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FALEAKA GREEN

Owner, Puli Contractors

Success:

Certification Counseling Client

Faleaka “Aka” Green’s father ran a successful construction business for 30 years until his passing in 2018. Now, his legacy lives on through Aka’s company—Puli Contractors—which is named in his honor.

“My dad was a Tongan pioneer. He invested in all of us [his children], paid for all our schooling, and bought properties,” Aka said, noting that her mother was also eventually able to leave her job and focus on taking care of the couple’s youngest child.

In 2018, Aka’s father was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal cancer. He had large projects in progress and was without a project manager. That’s when Aka stepped in, helping with administrative tasks and meeting with various clients, contractors, and vendors. “I knew nothing about home foundations, and I had to learn really quick and rely on my colleagues to help me finish out his [my father’s] projects,” she said. “He passed away when we finished the projects, and that’s when I felt motivated to spearhead the company.”

Aka registered Puli Contractors, which specializes in masonry, in January 2019 and later put the business on hold due to the pandemic and to take the licensing exam. In May 2021, she became a licensed contractor and has since hired all five of her father’s former employees. Naturally, after 30 years of working for Aka’s father, there was a period of transition. Aka gained her employees’ trust by listening to them, respecting her father’s ways, and being fair. Today, she’s happy with her team and shows her appreciation by buying them lunch every day.

“I’ve faced a lot of challenges in the first three years, and I learned so much,” Aka said. “Now, there’s nothing you can do to stop me. A lot of people don’t understand that I don’t sit in the office; I meet the clients, I’m the first point of contact, I line the work up, I check on all my workers at all the sites, follow up with all the clients, and deal with the complaints and concerns. It’s a lot of work.”

Aka explained the advantages of being a woman in this overwhelmingly male-dominated field: “When I observed my dad talking to clients, he’d talk to the husband and the husband would say, ‘Let me talk to my wife.’ Now I can talk to the wife, and I don’t need to talk to the husband. Wives always say, ‘Oh, I have stupid questions.’ I tell them, ‘You only feel that way because you’re not familiar and I was that way too.’ I reassure them and have a connection where clients feel that they trust me. I’m an honest worker and I always try to do my best to make customers satisfied. Customers comment on my professionalism and how comfortable they feel. Some contractors try to force things a certain way because it’s easier for them, but I try to do what the customer wants.”

Furthermore, Aka said the reactions she gets are more of surprise than negativity. “Clients will ask, ‘Is your husband coming or your dad or your brother?’ And I’ll say, ‘Oh no, it’s me,’ and I’ll take my measuring tape out. Yeah, I’m going to take measurements, work on the proposal, et cetera. I get it; they expect a male contractor,” she explained. “Clients ask, ‘Who’s the licensed person here?’ and my brother and husband pointed to me.”

Aka’s challenges have included getting to know the right people in the industry and building connections with positivity and authenticity. “I had people pass up opportunities with me just because I was a girl,” she said. There are also cultural differences and gender roles where Tongan woman typically stay at home or do office work—not construction—and she credits her father for helping to bring those barriers down for her. And despite the competition and negative talk behind her back, Aka continues to power forward.

When asked how she handles negativity, she simply said: “I just let my work speak for itself. I’m very confident in my workmanship. When the owner is happy, that’s all that matters to me. They’re the ones paying me and I’m satisfying their needs. Everyone outside of that is just extra noise. I just continue doing what I do.”

Looking back on her journey, Aka, who is a wife and mother of two, said she’s most proud of herself for making it this far. “There are so many times I could’ve quit. Something in my gut just keeps telling me not to quit and I’m so proud of where I came from. I had no equipment, no trucks; all I had was my dad’s name on my back. I look at myself today with two flatbed trucks and one excavator—all these things may seem small to others, but to me, they show the investment in myself and the company.” Aka also enjoys the flexibility of being a business owner so that she can be there for her children. She also journals regularly and plans to pass her writings on to her children.

While in college, Aka’s counselor and mentor told her, “There’s always free information out there; you just have to look for it.” Following that same advice, she attended a free event hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Hawaii-Pacific Islands District Office during which someone recommended the MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center to her. Aka visited the Center’s website, signed up for the e-newsletter, and is now a certification counseling client.

Aka hopes to expand her company by becoming a federal contractor, which will diversify her business and allow her to hire more employees. She also wants to become a general contractor, like her father was, and establish a trade school to create opportunities in construction for women and Pacific Islander youth.

To her fellow woman entrepreneurs and small business owners, Aka offers the following advice: “Take your time, don’t rush. Just learn as much as you can because, as my dad taught me, you’ll learn a lot from listening. One of his biggest pieces of advice to me was in Tongan: ‘When you use your heart, you can see past where your eyes see. Loto Lahi.’ Don’t be scared, go for it. Even if you fail, success comes with failure. It goes hand in hand. You can’t be successful without failing.”