Danielle Feroleto, a regular contributor to azbigmedia.com, sat down with William “Wink” Ames shortly after Gov. Jan Brewer recognized and acknowledged the more than 40 years of service to the commercial construction industry he has contributed in a formal State Proclamation.
Ames, one of the founders of Minard-Ames Insurance Services/Insurica, was also the recent recipient of the Arizona Builders’ Alliance (ABA) prestigious “S.I.R. Award” last month. His exemplification of the qualities of Skill, Integrity and Responsibility made him the unanimous choice for AGC’s Distinguished Service Award.
The S.I.R. Award was first given in March 1976 to President Gerald Ford for his leadership in matters affecting construction. Since that time AGC and its chapters have presented S.I.R. awards to highlight notable achievements related to construction.
>> Years in the business: “I started in the insurance and bonding business for contractors when I was 26, so 53 years.”
>> Have you always worked in Arizona? “No. I started working for a bond company as an intern in San Francisco and then moved to Lake Tahoe and Reno where we were the only firm in town for contractors. We then started in Arizona as Corroon & Black—Miller & Ames and the first accounts were Tanner Companies and Sundt.
“We built the business from there. I did move to Los Angeles for 9 months and met with my father to discuss my career path. After that conversation I recognized I needed to try this business on my own to really get somewhere. I moved back to Phoenix and started Minard-Ames with Steve Minard over 30 years ago. Our first account was Johnson Carlier. We got this account on a Saturday and the rest is history.
>> Share a favorite business story: “As I look back on the evolution of our firm, I am very proud to have been a part of how we have grown from a small little endeavor of almost just Steve Minard and me into what has evolved into a larger, more experienced insurance brokerage and bonding agency company.
“This goes back to bringing on Blake Johnson, in the very beginning, and adding Mike Specht as we were able to grow our bond department. Now, as we progress into the next generation of young professionals, with Andrew Atkinson and Eric Pach, we have become a mature, competent construction industry specialist with the solid reputation of being the helpful resource that our customers and friends want and need.
” I am proud to have been a part of this and hope that, as people reflect on my participation, they will point to the organization that I helped build.”
>> What concerns you about the future of construction? “I am extremely concerned about highway funding nationally and in Arizona. It was predicted that “everything is going to get bigger” — and isn’t that true today — government is getting bigger, companies are getting bigger — that changes the landscape out there. The boutique firms will be able to exist but this trend is changing. It will be all right, it will just be different.
>> What excites you about the future? “We love the small emerging contractors. Working with them really gets my juices flowing. On the other hand, the firm is now working with larger contractors with more sophisticated needs. We are doing things, now, that we would never have dreamed we would be doing, five years ago.”
>> Biggest mistake? “Early in the firm’s history a very talented young employee left his employer to start his own business. We had been helping him get organized and situated for many months prior to him leaving his employer. After he had started his business his former employer gave me the choice of either working with him or with the new business that was started by the employee.
“The mistake I made was bowing to this pressure and telling the new business that we had to withdraw as their insurance broker and bonding agent. As I look back, what I should have done was tell the contactor that if I couldn’t do business with both of them, it would be okay for him to find another broker.”
>> Greatest success? “Teaching the finance in construction course, probably 250 times in the last 40 years, has changed how many contractors have done business. Even though we use finance to teach this material, it really uses finance as a method for learning the operations systems used by contractors at the job level. There are many contractors who have told me that the changes they have made, because of what they learned in this workshop, are a large part of their success.”
>> Who have been your mentors? “John Lamberson, he worked with my father and died about 6 months ago. He was knowledgeable and set expectations — challenged me to rise to the expectation. Also, Bill Badger, he puts perspective into the business — he also has the ability to act as a colonel and when he needs to act as a friend, he does.
>> Best business advice you can give? “The construction industry is a business, not a trade. The entry barriers are almost nonexistent, which has made it necessary for successful contactors to also become successful business people, just like in other industries.
“Our industry has replaced the restaurant industry as having the highest failure rate. Dr. Tom Schleifer says, wisely, that a good contractor needs to do three things, and they all need to be done well. Tom’s 3 things are – get the work – build the work – and do the business of construction. No one knows better than Tom Schleifer that most of the failures in our industry are a result of failures in the business of construction. This is a business and we need to run it like we are running a business.”
>> Little known fact about you?: “My name is Wink because my name is William, a family name, but the nickname came from the old nursery rhyme ‘Wee Willie Winkie’… Runs through the town, upstairs and downstairs in his nightgown.”
>> Interesting fact?: “I was a fighter pilot in the Air Force in 1956 for 4 years.”
>> Hobbies or interests?: “Fly fishing. I have been to Alaska, British Columbia, twice and Chile, twice. I am also going to Wyoming in June of this year. I, also, have two kids, one with a PhD and the other working on her dissertation for her PhD.