James Morgan grew up in the small town of Maynard, Massachusetts. He went to Dartmouth College and got a degree in Government. In 1982 he started in the retail business in an executive training program at Macy’s right after college. He came back to Boston after a year and worked as a buyer for Bradlees, a department store chain.
After those job experiences, James decided that working for smaller companies so he could take on more senior roles was a better fit for him. He became the general manager of Boston Popcorn which was named on the Inc 500 List of Fastest Growing Companies in the country twice during the five years that James was there. Boston Popcorn created and marketed a popcorn product called Lite which was distributed in the New England area and branching out into other states over time.
Subsequently James became a senior vice president of Trifoods International and led their sales team. Trifoods created a popcorn chicken product that was marketed to KFC. They also manufactured Steak-Umm, a frozen thinly-sliced sandwich steak in distribution in every supermarket in the U.S.
After his time at Trifoods, James started a newspaper in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts called The Shrewsbury Chronicle, Mr. Morgan was the editor and publisher for about two and a half years for the Chronicle. James drove it to a paid circulation of about 7,000 households, selling it to another firm in the late 90s. The newspaper is still in existence today.
James was then hired as the CEO of ClearSource, a venture backed, private label bottled water company that manufactured and sold private label brands to large U.S. retailers, like Walmart and CVS.
James now works in the construction industry as the president and CEO of Worcester Air Conditioning LLC in Ashland, Massachusetts. He has been leading that company since 2008.
Why did you decide to go into the construction industry?
As the president and CEO of Worcester Air Conditioning LLC, to be able to lead a company in a progressive market like Boston has been very interesting to me. It has been rewarding to me to bring ideas that have been successful in other businesses to the construction industry.
What trends in your industry excite you?
There is tremendous growth and interest in the development and use of technology in the construction industry. Some of that technology is designed to make the workplace safer and some of it is designed to improve the speed or productivity of constructing buildings and also of a higher quality.
The pandemic has brought about some interesting things to think about that relate directly to what my company does. For example, for many years heating and cooling codes for commercial buildings have largely been based on energy savings. I think now there is going to be a lot more of a detailed look at how we clean the air that is in buildings, how we can have more fresh air brought into buildings, and perhaps how we may use more operable windows and allow people to open the windows near their work station. As new buildings are built, architects and engineers are going to have to give more thought to how to have safer indoor air quality. There are many questions to consider. Do we space people further apart? Do we have controls on the number of people who can work in a given area?
What would you tell others looking to get into your industry?
The construction industry is one that is populated with very practical people. The best workers come from a background where they are comfortable working with their hands. They can work outside or inside, and they do mind working hard. At the end of every week or every month, you get to visually see what you have contributed to the project. When we build a 20-story tower, what starts as a hole in the ground ends up as a place where thousands of people can work. It is cool to see that progress as you contribute to it.
What is one thing you would change in your industry today if you could?
Despite a lot of effort to improve, construction is still a very dangerous profession. I think all the leaders in the construction industry have to continue to work to create a safer environment and teach people how to work safely. We need to teach people how to say now when conditions are not safe. A worker should not do something that is knowingly unsafe. It is a company obligation and a personal responsibility.
How has the construction industry changed over the last decade?
In the last five years, the industry has gone from progressing at a snail’s pace to progressing at light speed. It is one of the last major industries in the U.S. that has aggressively adopted technology or changed its methods in a rapid manner, and that change is taking place now at an incredible rate.
Changes have been made because of the need to be competitive and the need to keep up with global standards of efficiency. These changes have included adopting methods from other parts of the world that were successful, using new methods like prefabrication larger components of buildings off site and moving them once they are completed into the buildings, and using electronic technology like computer-aided design.
If you could change 1 thing you did in the beginning of your career what would it be?
If I had understood the difference between working in a large corporation and working in a smaller, middle-sized company, then I could have handled more responsibility earlier in my career.
Can you tell our readers about the proudest day of your professional life.
The proudest day of my professional life was the day I started my newspaper, the Shrewsbury Chronicle. I took a pretty substantial risk. The business was tiny. It was essentially three or four people. I had no experience at all in the industry when I started it. I just had belief that there was a need that could be filled and that I could do it. Two years later when I was able to sell a business that was thriving, I knew that I had been successful.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
Earlier in my career when I was running companies that were venture backed, trying to spend time raising money to support fast growing businesses was a very challenging role for me. The stress of running a company’s cash down low while you are waiting to secure the next round of funding was very stressful. I decided it was better for me to use the skill set I had developed by running a more established company.
What does success look like for you?
Construction is one of the last industries where individuals who choose not to seek college degrees can rise to leadership positions. It is an industry of hidden leaders, of very practical people who have come from families with a strong work ethic, and who are prepared to contribute. I hope my legacy to my company will be to bring in a new generation of young leaders into their own.