Jim Camlek: Onward + Upward

insight

Jim Camlek: Onward + Upward

Nov 12, 2020

The DAVIS logo was created with the onward + upward ethos in mind. It is both our legacy and our vision for the future. We're interviewing 20 people in '20 to find out what onward + upward means to them (along with some other interesting details you might not pick up on at the jobsite). Keep up with this series to get more insight into the DAVIS team!

Meet Jim Camlek, Director.

We sat down with Jim (over a phone call) to talk about his DAVIS career, his creative outlets including a turn as a stage performer, and the importance of family and friends. Keep reading to learn about him.

JIM CAMLEK'S LIFE AT DAVIS

So - how did you get here?
After graduating from Penn State, I worked for a company in Bethesda for six years--I was young, and really working as hard as I could. I met a gentleman named Kenn Stipcak who encouraged me to give my resume to DAVIS, and then it all happened so quickly. I met with Jim Davis and Dennis Cotter in the old DAVIS trailer park, and the rest is history.

What have you learned as your time at DAVIS has gone by?
Learning how to trust your partners and delegate was a big lesson for me. When you're used to having full control of the job, it's hard to imagine someone else taking the reins. I really enjoyed running our weekly meetings with owners and architects, and giving that up was tough, because I love interacting with people and being in that environment. But, my team has been doing a great job. It's fun to be in the trenches sometimes, but "change is good," so they say. I may have read that somewhere.

What's it like being Director?
I like to think that supers can call me up to talk about whatever's going on, and I'm always happy to lend an ear to someone who needs to vent. Most of the week, I'm keeping tapped in on what my operations team is doing, and making sure they're getting the support they need, while ensuring our partners are happy. It's a typical week until an RFP or interview comes along, and then I dive into that whole process.

How do you maintain the relationships between DAVIS and our partners?
As long as we keep reminding everyone that we're all on the same team trying to push on for the common good, it works out. I think my teams try to foster that relationship from the get-go, because we're partners in this process, not adversaries, and people pick up on that. We help each other succeed--the DAVIS statement is profound to me, because it speaks to how we aim to make everyone's lives easier. We just have to demonstrate professionalism and get the job done. At DAVIS, we don't rest until the job is done, and that's why we succeed.

What projects have been especially meaningful to you in your career thus far?
The Advisory Board Company project has a special place in my heart. We took out a structural column on the first floor that had no business being in a 12-story office building in downtown D.C. I remember the day we took it out, my wife asked me "How much danger will you be in?" The fact that we weren't in danger was an entire team effort, with a ton of planning involved.

Do you have anyone you would consider a role model at DAVIS?
Carl Hirrlinger is definitely someone I would consider a mentor. Our personalities are very different--he was always about taking care of business, and I've always been more of a people person. However, he taught me that you have to be efficient with the little things. If you're on time with payments, and taking care of the low hanging fruit, it goes a long way.

What's some advice you would give to someone in the industry who wants to take a similar path to yours?
Be yourself, be outgoing, and be dependable. Clients might want to give you a call on a Friday afternoon, and it makes them feel a lot better when you can take that call. It takes a lot of effort to juggle as many things as we do in this industry, but you have to put in that effort if you want to make your team happy.

Why have you chosen to be with DAVIS for so long?
There's a great mental connection between me and DAVIS, and it feels like home. This is a positive, straightforward, and friendly company that marries up with my personality. What I appreciate is that from the leadership down, people at DAVIS are good-natured. And it's the little things do--we have the DAVIS picnic and other things we do for the kids, and there's the pumpkin carving contest.This year, I'm going with a Star Wars theme.

Baby Yoda?
Haha - no, BB-8.

FROM THE SITE TO THE STAGE

If you weren't in construction, what would you be doing?
I'd like to be an award-winning author--I love to write fiction, and stories, and whatever. My social media is a lot like a personal diary for me, and I think it helps my soul at the end of the day. Also, I'd love to be a radio personality for those morning drivers from 6AM-10AM, that would be fantastic.

Where do you think that creativity comes from?
I don't know--I broke out of my shell as I got to college, and I sort of regretted not doing it sooner, so I really leaned into it. I used to be so shy, but as my personality rose, my creativity rose. A while back, I got into community theater. I made a couple calls one day, got connected with Montgomery Playhouse, and suddenly I was up onstage. It felt right, though, like it was a progression from what I do with clients at DAVIS.

You used your skills you built at DAVIS as you performed?
It can be nerve-wracking presenting for clients--I see a lot of similarities between that and the stage. When I make a client happy after reaching a milestone or making a completion, it feels good, like the positive feedback after a performance. I'm retired from the stage now, though, I'm busy being a dad. My kids are my new creative outlet. 

Maybe we'll see some Jim Camlek cameos someday.
It's a serious time commitment. Two winters ago, I came back and did A Christmas Story, and I realized the reason I retired was because it was so time-consuming. You're going to rehearsals, you're practicing your moves. I met a lot of good friends doing it.

What's something that might surprise people about you?
When people find out I like country music, it always surprises them. I didn't discover it until I moved down here after college--I must have listened to a Garth Brooks song when it just hit me. A good country song really talks to me--I don't get that same feeling from a Justin Timberlake song. I like a good cry once in a while. I like sappy movies as much as a like an action-packed one.

What's been your takeaway from this year?
If I was to write my memoirs today, I would say that my family and I have been completely blown away by the kindness of people this year. My mom died in May, and my dad died in August, and the people in my life went so far above and beyond what I thought they were capable of, to help in any way they could. Someone who had never even met my mom wrote me a poem about her, people sent me meals, and I got so many messages. They all made me feel a little bit better, and I've been so appreciative. My mindset has been to embrace life a little more--it's hard, because I'm from New York, and we're not the most patient breed, but I'm trying to be a kinder and more patient person.

What does Onward + Upward mean to you?
To me, it means looking out for each other, and making sure we're all in it together at the end of the day. What I like about DAVIS is that we have these teams that work together for the common good, and I think we keep going because we're all evolving and improving together.