Spotlight on Alum Elaine Tomassetti
It seems somehow fitting that J&E Industries, the company founded by Elaine Tomassetti (’89), specializes in the reinforcing steel known in the construction industry as rebar; there is steely strength in her attitudes and abilities.
That’s unsurprising — to succeed as a woman in the male-dominated construction industry undeniably requires strength — but Tomassetti does not view herself as all that unusual. “I don’t have a basis for comparison because I’ve never worked in any other industry,” she said, “but I know that every business has its challenges and that life itself sometimes requires toughness.”
J&E, which she launched with her sister, Janice, who provides the accounting expertise, is certified by the State of New York as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise, but Tomassetti explained, “I don’t hang my hat on that on a day-to-day basis. You win jobs because you do good work and price fairly, not because of your gender.”
Her gender was, however, indirectly responsible for her career path: born into a traditional Italian family whose patriarch owned a Brooklyn construction company that provided excavation, foundation, and general contracting work, Tomassetti knew that as a daughter she would never inherit the business. It was in response to those circumstances that she ultimately launched her own company. She has since contributed to numerous major projects throughout the city, including portions of the Long Island Expressway and FDR Drive, the Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn, the aquarium in Coney Island, 7 Bryant Park, Hudson Yards, and the new World Trade Center (a particularly memorable job not only because of its complexity but because of the iconic and stirring location).
Tomassetti credits her civil engineering education at what was then generally known as Poly for much of her success but is glad that female students have it appreciably better now. “There was one geotechnical engineering professor, Carlos Santamarina, who always treated me with respect, and I’m still grateful to him for that because it was relatively unusual back then,” she recalled, adding, on a somewhat lighter note, “There were also only about three women’s bathrooms in the entire school. You had to run all over the place to get to one.”
Asked what advice she would give aspiring female engineers today, Tomassetti was characteristically direct: “It’s the same advice I’d give to anyone — male or female, engineer or other profession,” she said. “Work hard, do your best, and let the buck stop with you.”