Construction Executive Magazine featured Jim Ellis in the June issue. Showing Off Our Pros.
Never Say No – ABC’s Young Professional of the Year Credits Success to a Can-Do Attitude
Husband. Father. Coach. Hobby rancher. Mayor. Vice president and partner of his company. Jim Ellis holds a lot of titles for a man who hasn’t even hit the age of 40—and all of these achievements have led to him being named Associated Builders and Contractors’ Young Professional of the Year.
Ellis moved around a lot as a child, eventually ending up in Iowa, where he finished high school. His first introduction to the skilled trades came when he began to explore alternative career paths out of high school. “I knew I didn’t want to go to college, and I knew I couldn’t afford it even if I wanted to,” he says. He entered the electrical apprenticeship program through ABC of Iowa, and never looked back.
ROOM TO GROW
An employee of Price Electric for nearly 20 years, Ellis started as an apprentice and worked his way up, eventually becoming a foreman. “When I got the chance to do something new, I never said no,” Ellis says. More than a decade ago, he had the unique opportunity to start up a specialty department within the company.
“I was hesitant at first but eager to accept the challenge to learn something new. At the time, I had no idea the positive impact and growth opportunity it would provide to our company and employees seeking new skills within our industry,” he says.
The utility department, with Ellis at the helm of operations in his current role as division vice president, performs a variety of civil/utility construction projects and provides emergency and maintenance services for the civil, telecommunications and power industries. They also serve many industrial clients with private power and telecom networks required to operate their facilities.
“The real success in this journey of developing and growing the market for our utility group has been the growth of the employees that dedicated their career paths to it,” he says. “I’ve seen the very same employees that started in the trenches nearly a decade and a half ago work their way up to leading crews, supervising, or running projects. Without the dedication so many have shown, the utility group would not be where it is today,” he says. “This same type of dedication spills out of all our company’s employees, from a similar leadership approach that fosters opportunities for employees to excel, like a merit shop should.”
When it comes to that dedication, Ellis doesn’t just talk the talk—he walks the walk, too. Over the years, he’s had the opportunity to mentor apprentices within his company that were struggling to pass specialty exams. “They have the skills and understanding to work safely within the trade, but many of them are just not good at testing,” he says. “I enjoyed working with them and helping them identify what they needed to be better, so I set up an ‘after-hours’ study session with them. Since then, other people within [Price Electric] have stepped in to continue to provide coaching for those who need it.”
PROMOTING THE MERIT SHOP PHILOSOPHY
When Ellis first started with Price Electric, the company had just 30 employees. Now, it employs more than 170 people and plans to double that number within the next 10 years—in part by hiring apprentices and training through the ABC Iowa Chapter. “When I first got involved with ABC, I didn’t know the full value,” Ellis says. “Even though I went through the ABC apprenticeship program, I had no idea about the legislative value and professional development opportunities it afforded until much later.”
Now in his fourth year as an ABC of Iowa board of directors’ member and chair of the Iowa chapter’s Government Affairs Committee, Ellis will become chair of the board mid-way into 2022 and serve through 2023. The group has seen great engagement in recent years and accomplished some transformative strategic planning, and though their momentum is strong already, Ellis says he’s “always trying to recruit new members.”
An advocate for the trades with legislative relationships across the state, Ellis continues to work with ABC to keep current and incoming legislators informed about what the trades in Iowa need to succeed at the state level. His intention?
“To leave a legacy of negotiations, reviews, advocacy and discussions with legislators on well-written laws in our state that can continue to promote success in the merit shop philosophy and free-enterprise business model,” he says. His hope is that craft workers, for years beyond his own time, will have the advantage of working under a system of laws that benefits the industry. To that end, he is “always working to engage the next generation of leaders with the trades, teaching them the practices of productive advocacy, fundraising and relationships with legislators to keep Iowa a pro-business state.”
Ellis also credits much of his professional development to attending various local and national ABC events over the years, including some of the very first ABC Young Professionals programs and sessions. “I have always believed in lifelong learning and development,” he says. “I still read books on leadership, goal setting, strategic planning, coaching—you name it.”
He has also obtained masters electrical and contractor licenses in six states with plans for more.
A TEAM EFFORT
When asked what achievements he is most proud of, Ellis says he finds that many times, people tend to focus on professional accomplishments. But while there have been many ladders to climb to reach his current station in his career, he says there is no doubt that without his wife, Tami, keeping him on his toes and his kids keeping him young, he may never have achieved this level of success.
“Their support and willingness to continue working together at home, allowing me the time to do what I do, is a major factor in it all. Through all the late nights, shutdowns, travel for work, working from home and time spent otherwise occupied with training, professional development or helping others, my family has always been patient, supportive and understanding,” he says.
And it’s not just the typical “to-dos” at home—Ellis and his wife are proud owners of a small acreage outside of Marion, Iowa, where they’ve been growing hay and raising a variety of animals for the last eight years. “The kids [daughter Melani, 13, and son Cashton, 10] have developed a great work ethic because of their work on the farm,” he says. “I couldn’t be prouder of the way they handle themselves and exemplify dedication to their goals, support of each other and understanding of the importance of family.”
Unbelievably, somehow Ellis even finds time, outside of job- and ranch-related obligations, to stay involved with his community. He’s a member of the Rotary Club, coaches his daughter’s softball team and works alongside his wife to fundraise for local nonprofits that support children’s cancer research and provide aid to families dealing with the financial strain of treatments.
But perhaps the most unique feather in his cap? Ellis was the mayor of Coggon, Iowa. He was elected and served his initial two-year term, and he did such a great job that he was then written in by the townspeople to serve a second term. “When I see things that need to change, I’m not one to complain—I’m one to change things. It’s in my nature to step up and do what I can to make it happen,” he says.
LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE
In all his years in the industry, Ellis has always admired the dedication and craftsmanship of the most senior workers in any trade in the field. Many times, he’s also witnessed how the industry has worn many of them out long before it should have. The way to solve that issue, he believes, is by embracing rapidly evolving technology to increase safety, decrease strain on workers and make everyone’s lives less stressful and more successful.
“I plan to continue to stay on the cutting edge of industry technologies and best practices, working with our teams to develop processes that continually relieve strain on employees in the trades—both physically and mentally,” he says. “These advances will have impacts far beyond what we can even measure today, with the promise of longevity for tomorrow’s workforce and a culture that will carry beyond company borders as we collaborate with peer groups and share best practices to help everyone in our industry thrive.”