At Clark, we are proud to be made up of individuals from a variety of backgrounds and talents. Our “Under the Hard Hat” series is designed to showcase the diverse people who make up the Clark team.
As part of Black History Month, we sat down with Clark team member James Tinsley, a logistics operations administrator based out of the company’s Mid-Atlantic Logistics Yard in Maryland. James has witnessed a significant amount of change in our company and industry at large throughout his 42-year career. For James, one key to his perseverance has been his curiosity and desire to never stop learning.
Tell us where you grew up.
I grew up on a farm in Amherst, Virginia. I had my first paying job at 14 picking tobacco in Connecticut.
What led you to pursue a career in construction?
After working in a steel mill, I started at George Hyman Construction (predecessor to Clark Construction) in April 1981. A friend told me, “I have a job for you. Be ready to work on Monday.” The chance to work in construction ended up being a gateway to many other opportunities. After working as a laborer for about six months, I began driving trucks. I always wanted to learn as much as I could and learned how to drive just about every truck on our lot, which included fuel trucks, dump trucks, and tractor-trailers.
At the time, a construction leader at Hyman saw something in me and recommended that I take on an office position to help manage new processes being put in place by the Department of Transportation. I initially did not want to leave day-to-day operations, but I enrolled in a few classes and took advantage of the opportunity. The rest is history.
Describe a typical day in your role.
My typical day starts at 4:00 AM. I work at the Yard and am responsible for hiring and scheduling truck drivers to service Clark jobsites across DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Our drivers operate tractor trailers, deliver fuel, pull dumpsters, and safely transport equipment to and from our project sites, as well as help ship materials across the country. They are an essential resource for our projects.
You supported the delivery of many successful projects throughout your tenure. Tell us about your most memorable projects and why.
My favorites were the stadium projects like FedEx Field, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Capital One Arena, and M&T Bank Stadium because, at the time, they were different from many of our building projects. I enjoyed the “backstage” experience of getting to see the home plate being installed and seeing these jobs come to life.
The Douglas A. Munro Coast Guard Headquarters, US Department of Transportation Headquarters, and The Wharf stick out to me due to the demands for trucking and dumpster services. These jobs were high profile and located in high-traffic areas in DC with limited space. Doing my job well-required coordination between different entities to make sure our trucks could take materials from or deliver them to the jobsite throughout the day. I remember that we had to make it happen no matter what.
What are some of the changes that you’ve seen throughout your career?
When I started at Clark there were no computers or cell phones. I would box up paperwork and carry it to storage units across the city. Then we would collect those same documents from the storage units and deliver them on-site when they were needed. As technology changed, our first lines of communication were two-way radios, which only worked until you went out of range. We used pagers and Nextel phones before having cell phones.
In the early days, you had to be somewhat of a mechanic and know how to fix the trucks you drove because there was no way to call for help. If you weren’t able to figure it out, you would have to walk back to the office.
Construction can be a challenging industry. What inspires your perseverance?
My upbringing inspires me. My father would always tell me, "money doesn’t make a person," and I grew up believing that. Now, I work for self-gratification. I think of my work as a reflection of all the relationships I have built throughout the years.
What do you like best about working at Clark?
After 40+ years with the company, I can proudly go downtown and point to many buildings and say, “We built that.” Apart from that, it’s the people and relationships I’ve built that will last a lifetime. The people at the Yard are like a family to me.
The most useful pieces of advice I’ve received are "You don't have to be the smartest person in every situation, but common sense and getting along with people will take you a long way" and "If you are going to play a sport, you will make the team if you can play multiple positions.” Both can be applied to our work in construction because the best way to be successful is to learn all you can and challenge yourself daily.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month reminds me that we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. If people are given the opportunity, they may surprise you.