By Sarah Trefethen
Barbara Res went from a working class, outer-borough childhood, to City College’s almost entirely male-dominated engineering school, to overseeing the constriction of the Trump Tower — and the experience has left her with stories to tell.
She’s laid them out in her new memoir “All Alone on the 68th Floor,” billed as a combination of memoir, celebrity tell-all and construction primer.
“I started writing about 20 years ago and I never finished then. I’m glad I didn’t because I didn’t have the perspective of looking back at the time,” Res told Real Estate Weekly.
The 63-year-old former Trump Organization executive vice president shares behind-the-scenes details of the time she spent working with Donald and Ivana Trump on projects including the Trump Tower and the Plaza Hotel.
Some readers have suggested she went easy on Trump in particular, she said. But even though they are out of contact, she still seems grateful to a boss who gave her a big opportunity at a time when people often assumed she was not qualified to do her job. “Donald told me that men are typically better at this type of thing than women, but if you get one good woman she’s better than ten good men,” she said.
One audience she hopes her book will reach is young women who might be interested in construction but afraid that the industry will make then unfeminine, that they will have to act like men to get ahead.
“According to my research, the number of women in engineering school peaked in 2000 and it’s actually dropped off slightly,” she said. “How can that be?”
Res studied electrical engineering because of her natural aptitude for math, and moved into construction via a job with an electrical contractor.
But even though math was what got her started in the field, she thinks what engineering really requires is the ability to think on your feet.
“You have to want to learn very much, you have to work hard and you have to be interested in building and be interested in what goes into making a building,” she said.
“But the most important quality in an engineer is being able to move from space to space and adapt to change… every time you make a decision in engineering — and especially construction engineering — there are four more decisions.”
For Res, who quickly discovered a love for working on construction sites, the job also required a thick skin.
“Companies would send out yearly calendars… so there were naked women hanging all over the office, and they would make comments like ‘You look like Miss April,’ or ‘When are we going to see you up there, Barbara?’” she said.
In the book she tells the story of standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a packed site elevator when someone turned to her and made a crude, sexually explicit comment. “There’s really no good way to handle that,” she said.
But she did, in part, she said, by developing her own skills with foul language.
Res kept working while raising her two children (“I just loved being a mother”) and in 2007 she graduated law school, training that she says enhances her ability to handle the actual contracts involved in contracting.
Now that her book is finished, she’s looking to get back into construction full-time. “I think I did have it all, and do have it all, and women can have it all,” she said.