Q&A with Jim Mellor

Interview Jim Mellor's Retirement

In early April of this year, I had a chance to interview Jim Mellor, who just recently retired from Pinkard Construction. Jim joined SMPS in the early 1980s and has had a huge impact on the Colorado chapter. He was also the recipient of SMPS Colorado’s prestigious Leonardo Award in 2000. 

I first met Jim in 2013; we were both members of the SMPS Colorado inaugural One2One class, me as a protégé and him as a mentor. Although he wasn’t my mentor, I always appreciated his perspective. At the beginning of 2021, I started a professional development book club and Jim was incredibly gracious and enthusiastic about joining. Even for meetings he couldn’t attend, we’d trade emails back and forth on our take on each book. So when I had the opportunity to interview him, I jumped at the chance to learn more about his experiences in SMPS and business development.

In the full interview, Jim shares his greatest successes, challenges, and the changes he sees coming that will have the greatest impact on the industry. He also provides valuable insights on the characteristics of the leaders and mentors with whom he most enjoyed working and the most significant changes in work culture since he started. Throughout the interview, he stresses the importance of building relationships and soft skills in business development, despite the advancements in technology.


Dana: Can you give me a brief recap of your SMPS and work history?

Jim: I first heard of and then joined SMPS in 1984. It was a fairly new organization, but it finally gave me something that spoke a similar language and validated my thoughts. After joining, I jumped onto the programs committee, where I served until my presidency in 1992-1993. I left the AEC industry in 1992 but continued to serve out my term and the past president's term. It was a good thing, as my hiatus was short-lived, and I was back in 1994 when I joined Pinkard Construction. I have continued my involvement through the PPL and One2One programs.

How did you get into business development? 

I got burned out working as a Project Manager for a large national GC. For several years, I was involved in supporting claims litigation and traveling way too much. One day, while looking in the mirror, I said to myself that I either have to go to law school or get in the front of the parade and quit cleaning up other people's messes. So, I started night school, chasing an MBA in Marketing. Shortly after, my firm lost a huge lawsuit (thankfully, I did not work on it), and the California office closed down. I sent out my resume, looking for a marketing (the term BD had not yet been invented) position with a GC. A crazy firm in Denver wanted to get into the high-rise office world and hired me to open that market for them. I had never lived in the mountains, so I thought I’d give it a try for a couple of years. Be very careful of the decisions you make; they can take you down a very long path.

What were the greatest successes or accomplishments in your entire working history?

My measuring stick of success is and always will be relationships. I've been very blessed to have built some amazing relationships with owners, architects, engineers, subcontractors, and other GCs. These relationships have helped guide, lift, and entertain me throughout Colorado's boom-and-bust economy (I think I've been through 6 or 7 significant drops in our economy). Building-wise, I'm most proud of the number of affordable housing projects we've built. Having a safe, stable, quality home is a significant component in ending poverty one family at a time. On the marketing side, breaking into a new market and growing it to a dominant position is always amazing, making something out of nothing.

What were the greatest challenges you faced at work? How did they help you grow as an individual? What advice would you have for other employees facing similar challenges? 

By far, my greatest challenge came early in my career. I had no formal marketing/BD/sales training, and no mentor to guide me in my career. I joined a firm that thought because they hired me and paid my salary, I should produce like a vending machine. Bring in great projects that we can negotiate with no competition in markets we don't have a resume in. Not having much perspective of what is and is not realistic, I about killed myself trying. Of course, I did not succeed and was fired as the overall construction market collapsed in Colorado. I had never failed before and did not know how to handle it. I remember sending out 60 resumes and getting 58 rejections. One company wanted to interview me because they had never met a marketing person before. These were very dark days for me and my pregnant wife. Fortunately, one firm needed someone to help with their marketing and BD efforts. It was like a port in a hurricane. Unlike my previous experience, we found significant success and went on to help grow the firm throughout the Great Recession.

What changes do you see coming that will have the greatest impact on the industry?

As I look out the windshield, on one hand I see everything we do changing. On the other hand, BD is a human experience and will always stay the same. While technology is advancing rapidly on the BD/marketing front, with analytics, AI, VR, social media, and numerous other means of understanding our current and potential clients and communicating with them, research still indicates that individuals make decisions with the right side/emotional side of their brain. The soft skills of building trusting relationships, followed by consistent and excellent customer service, will continue to win the day. When I first started in BD I read an article that said 50% of all business decisions were made on the golf course. This implied that spending time getting to know each other, observing how one handles pressure and adversity, and the enjoyment level of being with that person, all contributed to a business deal happening or not. Today, it is rare that one or even two people make the buying decision – it is more often a committee, and you can’t play golf with a committee. This makes the BD professional’s job exponentially more difficult and yet their role that much more important. 

