Charles T. Davidson oral history interview, 2018 October 15
Charles T. "Charlie" Davidson, former president of J.A. Jones Construction Co., discusses his life, his family, the history of J.A. Jones and affiliated companies, and the development of the construction industry, during the half century from the 1960s through the 2000s. He begins by discussing his childhood, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and his years at Lehigh University, where he graduated in 1962, followed by two years of active military service in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Most of the interview discusses his career in the construction industry, from 1964 through 2001. This career started with his employment at the Chas. H. Tompkins Co., a leading construction company in the Washington, D.C., where his father worked as a top executive. The Tompkins Co. had been acquired in 1961 by the J.A. Jones Construction Co., headquartered in Charlotte. Mr. Davidson spent his career working in various J.A. Jones entities, including the Metric Constructors, in Florida, and the Tiber Construction Co., based in Fairfax, VA, which Mr. Davidson led as president from 1979-1986. He moved to Charlotte in 1986, when he was named president of the J.A. Jones Construction Co., one of the most important U.S. construction companies of the twentieth century. In 1991, Davidson became President of the entire Jones group of companies, and in 1995, he became Chairman. He retired in 2001, shortly before J.A. Jones dissolved, thanks to the financial difficulties of its parent company, the German construction conglomerate, Philipp Holzmann AG. Throughout the interview, Mr. Davidson offers a detailed discussion of the workings of the U.S. construction industry in the later 20th century. He describes the construction industry in the Washington, D.C., area; the differences between unionized and non-unionized firms, and the rise of the latter; and the differences between working for the government and working for private customers. Because the J.A. Jones Co. did a great deal of work for the federal government, including contracts with the Navy, the Army, the Department of Energy, and other jobs for the national security establishment, Mr. Davidson explains, the company had an unusual degree of autonomy from its German parent company. He mentions several of the company's biggest projects, which included skyscrapers in Chicago, Atlanta, and around the world, as well as dams, embassies, and military housing. Mr. Davidson also discusses finance in the construction industry, including the importance of bonding capacity. He explains his goals as the leader of J.A. Jones, in the 1980s and 1990s, which included more emphasis on cost controls, eliminating layers of administration, and emphasizing leadership development in the middle management ranks. Mr. Davidson briefly discusses the downfall of the company, in the early 2000s, as well as his post-retirement activities, which have included work as an arbitrator and many initiatives with not-for-profit organizations, including churches and independent schools.