Letitia Haley Barker ’77 had always been interested in chemistry and wanted to work in crime scene investigations, so she earned a degree in criminal justice at SFA. After graduation, life took her in a different direction.
“Your life finds you; you just have to be open to it,” she said of her rise as the leader of one of the largest female-owned companies in North Texas.
During her childhood, leadership might not have seemed to be in the cards for young Barker, also known as “Tish.”
“My parents sent me to a private school because in large group settings, I just wouldn’t talk to anyone,” Barker said. “I have always credited SFA with getting me out of that. College is a time when you can become your own person but in a safer environment; at least that is what it was for me.”
After she left the “safe” confines of SFA, one of Barker’s first jobs was with an architectural firm in Florida, where she learned how to use word processors (which were new at the time) and began creating and editing the firm’s job specifications. She later accepted a human resources compensation position that she held for 13 years. She did not realize it at the time, but these experiences were helping her develop skills that would lead to her successful entrance into her father’s company in 1995.
“I was in charge of compensation for 2,000 people — I determined the budgets, starting salaries for new hires and all raises,” she explained. “The numbers made sense to me. It was very analytical work, and it was a formula-based process that was right up my alley.”
In both these positions, she routinely found herself in environments that were predominately male.
“At least 90% of the people I worked with at that time were male,” Barker recalled. “My dad told me not to worry about being the only woman in the room. He said once people realize you know your stuff, they will keep calling on you. You just have to be prepared.”
That advice was vital when Barker returned to Dallas to work as the chief financial officer at Haley-Greer, a company her father, Don Haley, co-founded in 1979. The company installs high-performance window-wall and curtain-wall systems on major commercial projects.
With projects ranging from luxury residential construction to commercial high rises for entities that include Children’s Medical Center, the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas, the 20-story Pier 1 headquarters in Fort Worth and the Frost Bank Tower in Austin, it did not take long for Barker to delve deeply into the business. A short time later, the company won the bid for a project in a neighboring state and, in order to perform the work, it was necessary to obtain a license from that state. This meant someone had to take and pass the state’s business administration exam and a glazing exam.
“When my dad said he thought I should go take the exams, I thought, ‘yeah, right,’” she said. “But you really don’t know how much you know until you test yourself in some way. I got the books, and my dad and I went over a few things about different types of windows and caulking. I still doubted myself, but I did very well on the exam. It gave me a lot of confidence and also helped me turn the corner with some of the employees who might have doubted that I deserved to be in the position I was in.”
Eight years later, Barker’s father made the decision to become the company’s CEO and promoted her to company president in 2003. In 2015, Barker purchased the majority of the company, but her dad, at age 89, still comes to work several mornings each week.
“This wasn’t his plan when I started here — he just needed some administrative help, and I was someone he knew he could trust,” Barker explained. “I didn’t know if he would really be able to turn it over to me entirely, because the company is so much a part of him. But he has really done a great job of directing requests to me and telling people, ‘You are going to have to ask Tish about that.’”
Haley-Greer sales personnel and project managers choose jobs that play to the company’s strengths. They have worked on iconic buildings throughout the state, including the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Winspear Opera House and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, may be the company’s highest-profile project.
“It’s one of the most exciting projects we’ve done,” Barker said. “It has one of the largest inverted-slope glazed-curtain walls in the world, and the end-zone doors were the largest operable glass doors ever produced.”
Currently on deck is Globe Life Field, the new home of the Texas Rangers, expected to open this spring. It will feature a 5.5-acre retractable roof.
“You’ve got to be there during the design phase,” Barker said. “The angles have to be very precise so the glass stays in. Sometimes it takes several attempts to bring designs to life.”
Haley-Greer is known for its ability to complete complex building projects. Barker attributes the company’s success to her employees and their collaboration with creative customers and innovative suppliers.
“We combine the expertise of multiple engineering groups and specialized firms and, as partners, we complete amazing projects,” she said. “Simple buildings really aren’t our forte, but contractors look to us for the difficult things, because they know we’ll do everything that’s required to get it done.”
In addition to constructing the facilities, the company applies components, such as sealants, to ensure all the building materials, whether stone, metal or glass, are properly preserved, residue resistant and able to withstand the wide temperature swings throughout Texas’ blistering summers and frigid winters.
“We don’t underbid jobs,” Barker said. “We have highly-skilled craftsmen and long-time employees, and we are not going to jeopardize them by taking work that isn’t in the best interest of the company. It’s very much a family here, and we take care of one another.”
Haley-Greer has been ranked the 13th largest female-owned company in North Texas by the Dallas Business Journal, but Barker’s leadership does not stop within the confines of the company’s walls. She was elected president of the American Subcontractors Association in 2015 and held that position during the group’s 50th anniversary.
Barker had previously held a variety of chapter, regional and national positions with ASA and still serves on the finance committee for the national association.
Haley-Greer was one of 14 subcontractors in the nation honored by the ASA in March 2019 for excellence in ethics. The association requires confidential recommendations from businesses as part of the award process, which is based on commitment to quality construction and safe, healthy work environments.
“No matter what happens, we believe in doing what is right, even when it’s not the easiest way out,” Barker said. “If a mistake is made, we fix it. We don’t argue about who is at fault, and that’s the reason people come back to us. The trust is there, and that’s important.”
The ethics award is just one of more than a dozen accolades the company has received in the past decade, including the 2018 National Excellence in Construction Pyramid Award from Associated Builders and Contractors for its work on the Wildwood Corporate Centre II in The Woodlands.
While Barker readily admits that the glass, glazing and curtain-wall business requires a great deal of knowledge and experience, she also believes that communication is key to the company’s success. Being a family-based company has contributed, as well.
“We don’t operate like a big corporation,” Barker said. “Every employee is involved in our company’s success. My father and I both strongly believe in treating our employees, clients, suppliers and subcontractors with respect, honesty and integrity. It is a part of our company values and culture, and it definitely affects everything we do.”