Describe the characteristics of the leaders and mentors with whom you most enjoyed working. 

There are so many factors here, but to boil it down: integrity is number one. Can I trust the person to do what they say they will do, when they say they will do it, and with complete professionalism? Another trait I admire is transparency – no games, secrets, or withholding key information. True curiosity is another trait that leads to success. Always interested in others, being a continual learner, understanding the financial side of both your and the client’s business, etc. And, of course, having an attitude of gratitude. Entitled people never get very far in life. 

What have been the most significant changes in work culture since you started? Which changes were for the better? What do you wish hadn’t changed? 

As mentioned above, the diversification of decision-making has made things multidimensional and therefore more complicated. Technology is another huge shift. Some of it is good, other times it just adds complexity without true results. Does CRM really help you better understand your client’s pain points and effectively solve them? Or should one just spend time with the client and find the best solution with them? 

What have been the greatest benefits of SMPS in your career?

SMPS has been a huge contributor to my career. From all the education programs to networking to building strategic relationships that have lasted decades. I cannot overstate how valuable it has been. I know that I have received 100 times what I have put into the Chapter. 

When was your retirement official? What are your grand plans as you enter retirement?

March 31, 2023 was my last day at Pinkard. Plans for the future? I’d like to think that after 45+ years in the industry and the majority in business development and marketing, I have something to offer those firms who need some help in setting realistic and actionable strategic corporate business development plans. I’d like to walk alongside firms and help them achieve sustainable growth based on relationships, service, and performance. 

What final words of wisdom would you impart to others, whatever stage they’re in in the A/E/C industry?

  1. Given my current position in life, the one piece of advice I wish I had listened to in my younger years surrounds finances; you need to have saved/invested enough to comfortably live on for 30 years.
  2. You and only you are responsible for your career. It is not your employer's responsibility to grow your expertise or curate your career.
  3. Networking is the lifeblood of your career and success.
  4. The only thing that you really have to sell is yourself. Protect your integrity at all costs. Once it is compromised so is your future. 

Thank you so much for your time, Jim! Good luck with your retirement!

What did other SMPS Colorado Leaders have to say about Jim?

“Jim was one of my first connections at SMPS in 1992. He instantly became the person to ask questions about how to navigate our, then very young, industry of marketing/BD professionals. He is a kind person who has always been there to share his wisdom, stories, and smile and I am so grateful that he has become my friend and trusted confidant. Congratulations Jim! You will be missed!” Shelley J. Hartnett | Client Solutions Manager | JE Dunn Construction (SMPS Colorado President 1998)

“From the time I joined SMPS in 1995, Jim Mellor has been a rock, a cheerleader, a mentor. He exemplified the best practices of business development with compassion, thoughtful and respectful interactions (even in heated proposal competition), and class. You knew that you could count on him for advice, whether professional or personal, and he impacted my career in AEC tremendously. Whether he knew it or not, I thought of him as a wingman, especially at networking events, when I didn’t know anyone because it was a completely new market or group I was joining. We will all miss his smiling, positive face.” Christine King, FSMPS, CPSM | Owner | JOY Marketing Consultants, LLC (SMPS Colorado President 2001 & 2005, Leonardo Recipient 1997)

“When I think of Jim, I think of approachable, kind, and always conversational. He was always a warm face in a crowd. I say this because coming to Colorado after spending the first 14 years of my SMPS career affiliated with Seattle SMPS, Jim was very welcoming to the Colorado chapter.” Jennifer Van Vleet CPSM | Vice President, Marketing & Communications, Global | Stantec (SMPS Colorado Leonardo Recipient 2022)

“When I think of Jim I am reminded of the Colorado River in the sections between rapids. Calm on the surface, but a very strong current of integrity, resolve, and intention underneath.” Robert Trout (SMPS Colorado President 2002, Leonardo Recipient 2005)

“To be a leader, you have to walk with leaders.” Jim Mellor, Oct 2017 at an SMPS event on growing your leadership skills, provided by Stacy Stout, FSMPS, CPSM (SMPS Colorado President 2010-2011, Leonardo Recipient 2016)

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