Successful UM alumnus lived 'Horatio Alger story'

May 20, 1994|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer

In the 1940s, A. James Clark went to the University of Maryland's engineering school because his family couldn't afford send him to Cornell. Yesterday, the university named the place for him.

"I think Jim Clark is a Horatio Alger story," said Bernard Manekin, the co-founder of Manekin Corp. and Mr. Clark's partner in the Charles Center South and Bank of Baltimore towers downtown. "A poor boy, starting with nothing but guts, determination and tremendous talent. What he's achieved over the last 40 years, he's achieved on his own."

Mr. Clark plans to give $15 million to the engineering school's endowment.

After he graduated from the school in 1950, his future father-in-law wangled him a job at the George Hyman Construction Co., then a small regional construction company. Mr. Clark worked hard, played with the team, and got a chance to buy the company along with Mr. Hyman's nephew after Mr. Hyman died in 1959, Mr. Manekin said.

George Hyman is now only a part of Clark Construction Group Inc. of Bethesda. Clark Construction, including Hyman and OMNI Construction Inc., had $1.135 billion in revenue last year, according to Engineering News-Record, a trade journal. It is the nation's 27th biggest construction firm.

Spokeswoman Louise Pulizzi said Clark Construction is among the 10 largest construction companies in erecting buildings; its overall ranking is lower because it built no power plants last year and builds few transportation projects such as bridges and roads.

Mr. Clark said he owns nearly all of the stock in Clark Enterprises Inc., which owns the construction group. Ms. Pulizzi said the privately held firm would not disclose his exact stake. Clark Enterprises also owns radio stations and holds equity stakes in properties that Clark Construction builds.

Mr. Clark's company has built such landmarks as Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the City Crescent Federal Building and the St. Paul Plaza office tower in Baltimore, and the Rouse Co. headquarters in Columbia. It is now building an addition to the Maryland Penitentiary.

Born in Richmond in 1927, Mr. Clark now lives outside Easton with his wife, Alice, in a huge house that he helped design overlooking the Miles River. Mr. Manekin said Mr. Clark is an exercise buff who has a gym in his house.

The Clarks have three grown children. None attended the University of Maryland and none works for the family business, Ms. Pulizzi said.

Daughter Courtney Clark Pastrick heads the family's charitable foundation, which last year gave $293,000 in grants to organizations that serve the needy or support education, health care, medical research or the arts.

Mr. Clark has said the construction company has gotten so big that clients often seek it out, rather than the other way around.

"Success breeds success," said George McGowan, retired chairman of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.,chairman of the University of Maryland System Board of Regents and a fraternity brother of Mr. Clark's when they were undergraduates. "Do it well and other people give you a chance."

Hal Donofrio, also a member of the fraternity, was Mr. Clark's "big brother" in the Phi Delta Theta chapter at College Park.

"If you were to meet him in a crowd, you would say he has the manners of a classic southern gentleman," said Mr. Donofrio, chairman of Richardson Myers & Donofrio, a Baltimore advertising firm. "Jim did everything he was told. He just kept growing into the family of the [Hyman] organization and ultimately the force of his will and his talent drove him to the top."

Mr. Clark's friends describe him as quiet and rather shy. He avoids publicity, once leaving the board of an insurance company to keep from disclosing his finances to regulators. He rarely grants interviews.

Friends say temperament, as much as talent, set him apart early from other ambitious young entrepreneurs.

"When we were kids, he came across as very bright and very serious," Mr. Donofrio said. "You knew he was going to be a loyalist. Wherever he went, he was going to be part of the team. He doesn't make waves. He's a very straightforward, result-oriented guy."

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