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One-on-One: Meet Emile G. Gonzales

Emile G. Gonzales, owner of Gi2 Construction, is photographed at Los Poblanos Inn and Organic Farm, one of the renovation projects done by the company. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Among Emile Gonzales’ favorite places is a hidden lake deep in the Himalayas, the highlight of a 10-day, mostly silent trip she took with her sister and their Sherpa a couple of years ago.

“There was something very magically enlightening about how loud nature becomes when you shut up,” Gonzales says. “I didn’t know you could hear ladybugs.”

The insect chorus sounded at first like a “faint little hum,” and the Sherpa, who was also a Buddhist monk, made sure to point it out because he didn’t want Gonzales and her sister to step on any.

“We looked down and there were thousands, millions of ladybugs all over this beautiful meadow of flowers,” says Gonzales. “You could hear them so loud and you hear the trees and you hear the, oh my gosh, the yaks, they were crazy.”

Gonzales, who owns G2i Construction, learned to cherish quiet in the midst of a very busy life that has involved managing multimillion-dollar federal contracts, nine employees, a horse farm and four kids she raised as a single mother.

Gonzales was named the 2019 small-business person of the year for New Mexico, an honor given by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Emile Gonzales was named the 2019 small-business person of the year for New Mexico, an honor given by the U.S. Small Business Administration.(Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Gonzales has made a lot of professional changes since spending 13 years anchoring and reporting for KOB-TV during the 1980s and part of the 1990s.

She left the job and had four children within three years – “I had a whole wing at Presbyterian Hospital: the Emile Gonzales Birthing Room,” she jokes.

As she later got ready to return to the working world, she made a decision.

“The thing about TV news is that it’s so fleeting,” she says. “I would put in a 10-hour day, really working hard, and then it’s gone in 15 seconds, 45 seconds, a minute. I always had a craving to do something a little more tangible and so I thought building would be great. So I started doing small remodels and flipping them. I really liked the creative process of that.”

The company she started in 2006 named Lucky Bunny (a nickname coined by her father) has evolved into a government contractor that’s certified as a small business, a woman-owned business and a HUB-zone located business. G2i has done work for the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Army, Homeland Security (but not the controversial border wall, she says) and recently, the extensive remodel of Los Poblanos Farms in the North Valley.

The company’s new name is meant to “resonate well with clients,” because “G2i” refers to the military’s intelligence branch, she says.

“I very much work in a male-dominated world,” Gonzales says. “I mean I rarely go to any meeting anywhere where there’s not 12 to 20 men at a big conference table, and I am almost exclusively the only woman. So you do not want to walk into a federal construction meeting with the name Lucky Bunny. It just isn’t the right tone, especially because I usually have to run the meeting.”

You grew up in New Mexico?

“Are you kidding me? I’m like the poster child for native New Mexicans, right? I went to Cibola (High School), back when we had a hitching post there, and I would on occasion ride my horse to an event or something. I was the Future Farmers of America chapter sweetheart.”

And you still have horses?

“I have a farm, Horse Haven Farm. I’ve got three horses that I own, but I have 15 horses at the farm. I always had 40 until this last year … because I just want to simplify and that was a lot, always having that many horses. And you know, they’re all high-maintenance horses. They’re all show horses. So I just wanted to create more white space on the page. As G2i continues to really grow, it’s important to balance that. I’m a very, very intense worker, but I’m a very intense player, too.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

“I like to sweat. I do mountain bike racing, I do Ironman, I do karate, I do horse-jumping, running on the ditch. I ski a lot. A good day is when I can get into my bike saddle and my jumping saddle on the same day.”

What were you like as a kid?

“I was always on a horse or playing horse. I’ve played violin since I was very young. I play classical violin, and I play electric violin – bluegrass and classical and a little bit of rock. I was a pretty dorky kid.”

Do you still play?

“I do. I play for my church. I always say I’m the funeral (and the) wedding brigade. Someone dies, you’re going to see me there. I just recently decided to start playing with a band, so I’m working on that. I’ve played in symphony orchestras, ensembles, quartets and used to play in bands, like the Smokestack Sisters, but have not for many years. I’m currently working on changing that. I recently bought a white electric violin, and that has me stoked.”

What’s it like being a woman in your field?

“I think it’s fabulous, because it’s funny. Let’s say there’s a project coming up. They send out a notice that OK, there’s a mandatory site visit. ‘If you want to bid on this project you have to go and check in, and we’re going to show you around.’ So you go to one of those things, and there are 50 white F-150 trucks all parked outside and there are 50 guys who get out of the trucks, all have the baseball hat, all have the same polo shirt, the same jeans. I mean, it’s just a sea of the same. And then I jump out, and who knows what’s happening, flavor of the day with the hair. I never know. If it’s humid, it’s going to be like a Chia Pet. I’m the only different one.”

Do you feel like you’re treated differently?

“Before the contracting officers really knew me, I would go to meetings and I’d take one of my project managers because they tend to be our estimators. There’s no eye contact with me. They ask him all the questions. They think he’s the boss, and my (project managers) are really great and say, ‘Well, let’s ask the boss.’ Because it really takes awhile before they will even often look me in the eye and address the questions to me. That is a challenge, but I don’t dwell on that. I bring a little spark to the table, you know. The contracting officers for the government are used to the same old doldrum. They love that with a female manager – and I have fabulous male managers, too – but they like the multi-tasking facet that I bring to it. I can keep track of the forest but also pay attention to the trees, and they really like that double layer of management.”

Tell me about a difficult situation you’ve encountered and how you dealt with it.

I have difficult situations every hour of every day. I decipher sense from nonsense in a situation. I look for the solution right away. I try to dispel augmenting emotions, because people can really start getting worked up in situations. When we have a situation where the ultimate customer is at odds with the government entity who has hired us … we come in and I try to be the go-between and dissipate the static that’s between them. I’m good at that.”

How do you do it?

I just think I have a knack for it. Maybe because I’m the single mother of four kids. I learned how to do that, or I would have just been outnumbered. I mean, there’s a lot of practical life lessons that bleed over into this arena.

What are your favorite foods?

I love sushi, and I have a massive sweet tooth. I love everything sweet. Maybe the reason I’m so happy is because when I wake up in the morning, I think there’s a chance today I’ll get a piece of pie or a piece of white wedding cake. So I have that carrot dangling out there. I love pie, I love white wedding cake.”