Pamela Volm Looks for Strength in Numbers as ABC’s 2015 National Chairman


While attending Smith Business School at the University of Maryland, Pamela Volm had her mind set on going into real estate development. She completed her appraisal classes and was working part time for a developer in Prince George’s County, Md., when a contractor the firm worked closely with planted a bug in her ear that she couldn’t ignore.

“He said ‘Pamela, if you got out in the field and actually built something, you’d never want to be in the office. You really need to go out and experience it,’” Volm recalls.

She took the bait, and 20 years later is happily balancing a career in the office and in the field as owner of Annapolis Contracting, Inc. “I fell in love with the industry. It’s amazing when you see something rise out of the ground,” she says. “Small business is tough, though. You lose sleep at night over having enough contracts and enough work for everyone. Sometimes I’m not sure why people do it, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do, and that’s what gets me out of bed every morning.”

This year, Volm is taking on another new experience: serving as 2015 national chairman of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). She has been active in the ABC Chesapeake Shores Chapter since the mid-1990s and gradually entered the national leadership pipeline by getting involved in events and committees.

“I believe in leading and getting involved. Membership is not a spectator sport,” she says. “I recognize the value I receive from ABC. It’s good for my business.”

From Assistant Superintendent to Business Partner to Sole Proprietor
That first contractor who encouraged Volm to give fieldwork a try ended up hiring her to work with a seasoned superintendent named Ray Spradling who needed support in the field and had a knack for mentorship.

“It was a great opportunity for me,” Volm says. “In the early 1990s, there was a definite idea that this wasn’t an ideal workplace for women, but when I met Ray, we just connected. He set the stage for how people should act in the field; he taught me everything.”

Volm was busy as an assistant superintendent in charge of contracts and payments until a small recession resulted in her being laid off. The next day, she got a call from a framing contractor she had met on a project site who was short of help and willing to train her in the carpentry trade. Volm seized the opportunity and took the reins as production manager—overseeing jobsite schedules, equipment, materials and field personnel.

After a few years went by, Volm approached the owner about becoming business partners. He initially said no, then reconsidered and eventually accepted her proposal. They created a new framing company and worked together for seven years. During this time, Volm leveraged her detail-oriented nature to implement health insurance and retirement programs, as well as education and training opportunities within the company.  First and foremost, it was important for her to create a company that took care of and invested in its employees.

“In April 2003, my partner came to me and said he wanted his own company again. I agreed. It was good timing for both of us, and we remain friends,” Volm says.

As she struck out on her own, Volm stayed aligned with the type of projects her prior business completed: 85 percent multifamily and 15 percent light commercial (all wood framing). Annapolis Contracting succeeded under that model until the recession hit in 2007 and the condo market became nonexistent.

“We saw it coming when the national builders we worked with began to struggle with for-sale work,” Volm says. “I went to my ABC friends and asked what they were working on. I needed to change what I was doing and get more involved in restaurants, libraries and churches.”

The response from her industry colleagues was overwhelmingly positive—stirring a new passion for the association. “They would say, ‘Hey, stop by and pick up some plans.’ I had been an ABC member mainly because of educational opportunities for training, apprentices and safety personnel, but now I was looking at it as an avenue for work. I started working for other ABC member companies and we were able to do projects we hadn’t considered before.”

Volm also went through the process to get certified as a women-owned business with the city of Baltimore and the Maryland Department of Transportation. Additionally, Annapolis Contracting took on one line of work Volm initially vowed to stay away from: renovations. “We found the government was funding a lot of renovation work, including apartments and historical projects, so I ended up eating my words. But when the economy and business climate change, you have to find ways to survive.”

Today, Annapolis Contracting has a good mix of work on the books and has reversed its project load to 80 percent light commercial and 20 percent multifamily—though Volm is pleased with the condo, townhouse and apartment comeback under way in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. “We’re all over the place with new apartments, renovations and additions right now,” she says.

From Active Member to Chapter Leader to National Chairman
Volm’s rise through ABC’s leadership ranks somewhat mirrors her career path: take a chance and try something new, assume more responsibility and step up when needed.

“The company I worked for in the 90s was an ABC member, so I received notices about ABC events and would attend when they interested me,” she says.

Once she started Annapolis Contracting, she turned to ABC to help train two female safety directors. “As I got involved in training, I started to meet more members and started going to networking events and chapter planning sessions.”

She also accepted an invitation to fill a vacancy on the ABC Chesapeake Shores Chapter Board of Directors. It was there she met Barrett Tucker, business development manager for Pennsylvania-based American Infrastructure.

“I always tell people Barrett is my best member benefit,” Volm jokes. “I had two tickets for Bush’s inaugural ball and didn’t have a date, so I called him up and asked him out. We’ve been together ever since.”

Tucker has been a frontline supporter of Volm’s ABC involvement. Over the years, she has served on the ABC National Board of Directors, Executive Committee and as the Mid-Atlantic Region Vice Chairman, as well as participated on the ABC National Chapter Development Committee, Diversity Committee, Member Services Coordinating Committee and Federal Affairs Coordinating Committee. At the chapter level, she served as chairman in 2002 and 2003 and earned the Member of the Year award in 2001 and the Willow Award for Industry Excellence in 2010.

In 2013, she made the tough decision to resign from the ABC Executive Committee to refocus some energy on her business, but when an unexpected vacancy occurred in the national chairman pipeline, she felt compelled to step up.

“I talked to Barrett and decided to submit my name. He was behind me 100 percent.

“Some people will say, ‘She’s a small business, how can she do this?’ But nothing in ABC’s bylaws stipulates that you have to be a big company to be involved,” Volm says. “If you can find a place where you fit, then get involved.”

To that end, one of Volm’s goals for 2015 is growing the membership and encouraging more members to be engaged with the association—keeping in mind different companies value different things. “I started out accessing training and then discovered how valuable networking was. Then I learned about legislative issues and needing to understand regulations that affect my business,” she says.

“One new member told me he joined ABC to gain access to general contractors and help keep his business alive during the recession. On the other hand, a founding member of the Chesapeake Shores Chapter is mainly looking to ensure its right to work in Maryland.”

Volm is also passionate about confronting the workforce shortage issue and ensuring ABC chapters have the resources they need to offer craft training and other educational programming. “We have to get the message out that construction is a viable career path and a wonderful opportunity for employment,” she says.

Embracing young professionals is another important piece of the puzzle. “We have to understand why they’re here,” Volm says. “They could be third-generation from a family-owned business but have no experience with project labor agreements and how they affect our right to work. They might not understand where ABC came from.”

And while members might not be fighting picket lines like in the past (see “Leaders Look Back on 65 Years of ABC”), Volm says they are facing a government that is doing everything it can on the legislative and regulatory fronts to set the industry back. Regardless of the challenge—whether it’s raising money for free enterprise candidates, improving the construction industry’s image or convincing owners that open competition is the most responsible choice—Volm remembers the words of founding ABC member Charles Mullan.

“There’s a great part of Sam Cook’s book, ‘Freedom in the Workplace,’ in which Mullan talks about why he helped create ABC. He said, ‘we could have stayed open shop and not formed the association, but by joining hands, we made everybody stronger.’ We can fight all day long by ourselves, but there’s strength in numbers.”


Joanna Masterson is editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email masterson@abc.org, visit www.constructionexec.com or follow @ConstructionMag.