Insights from WM: Perspectives and the Horizon

A unique aspect of Ware Malcomb’s culture is the long tenure of many of our leaders. We want to share some of their unique stories, highlighting the qualities they possess that have led to their career success at WM and the growth opportunities the firm avails.

Cameron Trefry
Joined Ware Malcomb in 2005 as an Intern

RB: Tell me a little bit more about your life before Ware Malcomb and why you decided to join the team.
CT: I was studying Environmental Design in the Architecture school at the University of Colorado, Boulder when I met Ware Malcomb’s former President, Jim Williams, through one of my fraternity brothers. He gave me an internship in the company’s growing Denver office after he learned that I was pursuing a career in architecture. The next summer I returned for another internship in the Oak Brook, Illinois office. Having never been to Chicago, I didn’t realize then that the commute to Oak Brook would include a trip on the EL to the end of the blue line and a 45-minute bus ride, but it was worth it. I was able to work in an office that was seeing major growth and experience hands-on learning from company leadership. Following the internship, I inquired about a full-time position and subsequently started as a Production Coordinator in 2007.

Cameron’s shared desk space in the Oakbrook, Illinois office when he began full-time with
Ware Malcomb in 2007.

RB: Can you share with me more about your path at Ware Malcomb and the milestones you have reached over the last 15 years?
CT: As I started my full-time career, the U.S. was experiencing the financial crisis. During that time, I ended up doing a little bit of everything from answering phones to site planning and production, even helping out the Denver office for about a month.

In 2009, our Chicago office won our first cold-storage project with Preferred Freezer and I quickly grew from a new employee working in production to managing the 175,000 square-foot fully automated warehouse project. It was the first time I had been on a project from start to finish and I dove right into the design and construction process, presenting to the City’s Committee on Standards and Tests for a building code variance, and managing the LEED certification process. In fact, that project is what pushed me to become a LEED accredited professional. I learned that when managing a project, everything is your responsibility and if you don’t know the answer to something, you have to find a way to figure it out.

Much of what I know, I learned on the fly through experience. I had great direction from the company’s leaders and constantly went to them with questions. The project ended up being a success, and we went on to complete another facility for Preferred Freezer a few years later.

Once I went through the fire with our leaders, a trust was built and it made each following project a little bit easier and after managing more of these project types, others in the firm started coming to me as a cold-storage design expert.

RB: How did you know you were ready to progress to a position where you led a team/office?
CT: I managed projects for five more years after the Preferred Freezer project, working on projects like the 600,000 SF Wirtz Beverage Corporate Headquarters and Distribution Facility that really highlighted our Chicago office’s abilities. We won NAIOP Chicago’s Architect of the Year award that same year the Wirtz Beverage project completed and have won three more times since then.

In 2012, I became the firm’s first Regional Manager, stepping up to help manage the Chicago office. I had to learn how to work with and manage team members who were previously colleagues I reported to. That required a shift in mindset for both myself and the rest of the staff, but it also required me to prove that I could do the job.

I had to demonstrate that I could execute the work my team was doing and use my experience to call back on when giving people direction. The ability to showcase my knowledge often meant listening to the team and how they wanted to do things. I focused on the end result rather than micromanaging how it was done but was there to support the team when needed, just like other leaders had done for me.

I continued to lean on the executive leaders during this transition. The ability to call them at any time, knowing they would take my calls, answer any questions and give advice was paramount to my success in this role.

I became Regional Director in 2014 and continued to work with Dawn Riegel, Director, Interior Architecture & Design, to diversify our portfolio while we continued to grow our presence in the industrial market.

RB: What has your experience as Principal taught you about architecture & business that you didn’t know going into the role?
CT: Since becoming a Principal for the firm in 2017, what I’m learning now is more about people than it is about architecture. Even though I’m still involved in much of the day-to-day execution, I am more focused on how I interact and manage my team. I hope to foster other leaders within the company and help bring some of our younger employees up to give them the same guidance and opportunity I was given early in my career here at Ware Malcomb.

RB: What about Ware Malcomb has made you want to stay?
CT: There has been a consistent opportunity for growth since I started as an Intern in 2005. Ware Malcomb constantly encourages our team to explore new service offerings and geographic locations. We have the platform for success set up and it’s up to each person to execute it and create their own opportunities for growth.

In addition, we have a close team of senior leaders. Even though we are spread across 23 offices, we operate as one group with the same goals and that’s what keeps me interested.

Cameron and Design Technology Manager, Rob van het Hof with the Stanley Cup after the Chicago Blackhawks won the title in 2013.

RB: What advice would you give to someone looking to grow their career in Architecture? What should they be focused on learning?
CT: Start with the basics. Find your specialty and master that. Beyond that, always remember that everyone can benefit from working on their personal interaction skills. Learning how to work with different clients, coworkers, employees and managers will have a major impact on your growth potential.