Meet a Local Leader: Tara Duggan

Tara Duggan, president and owner of McDermott Excavating, talks with Kyle FitzGerald at a job site at 1025 Bluff St. in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: Jessica Reilly

President, McDermott Excavating, and Vice President, America’s Best Remodeling

Born and raised in Dubuque, Duggan moved away to go to Marquette University for undergrad and Master of Business Administration degrees.

She taught high school and served as marketing director for corporate law firms in Milwaukee, then started America’s Best Remodeling in 2010 with her husband, Bo. They bought McDermott Excavating from her dad in 2015.

Duggan also owns leasing and real estate investment companies in Wisconsin and Iowa. She spent 20 years in the Milwaukee area and moved back to Dubuque in December. She is a member of the YM/YWCA Board of Directors.

Duggan and her husband have a daughter, Cooper, 11; and a son, Maverick, 8. Her hobbies are cycling, traveling and reading.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?

My dad, Larry. The way he treated people always served him well. He respected everyone’s contribution and gave people the benefit of the doubt. I always admired how he could get a message across without fighting or yelling.

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization? Hiring decisions. In many cases people spend more time with co-workers than they do with their family, so each person I bring into an organization has the ability to affect everyone else. They also are the ones in the field all day every day with customers and vendors, so your employees can make or break you internally and externally.

As an organization gets larger, there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening? Employees value feeling like they’re a part of something. When that something gets too big, they can feel like their role isn’t as important. We try to recognize individuals any time we notice them going above and beyond their job description. When a customer compliments any of our employees, that employee is recognized and rewarded by the company. At our size, we can do that frequently and let them know that we really appreciate their contributions.

Which is more important to your organization — mission, core values or vision? Core values. Mission and vision can change as the market and industry changes, but core values have to drive everyone’s decision making.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? The ability to recognize that you’re not the best at everything. There always is going to be someone who is smarter or more efficient than you in specific areas, and once you realize that and learn to ask them for help and take their guidance, is when you can really have an impact. Doing everything yourself will never result in success.

What advice do you have for future leaders? Pay attention to every boss or supervisor you have at all of your jobs — there is always something to learn. It might be something you want to learn to avoid, but there is something to be learned from each different boss you have. That can actually be applied to everyone you meet.

Additionally, care about what your employees care about. It’s important to understand that they are people with interests, hobbies, relationships, pets, families and worries. As a leader, any time you can positively affect one of those areas of their life, it means a lot to them.

What lessons can leaders take away from the current pandemic? Being able to quickly pivot is key. There were several things about 2020 that nobody could have predicted or modeled or prepared for, but by staying level headed and making adjustments, a lot of businesses will come out stronger on the other side.

What are two or three of the best things about being a leader? Getting to work with other leaders is one of the best things about being a leader — learning from their experience and many times just being around such dynamic people is inspiring.

My favorite part about what I do is that we provide good jobs that pay well for great people. I love that my employees can support their families and work on exciting Dubuque-area projects because of what my family has built and continues to work on.

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