Illustration by Jonny Ruzzo
Jim Caliendo has never hammered a nail. He’s never operated a crane. And he’s never built a building – at least not with his own two hands.
So, what is he doing as the CEO of a construction company?
The answer to that question, and others, is included in the following interview the Built Blog conducted with Caliendo, a banker by trade who ultimately rose in the ranks of the construction industry C-suite thanks to his knack for hiring and managing top talent in areas he himself is not particularly skilled in, as well as his devotion to embracing new learning experiences.
Sit back and enjoy the inaugural ‘Inside the Construction C-Suite’ column, where the Built Blog aims to showcase how various industry executives have attained their current leadership roles, as well as how they see the industry developing and advancing from their unique, corner-office perspective. Edited excerpts follow.
Built Blog: How did you get into construction?
Caliendo: I was rising in the banking industry at a savings and loan in Pittsburgh when the bank hired PWCampbell to build a branch for us and put me in charge. I knew nothing about facilities. PWCampbell is a turnkey operation so it went well, and the company built 13 more branches for us and renovated our operations building. I worked closely with Jim Campbell, Sr., the CEO at the time and the founder’s son, and his sons Jim and John.
My bank was sold soon afterward and I was devastated. I had started as a teller and ended up as chief operating officer. I was probably next in line as president of the bank. I left and eventually started a consulting company with a friend. PWCampbell was the first company I called on. I acted as a consultant to the company for two years doing mostly leadership training before joining them.
Built Blog: What areas does the company specialise in?
Caliendo: We provide consulting and construction services for the financial, commercial and residential industries.
Built Blog: How has the industry changed in the past 10 years?
Caliendo: Our design-build business is split about 50/50 between banks and credit unions. Bank customers and members of credit unions have changed the way they do business in branches in the last decade. People used to go into branches to make deposits and withdrawals with a teller, but technology has changed that. Because of this shift, construction companies that serve these customers have had to adapt to this new behavior.
At one point we offered only design-build services to banks and credit unions, but in the last decade we diversified three ways. We added a technology division, Technology Solutions, and now provide full in-branch technology, including digital signage, iPad integration and interactive kiosks. Our Technology Solutions group develops the software, installs it and maintains it. After one bank chairman said, ‘Hey, I love the bank you built, can you build me a house like that?’ the company also started building high-end custom homes. Then we diversified in our general commercial construction area, which builds medical facilities, hotels and restaurants.
Built Blog: What’s your favourite part of the job?
Caliendo: Coaching younger people about management, human resources, sales, finance and so forth.
Built Blog: What are your challenges?
Caliendo: COVID-19 is a real challenge. It affects so many aspects of our business because we’re talking about keeping our employees and workplaces safe, and not just ours but our customers’ as well.
Built Blog: What’s one of your company’s greatest successes?
Caliendo: For years, a credit union had dealt only with a national competitor of ours. In 2017, we won the contract for a 67,000-square-metre addition and renovation and took the work away from them. Adding the technology division is a close second since it’s had such success in a short period of time.
Built Blog: What’s a mistake you made starting out in your career?
Caliendo: Some people would say it was joining the company in the first place. I can’t hammer a nail. Not everyone accepted me initially because I don’t know construction. But we hire subcontractors and manage the process. My experience in sales, business development, human resources and finance was helpful. I hired people to manage areas where I had no experience. My friends would ask me, ‘How are you the president of a construction company?’ It’s all about managing people, and I’m lucky that the Campbells knew that and appreciated my background.
Built Blog: What’s something you wish you’d known going into the industry?
Caliendo: I didn’t realise that some construction companies may have a void in some areas. They may excel in construction, but they may not be skilled in client relationships, management and sales, for example.
Built Blog: What’s the best advice you ever received about this industry?
Caliendo: In relationship-building, satisfying the client is everything. It’s not worth making loads of money on a job if the client isn’t happy. Every year, 64% of our business is from our repeat customers.