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A tale of two careers

A tale of two careers

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Home building is a long way from the university lab, but for Dana Valuzis the move from academia to construction has been a rewarding change.

Laura Valic

Editor

You may occasionally come across people who have traded in another industry to work in building and construction, some following a new (or dormant) passion, while others simply seize a good opportunity. But it’s highly unusual to hear of someone choosing to switch over from such a niche profession as immunology.

For HIA member and highly awarded academic alumni Dana Valuzis (nee Cavill), it was a particular set of circumstances that led her away from medical research and education towards residential building almost seven years ago. 

After more than a decade in the School of Medicine at Flinders University studying for her PhD, researching autoimmune diseases and supporting medical students in intensive ‘problem-based learning’ – family tragedy struck. Her mother was terminally ill, and being a doctor, wished to manage her own palliative care at home. 

‘I’ve got a strong work ethic and no matter what I do in life, I do it at 150 per cent,' says Dana Valuzis, co-owner of St Georges Constructions
Dana and Gint Valuzis receive their 2022 HIA Australian Townhouse Villa of the Year award from Max Arthur, Holcim and Peter Helliar (right)

‘The writing was on the wall,’ Dana says. ‘I nursed Mum through pancreatic cancer and after her death helped care for my dad. My daughter was eight and I had been told I couldn’t have more children, but a month after my mum passed away, I was pregnant!’ 

Around the same time, her husband Gint decided to strike out on his own and launch St Georges Constructions, a small custom home building company servicing Adelaide and its surrounds. Rather than return to the pressures of university life, Dana felt it made more sense in the interim to support the new business. 

‘Gint had always worked in the industry, but I came in not knowing anything,’ Dana reveals. ‘I found I was treading water, almost sinking at times! I thought, “Oh my god, this is a new world”.’

The learning curve was indeed steep. Much of the challenge was in understanding how to manage and expand a small business as it was in adapting to a new industry. Like many others in family-run enterprises, Dana started with the accounts and soon found plenty of areas to apply her unique skillset. 

‘Through my PhD and teaching experiences, I learned analytical skills, to be organised, to communicate well and collaborate in teams,’ she says. ‘I’ve got a strong work ethic and no matter what I do in life, I do it at 150 per cent. This is all transferable to the profession I have now as the Business Manager.’

Behind the scenes, Dana is involved in the day-to-day operations, including project management, worksite safety, client liaison, marketing and social media. As a team of two, they contract all their trades and have slowly grown a loyal base, which has translated to high standards of building work completed to schedule.

Gint and Dana Valuzis of St Georges Constructions with their two children
St George Constructions won the 2022 HIA Australian Townhouse Villa of the year

With her easy and personable communication style, Dana is adept at forming positive relationships and connections with most people – a helpful quality when dealing with the wide array of individuals throughout a building project. However, one of the hardest transitions to her new industry was something she didn’t expect. When Dana began meeting with clients, she noticed a degree of reticence, and a shift in their manner usually only became apparent when conversation turned to her background before building.

‘Completing a PhD equates to credibility and achievement, but I was shocked that I needed to tell somebody about that to gain their respect,’ she says. ‘The change in the way people dealt with me afterwards was incredible.’ 

Dana realised it was a marketable perception for the business, and along with her interest in accessible and sustainable design, ensured her profile was highlighted in their public-facing communications. ‘I’ve now found that before I even go out to meet a client for the first time, I don't have to earn those trust credits, they’re already there.’

The other hurdle to overcome is a common one – generating a steady stream of projects. But this is where HIA membership has proved its worth. As a member from virtually ‘day one’, Dana and Gint took advantage of their access to a broad range of resources for business advice and support, such as guides, webinars and training courses.  

‘What I learnt from a HIA course is that if you can’t sell yourself, then get someone else to sell you,’ Dana says. ‘So, we go in as a team and I sell Gint’s experience and professionalism. By the time we’ve walked out, people are comfortable with us and often say they’d like to take the next step.’

Gint and Dana Valuzis with their two daughters
The family stand for Ukraine

Despite all their hard work on and off the building site, Dana says they weren’t getting the traction they needed. Gint had just completed a spectacular executive-style duplex in Hawthorn focused on occupant wellbeing which she thought would be worth entering into the 2021 HIA regional awards. The application process also forced a spotlight onto what they were missing and what they could improve. ‘I thought if people were going to start looking at us [as a winner or finalist], we better be in ship shape,’ she laughs. ‘I put in a lot of personal investment into getting the application and business ready in time for the awards.’ 

And while they may have felt like outside contenders on the night, St Georges Constructions achieved the unimaginable for a first-time entrant: a state win (2021 HIA South Australian Townhouse/Villa of the Year award) and the national award six months later. 

‘We were so excited we couldn’t sleep that night!’ Dana reveals. ‘It was an amazing feeling and then all of a sudden, we were getting more follows on Instagram and the phone started ringing. We walked into the next set of clients feeling confident in ourselves and our product.’

While construction wasn’t the industry Dana envisaged for herself, she is now firmly entrenched, and especially loves meeting with new clients and building relationships. Administering palliative care for her mum in the home setting really highlighted the challenges of accessibility in older homes, and this is a strong area of personal interest that she hopes to continue advocating for in the business. There are moments where she sees the difference they make in the lives of their clients – the realisation of a home for a new family or a renovation that eases the living arrangement for an elderly couple – and feels the change has been worthwhile. 

‘Coming into the industry with a different skillset can give a business a lot of value,’ she says. ‘And when you love what you do, success will follow. [I’ve realised] you really can do anything. You just need to hold your head up and be authentic. Ask questions, give your opinion and learn to connect with people. You will always succeed.’

 

‘What I learnt from a HIA course is that if you can’t sell yourself, then get someone else to sell you'
Dana Valuzis of St Georges Constructions

 

 

Planning for accessibility

With the Adelaide market currently experiencing a boom in Boomers looking to downsize, St Georges Constructions is ensuring it is well-placed to service people looking to age comfortably in their own homes. Business Manager Dana Valuzis says that after the experience of her mother’s palliative care at home, she has a particular interest in promoting accessible housing design.

‘I’ve seen what a difference small changes can make, and I try to educate people about the possibilities because many haven’t thought about it yet,’ she says. ‘It’s expensive to retrofit so it makes sense to address design alterations during a new build or renovation. Sometimes our clients aren’t ready to do it, so we say, “Let's make sure we put in the provision, so that wall is ready to have that rail added later on”.’

The NCC 2022 edition will include changes to accessibility requirements.

Published on 2 December 2022

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