Driving Disruption: Nolan Woody Of Curbed Construction On The Innovative Approaches They Are Taking To Disrupt Their Industries

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Accepting responsibility. Assuming responsibility for those you lead will provide a strong foundation for innovation and collaboration.

In an age where industries evolve at lightning speed, there exists a special breed of C-suite executives who are not just navigating the changes, but driving them. These are the pioneers who think outside the box, championing novel strategies that shatter the status quo and set new industry standards. Their approach fosters innovation, spurs growth, and leads to disruptive change that redefines their sectors. In this interview series, we are talking to disruptive C-suite executives to share their experiences, insights, and the secrets behind the innovative approaches they are taking to disrupt their industries. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nolan Woody.

Nolan Woody, operating partner at Curbed Construction, is a breath of fresh air in the construction space. In an industry plagued by a general bad image and negative culture, Nolan exists as a (pleasant) outlier. By putting an emphasis on clear communication among his peers, employees, and customers, while also valuing the human element driving his projects forward, Nolan and Curbed enjoy a professional existence enviable by others in his field.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about disruption, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I was in sales right out of college, but once I got engaged and married, my wife and I knew we wanted to start a family and for that to happen in the way we envisioned, I needed to get off the road. My grandfather had become a home remodeler/flipper when he retired, and after watching and learning from him in that space, I decided to give it a try myself. I was successful with my first flip, and after that, I really hit the ground running. I worked for a commercial contractor for about five years to cut my teeth in the industry, and once I felt like I understood the ins and outs, I decided to go out on my own.

I connected with Thomas Connolly, who had some projects he was navigating as a developer at the time, and later Gary Crowe to round out our team on the real estate side. Together, we formed Curbed Construction. We each bring an important perspective to our shared goal, which is to offer transparency and honesty throughout the process of delivering high-quality, long-lasting projects.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I read a quote on Instagram that said, “If you gotta tell ’em to carry the bricks, they ain’t the ones to build with.” I think that the fact that any member of our team is willing to do whatever it takes to be successful really sets us apart. At Curbed, you’ll never hear someone say, “That’s not my job.” We prioritize people over everything, and sometimes that means pitching in to get a job done. Everyone on our team, from office managers to subcontractors to laborers, knows that they can count on us to help solve problems, and I think that impacts our culture positively. When everyone feels well-respected, the work goes smoother and customers are happier. By prioritizing human relationships over everything else, we’re impacting every facet of our business and our ability to deliver on our promises.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1. Belief that anything is possible. Even from an early age, I was taught to persevere — that no matter how many times you get knocked down, you get back up. Construction has its fair share of situations that are daunting, stressful, or seem practically impossible. Having the “anything is possible” mindset — saying, “Okay, let’s figure this out, let’s get it done,” has made a huge difference in my career.

2. Relatability. The construction world involves so many different types of people from all walks of life, from laborers to customers to investors. Being able to relate to all of them and understand each person’s needs is so important to everyone’s long-term success.

3. Ability to dance with uncertainty (i.e. risk tolerance). Going out on your own, you have to have a certain level of risk tolerance. Things are going to be uncertain. You’re going to run up against challenges you weren’t expecting. But circling back to №1 above, my belief that anything is possible helps me keep a level head and overcome those challenges.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

I think in our world, this is as simple as turning down a new project because it doesn’t fit our schedule, it’s not the type of project we want to do, or the client didn’t pass our gut check. It can be tempting to take on a job because the money looks promising, but I am a firm believer that it’s more important to work with the right people and take on the right projects than it is to chase revenue.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. In the context of a business, what exactly is “Disruption”?

We think of disruption in a lot of ways as a big shift in the way things are being done. Usually, our minds go to revolutionary technology — things like Airbnb and Uber — but to me, disruption doesn’t have to be that substantial. At Curbed, we are disrupting our industry by getting back to the basics. In an industry known for distrust and poor customer service, we’re committing to transparency and putting people first at every turn. I think disruption can be as simple as charting your own path forward.

How do you perceive the role of ‘disruption’ within your industry, and how have you personally embraced it? Is it a necessity, a strategy, or something else entirely in your view?

Construction is inherently people-oriented. Sure, technology can help us with things like drawings and renderings and ensuring the safety and longevity of the projects we’re building, but I think where we’ll see the true benefit of disruption in this industry is in challenging the status quo. I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t think of many other industries that have a worse reputation. I see that as a huge opportunity for us to disrupt the industry by treating our workers fairly, by really getting to know our customers and understanding their needs, by sticking to schedules, and so on. Doing everything we can to ensure people have a great experience with us is a real difference-maker in our industry.

