Keeping it in the family: Construction management degree prepares Sanders to run family business

Julie Evans Sanders has always known that she wanted to run her family’s 66-year-old construction company one day. Earning a Master of Science in construction management at UA Little Rock has helped her develop the skills she will need to do just that.

Sanders has been working at H.W. Tucker Company Inc. for years, learning all aspects of the company’s work – from project management to preparing bids to handling billing and accounts payable.

Her great-grandfather, Hartley Tucker, founded the company in 1953. The North Little Rock-based company is now run by her grandfather, John Ray Evans, and both Sanders and her dad, John Hartley Evans, work there. The company works on commercial projects across the state and specializes in site preparation, including excavation, concrete work, and underground utilities.

On any given day, Sanders might be at a job site, making sure the project is on task. She might be helping her grandfather with bids, or she might be doing billing or accounts payable in the company’s office.

“I like that it’s not an average everyday job, and you’re not doing the same thing every day,” she said. “When you start a project, it’s just a field of trees. You do all this work, and then it’s totally different. You know how much work went into the site preparation.”

Working with heavy machinery is familiar territory for the 25-year-old Sanders, who grew up on the family’s Conway farm. At 11, she was driving a mini excavator. By 13, she was driving a tractor around their 1,785-acre farm, where the family raises cows and row crops.

“There was always equipment everywhere,” she said, and her father made sure she learned to operate it. “In 2004, we were building a swimming pool, and he told me to get on the mini excavator and practice digging a hole and covering it up. He wanted me to learn how to do it.”

After she graduated from Vilonia High School in 2012, she went to the University of Arkansas for her undergraduate degree.

“My grandfather told me to get a degree. He said, ‘I don’t care what it’s in, but do something you can fall back on,’” she said.

Sanders earned a degree in family and consumer sciences education, so that she could teach should something happen to the family business. Since she had earned 18 college credits while in high school, Sanders finished her bachelor’s degree in three years, becoming the first in her family to earn a college degree.

Sander’s twin sister, Jill, wasn’t far behind and earned a degree in business and animal science from Arkansas Tech University.

“She enjoyed the farm more, while I was more interested in concrete and equipment,” Sanders said.

During the summer breaks and long weekends, Sanders returned to central Arkansas to work at the company. She spent one summer driving an off-road dump truck on the site of the Bass Pro store in Little Rock.

Her grandfather taught her how to do the math on estimates and bid. He also suggested she take some construction management classes, and he even offered to pay her tuition.

Evans reached out to Jim Carr, coordinator of UA Little Rock’s Graduate Construction Management Program and enrolled in 2016. She took a semester off after the birth of her daughter, now 17 months old, and graduated on Dec. 15, 2018.

“I wanted to take classes that would really help me learn the skills, not just get a degree,” she said.

Courses in concrete, safety, construction administration, and business financial management all helped her. One of her favorites was Alternative Dispute Resolution taught by Jimmy Don Overton, a Little Rock construction lawyer.

“The classes taught me so much about the industry,” she said. “While I was here, I also made business acquaintances with major construction firms.”

While in school, Sanders competed in the Associated Schools of Construction-TEXO Region 5 competition. Sanders and her fellow team members were assigned a project for which they prepared a bid. One year the team prepared bids for a water treatment plant; another year they estimated the cost to construct an underpass.

Teams are scored based on their presentation and how close their bid is to the actual project cost. The UA Little Rock team placed third both years.

“I loved the program and would love to see more people in the program,” she said. “The faculty are great.”

Sanders also hopes to see more women in construction management.

Top Right: Julie Sanders checks on a concrete pour at a job site.

Above: Julie Sanders completed a Master of Science in construction management at UA Little Rock to better prepare herself for one day running her family’s construction company.

Photos by Benjamin Krain

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