Ana Finol has been breaking down barriers for more than 25 years. She was the first female roadway construction engineer at the Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works in 1998; today, she’s Miami International Airport’s first female assistant director of facilities development.
Her first experience with the Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works, however, was far from auspicious. She was working with the department as a roadway construction engineer, but when she mentioned to a supervisor that she aspired to move up in her career, she discovered the odds were stacked against her.
“He told me, ‘Ana, just let your husband worry about the money, you are good here,’” Finol says.
As if immigrating from Venezuela and navigating life in a new country wasn’t hard enough, Finol had to figure out how she would overcome the stereotypes placed on Latinas in an industry that expected her to fail. “I realized early in my career that being a woman in the male-dominated field of engineering, I needed to work harder [to] be recognized,” Finol says. “When I came [to the US], I was already a civil engineer. But I didn’t have my professional engineer’s (PE) license or any substantial experience.”
Finol decided to add more credentials to her résumé, leaving no room for excuses from hiring managers. She earned her PE license and her Miami-Dade County general engineering contractor license, as well as a general contractor license from the state of Florida.
“I had to be assertive and show initiative,” she says. “So I have always been willing to take on additional work. I never stop learning, and I think that has paid off.”
After becoming an engineer for the Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works, Finol went on to serve as a construction manager at the Miami-Dade County Office of Capital Improvements. There, she was promoted to senior professional engineer. After voters approved a $2.9 billion General Obligation Bond Program, Finol managed the very successful program and spearheaded hundreds of infrastructure projects for the county.
In Finol’s current role at Miami International Airport, she leads more than 60 employees and numerous consultants in the Facilities Development Division, which is responsible for MIA’s multibillion dollar Capital Improvement Program. While managing in-house construction, planning, and design teams, Finol delivers upon a program currently estimated at $6.3 billion that will pave the way for more than 150 projects by 2034.
“The idea for this program is to improve the passenger experience and the whole impression of the passengers from the beginning to the end of their visit to MIA,” Finol says.
Elevating the passenger experience inevitably requires her to respond to unforeseen circumstances in each project. Whether she’s updating estimates due to an increase in the cost of labor and construction materials or adjusting her sourcing strategy to meet new sustainability requirements, she has had to make adjustments on the fly. “Many factors can shift in the course of a project,” Finol says. “New requirements, rules and regulations, and design changes often affect the scope of the work.”
Despite these challenges, Finol helped Miami International Airport shine during COVID-19. Some airlines, such as Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit, Emirates, and Frontier, responded to the pandemic by offering flights to MIA. “We have been breaking a lot of records,” Finol says.
Finol and her team have expanded the South Terminal to accommodate six domestic airlines. They streamlined two conveyor belts to fit into a new baggage-handling system, which boosted efficiency at ticket counters and improved fire safety.
Finol’s current goal is applying this strategy to the North Terminal renovation—but with a twist. Instead of just helping passengers get a grip on their bags, she is planning a three-level extension this time around. If her proposals are endorsed by the airlines, she will establish the design criteria and move forward with the request for proposal process.
“With that endorsement by the airlines, we can advertise for a design builder,” Finol says. “It should take a year and a half for the procurement process, and then we would move into design/construction, with the overall project estimated to be completed in the beginning of 2028.”
Behind the scenes, Finol steps up as a facilitator. She lays down the framework for her employees and contractors to collaborate like partners. Not only does Finol fine-tune workflows around red tape, but she invests in process management solutions that allow everyone to stay on the same page.
“I recognize the need for communication to make sure that when a project is completed, it has gone through the commissioning process so all staff, including facilities maintenance, can be trained in all the project’s systems. They also can receive all the warranties,” the assistant director explains. “The idea is to automate the process, with one software that communicates.”
One reason Finol leans into the digital transformation trend is to foster synergy. However, she goes above and beyond to equip her teams with the right tools because she recognizes these tools can produce better decisions.
Still, that’s not the only quality that separates Finol from her peers. She deserves to be celebrated for breaking barriers and opening doors for herself and others. Her hands-on, ethical leadership empowers her teams to soar, but she leads with humility and remains down-to-earth. Finol understands how disappointing it is to have your achievements overlooked, so she brings a sense of justice and logic to her department, refusing to take shortcuts that would compromise her integrity.
“I try to always be transparent,” Finol says. “[I] always try to be fair. What is most important to me is the communication and the teamwork. That’s a priority for me. I try to lead by example. I would not ask anyone to do anything that I wouldn’t do or haven’t done myself. I work hard, and I try to be hands-on and accessible all the time. My door is always open, and people always come in and out.”
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CBRE Heery Inc. is proud to provide program management services for Miami International Airport’s $5.5 billion capital improvement program, and we congratulate Ana Finol on her new position as assistant director of facilities development. We look forward to reaching new heights together. cbreheery.com