond. Excellence in craftsmanship is a sacred pursuit. And you, our customers are our reason to be. We love technology and look for ways to modernize, but one thing that will never change is how we do business through personal relationships built on trust and integrity. [phoenix-masonry.net]

Woman-Owned Business

More than 40% of U.S. businesses are owned by women, and they employ more than nine million people and generate $1.9 trillion in revenue. “The economic impact of women-owned businesses is undeniable, from the trillions they contribute via revenue to the millions of jobs they provide. We are committed to backing these women entrepreneurs because when they win, we all win,” says Courtney Kelso, Senior Vice President of American Express. Three industries dominate more than half of women-owned businesses, and neither masonry nor construction is among them. They are healthcare and social assistance; professional/scientific/ technical services like lawyers, architects, public relations and bookkeepers; and other services such as hair and nail salons and pet care. 

The “2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report,” commissioned by American Express, reports that these U.S. women with diverse ethnic and geographic backgrounds started an average of 1,817 new businesses per day in the U.S. between 2018 and 2019. The number of women-owned businesses climbed 21% between 2014 and 2019, and Crook was ahead of her time in strategically launching Phoenix Masonry in 2010 as the country clawed its way out of the Great Recession, Apple unveiled its iPad tablet and the U.S. won the highest number of medals [37] at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. 

Alas, in August of 2010, the women started Phoenix Masonry from scratch. Crook had managed to save $3,000, and her father cashed in a life insurance policy worth $7,000. The sisters owned it 50/50, but times were tough, and her sister had three kids and needed consistent income. Crook did not take a paycheck herself for more than two years. The tide turned in 2012. “At that time, I owned 100% of the company, and we started growing.” 

There have been a couple of times when people make what they think are funny jokes, which are not funny at all. Crook cites a comment like: “Well, you know, I almost turned around because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get involved with a woman-owned company.”  Now those comments are very far and few between. More often than not, she feels support and encouragement from both the men and the women in the industry. “I am always quick to tell people that I am not a mason,” she explains. “I put exactly two bricks in a wall when I was the safety director at one of my dad's businesses. He told me: ‘Get up here and show me what you can do.’ Fairly quickly, he said: ‘Get off of my wall,’ and that was the end of that. I may not be a mason, but what I do have is a business sense which I have used to build a fantastic team. I have the best people working for me in the entire state of Colorado. All of my field employees are male.” 

Her current safety director is a female who did the training and grew up in the business as well. Crook feels very fortunate to have started her company when and where she did. “It is fantastic to be in construction in Colorado,” she declares. “The market has been really good to us here. But now, my perspectives are changing a little bit because of everything happening with Covid-19. I am starting to realize that it is not just timing or luck, it is about building relationships, our repeat customers, and how well you treat your employees. All of those things set us apart.”

Broadening the Masonry Base for Women

Crook diligently does what she can to publicize the masonry industry among girls and young women. Phoenix Masonry is a silver sponsor for the Transportation & Construction Girl (constructiongirl.org) organization in its fourth year. She sits on its board. “One of the events we do for Transportation & Construction Girl is an annual luncheon with exhibits,” she explains. “In the morning, different companies set up booths inside and outside. The girls can walk around, ask questions, and get information. Last year we had a bricklayer come out and teach girls how to bar block and lay them. It was fantastic to see teen girls 14 to 16 years old get so excited about being able to build brick.”

Her company is a member of the Rocky Mountain Masonry Institute [RMMI], serving on one of its committees. She is working with Associated Builders and Contractors on developing training and apprentice programs. Crook is always willing to speak at local high schools about her journey to becoming a construction company owner with the goal of encouraging others to seek careers in masonry and construction. 

Projects of Note

Each and every customer of Phoenix Masonry is valued no matter the size of a project. All jobs are approached with integrity, enthusiasm, and the high standards which have catapulted Phoenix Masonry to its respected position in the Denver area and throughout the Centennial State. The company is proud to be part of the massive renovation project for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The firm’s largest project to date is the Front Range Office Complex in Longmont completed early in 2020.

Phoenix is involved in water treatment projects, multi-family buildings, transportation, and retail structures. “Whether you’re seeking brick masonry, stone masonry, or other commercial masonry services, you can expect high-caliber materials and excellent craftsmanship from Phoenix Masonry. Our employees think things through, take pride in their work, and genuinely enjoy delivering great results.” [phoenix-masonry.net]

Joanne M. Anderson is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Masonry Magazine. She followed in her woodworker dad’s hobby footsteps loving wood, refinishing it, and caning chairs. She does not build furniture as he did, but, in hindsight, would have loved being a mechanical engineer like him.

SIDEBAR

Chip Off the Ol’ Block

Surely this is one of the oft-used phrases in and out of masonry, and like masonry, it goes back a long way. The reference to something resembling something else and having been a part of it, literally or figuratively, was used in 270 B.C. by the Greek poet Theocritus in his “Idylls.” The next documented use appeared in a sermon by Bishop Robert Sanderson in the Church of England around 1621. About 20 years later, John Milton wrote “How well dost thou now appeared to be a Chip off the old block” in “Apology for Smectymnuus”. 

While the above versions seem to connect a present something to another person or thing from the past, the “of” finally became “off” which provided more clarity. An Ohio newspaper printed this in 1870: “The child is too often a chip off the old block."

The whole idea, of course, is that once you chip something like a rock off the block, the similarities are abundant, even if the size and configuration differ. Today it is mostly used in reference to children who share characteristics with a parent. In this article, Christy Crook has decidedly inherited energy, integrity, creativity, and an entrepreneurial spirit and independent streak from her father.

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