Published on November 1st, 2013 | by UC&D Magazine0
Industry Legends – John Cameron
73-year-old founder of Cameron Construction remains a key decision-maker
in company he founded 40 years ago, even though son Kevin now runs the
By Brad Fullmer
Beyond owning and operating a successful commercial construction company, John Cameron’s greatest contribution to the industry may be his advocacy of merit shop construction and his involvement with the Utah chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), of which he is a founding member and past President. As the founder of Salt Lake-based Cameron Construction – which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2013 – the 73-year-old Cameron remains active with the firm, even though he passed on the mantle of company President to hison Kevin several years ago.
“I’m so ingrained in the company and the people I’ve worked with over the years,” said the elder Cameron. “It’s hard to come to a screeching halt with your career. I still play a significant role in the company although I have cut back on my hours. 90% of the time it’s great and I still thoroughly enjoy working. The involvement with people is the thing I enjoy the most.”
Cameron started working in construction during summers beginning at the age of 14 for two uncles who were homebuilders in the Salt Lake area. He also worked for the State of Utah for seven years in surveying before being hired on at Bud Bailey Construction in 1968, which promptly assigned him to work as a Superintendent/Project Manager in the greater Chicago area. From ’68 to ’71 Cameron oversaw the construction of numerous projects, including 55 7-11 convenience stores,the city’s first Pizza Hut restaurant, and one of the first trash compactor facilities built in the country in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.
“In Chicago at that time virtually all subcontractors were union and they made sure all their different trade people were involved on projects,” he said. “It was an interesting education for a kid from the West. Most of the subs we worked with were really good people and superb to work with.” Cameron returned to Utah in the fall of 1971 with the idea of starting his own company, which he did in 1973, with wife Linda right by his side. During those early years the company chased virtually any job it could bid on. Bud Bailey helped Cameron land his first job, a church library remodel for the LDS Church. Other early projects included remodel projects for Utah Technical College (now Salt Lake Community College) and the State of Utah.
“Profit margins were thin; it took a lot of small jobs to pay myself and three employees,” recalled Cameron. “It was slim pickings for awhile.” In 1974 Cameron Construction secured its first significant project, a $159,000 contract to build the Emery County Medical Center in Castle Dale. “We thought we had it made,” Cameron said. That project also turned out to be the first project Kevin remembers from his childhood. Spending time with his father at jobsites as a youth led to working in the field at 16 and gradually climbing the company ladder.
“Working at the company was not something I consciously made a decision about – the company has always been a
part of my life and so working there was just a natural evolution,” said Kevin. “The longer I worked at Cameron, the more interesting my jobs became. It was a natural progression for me to take over the company.”“I think Kevin always enjoyed construction; I never put any pressure on him to work for me,” said Cameron, whose other son Eddie works in law enforcement for the Salt Lake City Police Department. “I wanted each of the boys to do what they wanted. Kevin has the ability to grasp and understand concepts; he can picture a building in his thought process better than I can.”
Cameron’s involvement with ABC Utah came about when he was having issues with local unions while working on the Crossroads Mall project in 1978. He heard about ABC’s merit shop philosophy through Dave Viet of Bud Bailey Construction, and along with a handful of other local contractors banded together to form the Utah chapter. “I was concerned about my employees having access to the jobsite without being harassed by unions,” said Cameron. “We brought ABC to this market to level the playing field.” By 1983, the Utah State Legislature made Utah a right-to-work state, one of seven in the U.S. at that time to have that legislation pass, something Cameron called a “big achievement.”
“He rallied other Utah contractors to form the Utah chapter of ABC to protect and support the tenants of free enterprise within our local industry,” said Chris Hipwell, President of ABC Utah. “John’s influence is huge, but his modesty prevails among all the accolades he is due.”Over the years Cameron Construction has built a wide array of commercial projects, in markets ranging from institutional to retail to office/mixed-use. Kevin said the company was fortunate during the recession to secure projects from repeat clients and keep its employees working.“Even though profits were lower, we managed to keep everyone employed,” said Kevin. “The good will of our employees has been a great asset during tough times.” He expressed confidence that the company will continue to thrive under his watch.
His primary goals include team collaboration, honing the company to be leaner, stronger and more efficient, and differentiating the firm from its competition. “I love the people I get to associate with, particularly co-workers, and I draw great satisfaction seeing past projects and being part of our clients’ success,” said Kevin. “Working with my dad and receiving his continued support also gives me huge satisfaction.”