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40 Under 40 - Class of 2019
Business Observer Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 7 months ago

Tiara Rubio, 34

Project manager, Suffolk Construction
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Tiara Rubio didn’t get the best grades in school — she says she has never been a good test taker — but she was so smart she would tutor other students to help them with their homework and exam preparation. She says her best subject was math and describes herself as a “protector of the nerds,” even though she, herself, wasn’t a nerd.

“I was always very protective, so I thought I would wind up doing something where I would help people,” she says.

As a teenager, Rubio envisioned herself becoming a psychologist, but as she learned more about the profession, she realized it wasn’t for her. “I needed something a little more active, a little more involved,” she says.

Rubio shifted her focus first to architecture and then construction. That proved to be a wise decision because today she is a project manager for Suffolk Construction and oversees huge jobs, such as the $345 million Seminole Hard Rock Tampa Hotel & Casino expansion. Prior to that, she headed up the $500 million, multimodal MiamiCentral Station project, which spans six city blocks in Miami.

As a Hispanic woman in the construction industry, Rubio is well aware of her minority status. It's her assertiveness, she says, that's a bulwark against workplace situations that others might find bothersome.

“There are occasions when it is difficult,” she says. “But I have a strong character, and I think that helps me. I make myself heard, and I don’t present as being weak, timid or scared. It comes from the feeling of equality. I feel that I am equal to every other person here.”

That attitude relates to a construction industry topic Rubio says wasn’t taught in school: the importance of relationships. “If you don’t have a good relationship with the people you need to hold a commitment, then it’s not worth anything,” she says. “I depend on my subcontractors to tell me the truth, so I can relay to the owner how long the project is going to take.”

The other key knowledge Rubio has picked up on the job relates to stress and stress management — hot topics in an industry where stakes are high and a missed deadline can cost millions of dollars.

“This is an extremely stressful industry,” she says. “There are a lot of people who have health issues because of stress. It’s not hypothetical. We see it every day. Stress management needs to be part of the curriculum, for sure.”


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