Building a career in construction
Molly (Flanagan) Larkin ’05 majored in civil engineering before earning an MBA from Union Graduate College.
She began her career as a project engineer for Gilbane Building Company, a national construction management firm. Later, she joined the Design and Construction Group at the New York State Office of General Services as deputy director and was ultimately promoted to her current position as deputy commissioner. She is responsible for the business unit D&C, which performs design and construction public work and contracting on behalf of many executive agencies. It has a portfolio of over $1 billion in construction projects across the state.
Sports have always been an important part of Molly’s life and a large influence on her sense of community. She volunteers on the board of Bethlehem Lacrosse Club and coaches her third grader’s team. Molly coached her daughter’s recreational soccer team. She and her husband, Ed Larkin ’05, remain involved in Union sports, especially football, soccer and ice hockey. A prominent soccer player at Union, he is very proud of her 2105 induction into Union’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
Molly also enjoys sewing; she has made more than 400 facemasks since the start of the pandemic. She donated her first batch to the Ronald McDonald House in Albany and sent others to friends and family. A regular blood donor, Molly plays ice hockey in two adult leagues. She and her family support ReBuilding Together Saratoga County each year, as well.
What are/were the most challenging aspects of your career? What are/were the most rewarding?
Working as a public servant has brought a whole new meaning in 2020 in response to the pandemic. I have always enjoyed building things and helping people, and there is no better way to do both as an engineer than to be in public works. The most challenging aspects have been change-management and modernizing both operations and our workforce. Integrating processes into technology and making sure that it is sustainable and scalable. Before this year, one of the most rewarding experiences was working on the New York State Capitol (which is on the National Historic Registry) and restoring the historic laylights that were removed in the 1940s. There are only 50 state capitols in the country and the chances of being involved in a historical restoration of that significance and magnitude was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I also worked on a great team.
How has your engineering degree been useful in another field?
Although my career has largely been in engineering and construction-related fields, I recently helped another New York State agency with high-priority incident response during this pandemic. At first, I wondered about my qualifications to work in a field that was so drastically different from engineering. But I quickly realized my ability to ask questions until I understand how something works and to work with my team to find a solution was appreciated. I am confident that I added value to a wonderful team of people with diverse backgrounds.
Many people shy away from asking questions, or know the answer prior to asking; I am not one of those people. Engineering trained me to think about the impact you have on the next step and to pressure-test capacity. The entire team had drastically different skills and technical backgrounds, but what we had in common was an unwavering urgency to serve New Yorkers. Additionally, understanding specifications and drawings that form a contract and the interpretation of that contract, especially related to disputes and claims, has positioned me well for reviewing and analyzing impacts of proposed legislation. I never imagined I could be involved in or understand how the legislative process works, but I really enjoy the opportunity to respond to those requests.
What was your most formative experience at Union?
Sophomore year, Professor Andy Wolfe assigned our transportation class to volunteer as flaggers at a diabetes walk. Although at the time I did not appreciate it, my assignment was to stand near the entrance of a vacant parking lot. I directed hundreds of streaming cars (with my flag) to keep moving past my post. With my partner, we counted how many people followed directions, stopped to clarify the directions and finally, asked if they could be the exception and park in the lot we were blocking. It was very eye opening and I tell people the story often. Even if you design a system and have clear directions, you will always have people who think they are the exception. Fast forward 20 years, I am married to my classmate and Professor Wolfe and his son are now the goalies in my adult hockey league!
What’s the best piece of advice (professional or personal) you ever received?
They all relate to teams and relationships. Participating in athletics my whole life continued to shape me as a teammate and leader well before my professional career started. During a particularly difficult time for me athletically at Union – after tearing my ACL and spending countless hours in rehab – my athletic trainer, Jill Crary, told me that being the best does not make you a leader. You must inspire and bring the team along with your direction and example. Surrounding yourself with the right people makes you better. This is true professionally, athletically and personally. I tell that story often. Thank you, Jill!
Professionally, I have a mentor who saw something in me and taught me to always treat everyone with respect and to help them understand the value they add in the operation. I started as an intern for the same group I lead today as the deputy commissioner, and I remember the people who treated me with respect in my position as an intern. Everyone has a role and something to bring to the team, regardless of their title.