Jim King’s Giving Spirit Guided Firm’s Success
As many of his peers can attest, Jim King, the recipient of ENR Southwest’s Legacy Award, embodies the very definition of the prize. In his stewardship of Bradbury Stamm Construction over more than four decades, King expanded the company, which was founded in 1923, into one of the biggest contractors in the Southwest.
But on another front, one that King considers equally if not more important, he and his wife, Ellen, have become leading benefactors in Albuquerque. They have made hefty endowments to the University of New Mexico School of Engineering as well as philanthropic donations to a host of other organizations, ranging from the UNM Dermatology School, where the couple endowed a chair, to the city’s cancer institute to funding for area music groups and a home for autistic children.
Like King’s tenure at Bradbury Stamm during which he oversaw projects in 11 states, the Kings’ philanthropy is equally wide-ranging.
“I had a great mentor in Bob Stamm, who was basically the second generation of the company,” King says. “He taught me a lot of very good values.”
King joined Bradbury Stamm in 1972 and became an owner in 1979. He ran the firm’s daily operations for more than 30 years. Currently, he serves as chairman in a strategic and advisory role. His daughter, Cynthia Schultz, took over as president in 2011 and is now CEO.
“My business philosophy is, as best you can, to keep it simple,” he says.
Following that philosophy under King’s leadership, the company grew and burnished a reputation as a firm that stood for integrity, quality and honesty. During King’s tenure, Bradbury Stamm adjusted with the market into water/wastewater and multi-unit residential specializations, and laid the groundwork for how the company currently operates.
Under King’s guidance, Bradbury Stamm did substantive work on projects that have since become touchstones in New Mexico and beyond, including Albuquerque’s El Rey Theater, S&H Green Stamp Store and the Journal office building and printing plant, the New Mexico State Penitentiary Renovation, Purgatory Village in Durango, Colo., as well as 104 buildings at Kirtland Air Force Base.
More recently, the company has been in the forefront on the $83-million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, a 9.6-mile bus system running down Central Avenue in Albuquerque. Other major projects include a new public elementary school in Albuquerque; an expansion of Faith Baptist Church in Artesia, N.M.; the East Mesa Solar Project in Las Cruces, N.M.; Central New Mexico’s Smith-Brasher Hall facility in Albuquerque; the Stirling Apartments in downtown Albuquerque; two schools in Deming, N.M.; and New Mexico Mutual’s $18-million new headquarters. On the University of New Mexico campus, the firm is renovating the Farris Engineering facility, along with a 137,000-sq-ft home for the physics and astronomy departments that will support the use of some of the Southwest’s most cutting-edge equipment to test out theories in emerging science.
King was also in the vanguard of hiring women into management roles, a strategy that many of his peers consider to be another of his legacies.
“We were one of the first contractors to hire women,” King says. “Everyone had female secretaries and some accountants and bookkeepers, but we were able to find some very bright women and make them project managers and estimators at a time when no one else was doing it.
“It was an untapped resource that really worked great for us,” he says. “I think that gave us a real edge.”
Continuing a decades-long commitment to the Albuquerque community, in 2016 Jim and Ellen gave $500,000 to the University of New Mexico School of Engineering to create the Jim and Ellen King Dean of Engineering and Computing. The Kings’ gift, combined with matching funds from the state, provided the $1-million funding needed to create the endowed deanship.
“The Kings are in a league of their own when it comes to philanthropy,” says Joseph L. Cecchi, PhD, dean, emeritus, School of Engineering, and professor, emeritus, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at UNM. Cecchi was the one who first proposed to the Kings that they endow a deanship at the university—the first in the 130-year history of UNM.
“I discussed it with Jim and Ellen at lunch on a Thursday, and they phoned me back on the next Monday and said yes,” Cecchi says. “Jim saw the big picture and frankly knows more about leadership continuity than I do. I can see that in Bradbury Stamm. It was a sort of harmonic convergence me asking for the gift and the Kings giving it. The swiftness with which they gave a ‘yes’ answer just never happens like that.”
With characteristic modesty, King says, “It’s easier to give money than do a lot of work!”
But according to Dale Dekker, founding principal of Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, who nominated King for the Legacy Award, no one should be deceived by King’s simple and modest leadership style. “Jim leads by example,” Dekker says, “and it shows in his involvement with numerous business organizations and in his advocacy efforts over the years. His skill has led Bradbury Stamm to years of growth and multiple repeat clients who recognize the company as a trusted partner in the construction process.”
When queried about work/life lessons learned from her father, Cynthia Schultz conferred with family members on “nuggets of wisdom” they’ve gleaned over the years. In addition to managing overhead, a devotion to long-term decision-making and favoring profit over volume, Schultz says her father believes in fostering a team spirit and hiring top talent and then empowering them to do their jobs. According to Schultz, her father also stresses flexibility, being humble and working hard at all times as benchmarks that lead to success.
For King, success in business as in life comes back to his credo of keeping things simple. “Stick to the basics,” he says. “Don’t make things too complicated. If things get too complicated, work is harder to manage. If you have a few key things that you really watch and try to manage, you do far better. As you get bigger, you have to add things, but you should still concentrate on the key factors that make your company successful. The estimate has to be absolutely right. One thing that has made our company really great is that we have the best field people—superintendents, foremen, draftspeople.”
Dennis Towne, the current president of Bradbury Stamm, came to the company straight from college, and in the 22 years since, he has never worked for anyone else. Just as Jim King cites Bob Stamm as a guiding light and exemplar of what to strive for as a contractor, Towne follows in that tradition and is fulsome with praise about King as his mentor in the business, a leader who he says, “always sees the good in people.”
“I think sometimes you get people who give but that’s really not who they are,” Towne says. “Jim and Ellen are the real deal.”