What lessons have you learned from challenging conventional wisdom, and how have those lessons shaped your leadership style?

I always try to be a giver, and a lot of times, you’ll hear that givers get taken advantage of — that no matter how much you give, someone’s always going to be taking. That’s true to a point, but it doesn’t paint the full picture. As a leader, I try to never stop giving — support, advice, answers, etc. — because the reward is always going to pay off. It sets the tone that people know you’ll be available to continue supporting them however they need and enables them to get to the end goal in their own way, without micromanagement.

Disruptive ideas often meet resistance. Could you describe a time when you faced significant pushback for a disruptive idea? How did you navigate the opposition, and what advice would you give to others in a similar situation?

Culture wasn’t top priority at the company I worked for before starting Curbed. When I was leaving that job, I was told I didn’t have enough experience, that I needed more time, etc. But enacting my belief that “anything is possible” that I mentioned in the character trait question above, I had decided I was ready to do things the way I saw fit. At my previous job, people were always threatening to quit because they couldn’t figure out any other way to get what they needed. At Curbed, we give annual pay increases, bonuses, and other incentives. We don’t try to negotiate salaries down — instead, we ask people what they need and work to meet those requests as best we’re able. I want people to be fired up to come to work and feel like they can trust me as a leader to be looking out for them. I would tell someone in a similar situation that if you are feeling pulled to do something differently, give it a try. The successes you find in doing things your own way might surprise you.

What are your “Five Innovative Approaches We Are Using To Disrupt Our Industry”?

I once listened to a podcast that interviewed the Executive Vice President of Chick-fil-A, and his message really resonated with me. These approaches come from his advice in that episode, so I can’t take full credit for them. But they influence the way I approach my work every day and enable us to do things differently at Curbed.

1. Thinking about others first. Especially in the work we do, where so many people are impacted by every decision, it’s critical to consider how your actions will affect everyone else involved. As a leader, “thinking about others first” also means spending your time adding value to others as much as possible.

2. Expecting the best. Be optimistic. Remember that people are generally well-intentioned, and anything is possible.

3. Responding with courage. As a leader, you’ll have to practice taking action even when it’s tough. Be courageous enough to do so.

4. Having a hunger for wisdom. We’re never done learning. Continuing to seek out new knowledge and perspectives will always make you a better leader.

5. Accepting responsibility. Assuming responsibility for those you lead will provide a strong foundation for innovation and collaboration.

Looking back at your career, in what ways has being disruptive defined or redefined your path? What surprises have you encountered along the way?

I have a very type A personality, and historically, I’ve tended to have strong opinions about how to get things done. But as I’ve gotten a little older and perhaps wiser, I’ve started to realize people inherently want to be good at their jobs. They want to do well. It’s not as important for me to tell people how to do something as it is to be there to support them. Sometimes they need affirmation that they’re going down the right path. Sometimes they need insights. Sometimes they might need you to put your arm around them. Sometimes they might need some firm course correction. Understanding which of those is needed at any given moment is what can make or break you as a leader.

Beyond professional accomplishments, how has embracing disruption affected you on a personal level?

I think being open to disruption, even in its most basic definition — which is “disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process” — makes you a more patient person. In business, navigating disruption makes you a more thoughtful and adaptable leader. These qualities have not only made me a better professional but have made me a better husband, father, and man of faith. Embracing disruption helps you see the bigger picture in all areas of life.

In your role as a C-suite leader, driving innovation and embracing disruption, what thoughts or concerns keep you awake at night? How do these reflections guide your decisions and leadership?

I am laughing a bit as I answer this question because I honestly sleep really well. Jokes aside, I think that the biggest weight on my shoulders as a business leader is just knowing that I have employees whose well-being and livelihood rely on our success. But the reason it doesn’t keep me up at night is because I’m in control of how we approach all that challenge. I get to make the choices that keep our business thriving. There’s a lot of freedom in that fact, and it’s something that keeps me excited and energized as a leader.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As a Christian, I’m going to say Jesus. My faith provides a strong framework for how I approach everything I do. When the world tries to push me in other directions, being rooted in Christianity helps me continue to choose the right path and provides ultimate peace in my decisions.

How can our readers further follow your work online?


Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.