Thomas Laird Jr. ACE Mentor Cleveland’s Proud Founding Father and Leader
By Montrie Rucker Adams, APR
Visibility Marketing Inc.
When Tom Laird came to Cleveland 14 years ago, he noticed that one of the things he enjoyed while in Washington, DC did not exist. At that moment, he decided to bring his passion to Cleveland.
Laird is the founder of the Cleveland affiliate of the Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program. He has been a part of the board of directors since 2008 and is currently the outgoing board chair. “I had been active in the affiliate in the Washington, DC area and felt that Cleveland was certainly deserving of one, so I rallied some of our friends and colleagues and got the program going,” he said.
Even with friends and colleagues in tow, Laird understood that more was needed to create a sustainable program. “Our pivotal moment,” mentions Laird, “which was a catalyst for growth, was the generosity of University Hospitals (UH). When they were undergoing the Vision 2010 Program, they established a community outreach component as a part of that multi-building construction program. Some of the financial support was channeled to the Cleveland ACE affiliate. They committed $200,000 over four years and have since matched that. We have been a huge benefactor of their generosity. Steve Standley, UH’s Chief Administrative Officer, saw what ACE could do and he and his executive team got behind us. When UH made the commitment, the board and myself didn’t take it lightly. We used their philanthropic support wisely and have also matched it with dollars through local college and university partnerships. The board is grateful and understands the impact. We want to do well by ACE,” declares Laird.
In addition to UH, the Construction Employers Association (CEA) has established a $100,000 endowment to provide annual support for ACE Cleveland. Through Glen Shumate’s leadership and commitment as ACE Cleveland’s Executive Director, CEA offers its financial contribution and further supported via CEA and the Carpenter Contractors Association scholarships and numerous CEA members.
“All of this wouldn’t be possible without our partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and Eric Gordon’s leadership and commitment,” said Laird. “He has been on the board from the very beginning, even after he became CEO. His support has been vital to the program’s growth.”
Gordon says there is a lot of value to the ACE Mentor Program. “One is the content value, and having students in mastery-based and production-based learning. There's also the value of learning if this is something students want to do,” he adds. “Many of these students actually go on to study architecture, construction and engineering in college. But we've had a few that said, ‘Oh, this program won't really help me. No, I don't want to do this,’ which is actually very valuable,” he said.
Gordon noted the CEA’s $100,000 endowment is vital to, “keep the [ACE Mentor] program going, knowing that these young people will be the workers entering their industry in just four years,” he said.
As Gilbane Building Company’s executive vice president, Laird’s responsibilities include overseeing the organization’s profit and loss and ensuring Gilbane’s one company vision, strategy and business plan for several divisions is executed. He’s responsible for the Central/Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Southwest, and Western divisions. He’s worked for Gilbane for 31 years and has steered the company’s success.
With a lot on his plate, Laird still finds time to serve ACE students, observing that mentoring goes beyond the high school experience.
“We've taken a little different approach in Cleveland,” said Laird. “It's not just about the mentoring experience during high school. We also want to provide opportunities through scholarship support (nearly $600,00 to date) when our ACE students graduate. We provide ACE alumni mentoring support and internship opportunities while the students are in college. Lastly, we want to make certain that we stop what's referred to as the ‘brain drain’ in Northeast Ohio and provide career opportunities here for them in the Cleveland area.”
Melissa Cuadrado, a 2014 James F. Rhodes High School graduate and ACE Mentor scholarship recipient, explains the benefits she received from participating in the ACE Mentor Program. “The mentors that I still keep in touch with, the teacher that was in charge of the program at my school, who I still keep in touch with… I continue to benefit from the program,” she says.
Laird is proud of ACE’s progress since its founding almost 10 years ago. “The growth of the program, not only from the number of students that are involved and the energy that they exhibit, but the number of businesses we've been able to get involved, is remarkable. The local affiliate has grown from one school with 15 students, to eight schools with 150 students, with a waiting list of other high schools. There are also more than 80 local firms and over 100 industry volunteers that are involved. So, you know, they say it takes a village and the village is responding,” said Laird.