Mary Tappouni
UNF Degree: BBA – ’97; BT – ’94
Employment: President, Breaking Ground Contracting, Jacksonville

Tappouni Stresses Environmental Philosophy

For Mary Tappouni and her construction company, environmental sustainability is more than just another building option. It’s a philosophy she has incorporated into the very fabric of her firm and shares with her employees.

Tappouni is president of Breaking Ground Contracting Company, one of the few female-owned construction companies in the state. But that’s not all that sets her firm apart from others. “I love to teach other small businesses how to ‘green’ their operations. That’s the thing that makes us unique. We don’t focus on green building alone, but the process of environmental awareness.” This philosophy begins in her office, where employees are provided incentives to drive fuel-efficient vehicles and incorporate water-saving features in their landscaping and inside their homes. The company practices sustainability in their own offices and on job sites, and teaches it through Breaking Ground Education Services.

Tappouni is proud of her company, the management team she has assembled and the contributions they are making in the community. She is also proud that the company is growing and profitable. In each of the last few years, the 10-year-old company has recorded growth rates averaging more than 50 percent.

The role UNF plays in the community served to increase Tappouni’s awareness of the importance of community involvement when she was a student. She and her management team are all mentors in Jacksonville organizations, and Tappouni was recently the project manager for a HabiJax home built by women. It is also the first HabiJax home to pursue LEED® certification. LEED®, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification system and benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

The road to her own construction company started when Tappouni transferred from the University of Florida to UNF. She said she loved UNF’s small classes and the high level of building experience among the faculty. When she graduated in 1994 with her bachelor’s degree, Tappouni said she knew then she wanted to own her own company. She stayed on at UNF to earn another bachelor’s degree, this time in business administration, in 1997.

The UNF degrees along with the practical experience she earned working for a general contractor while in school sent her on her way. She operated a branch office in Jacksonville for her father’s mechanical contracting firm when it was doing work on the Times-Union Performing Arts Center. She obtained her own contractor’s license in 1997.

Although she has been successful in the construction business, Tappouni is perplexed why so few women choose the profession. “We have to do a better job of letting women know these careers exist,” she advises. To accomplish this she frequently visits schools to talk about her business. “I’ve noticed even junior high may be too late. We need to reach girls in elementary school,” she says.

In addition, her community involvement includes serving on the board of directors of the First Coast Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors and the executive committee of the ABC Women’s Council as Education and Outreach Chair. She also has participated in the City of Jacksonville’s Blueprint for Prosperity, is a member of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Green Building Council, and is chairperson of the board of directors of the Child Guidance Center of Jacksonville. She was named Florida’s 2009 Small Business Person of the Year, the same year she was selected to receive the Outstanding Alumni Award from the College of Computing, Engineering and Construction.

This community involvement is part of Tappouni’s philosophy but is somewhat surprising considering she never intended to stay in Jacksonville. “UNF is why I’m here. It’s why my company is in Jacksonville.”