Category: Archive

Working Lives: Flyin’ the Irish flag in N.Y. construction

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

"Mother Bell trained me well," Jim Alger likes to say, referring to the seven years he spent working with the New York Telephone Company and AT&T. Today, Alger is still in the high-tech communications business; he’s president and general manager of Manhattan-based Intelligent Building Systems, a telecommunications contractor with revenues of $10 million last year.

Alger’s is also a name that many in the New York construction and related businesses have gotten to know in recent years because of his position as president of the Irish American Building Society.

"The purpose of the IABS is to further expand Irish and Irish-American influence in the real estate and construction marketplace," Alger said, adding that the society has about 125 active members and about 500 on its mailing list. Among IABS members are building owners, building managers, architects and engineers, and the professionals who work with them such as lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, and contractors and subcontractors.

It’s been through construction that the Irish have made one of their greatest and proudest contributions in the U.S., a point not lost on Alger and his IABS colleagues. Today, Irish construction professionals and their companies are still a force to be reckoned with in New York, a fact borne out not only by the Irish presence on various construction projects but also by the attendance of 900 guests at the second annual IABS dinner dance in the New York Hilton last April. The event raised about $90,000.

Without hesitation, Alger says that the greatest success of the IABS has been its scholarship fund. "This year, we have two kids going to college on us," he said. The IABS also supports various charities such as Project Children, Our Children, a home for children in Queens whose mothers are incarcerated, and Croí, the West of Ireland Cardiology Foundation.

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Alger himself is of Irish and Scottish ancestry, his maternal grandparents having come from County Kerry. He was born in Rockville Centre, L.I., and grew up in Lynnbrook, the middle child in a family of 11, eight boys and three girls. He graduated from Elmira College in 1979 and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

He went to work for Woolworths, becoming manager of a store in Brooklyn when he was 21, the youngest manager to be appointed at the time in the eastern region. He also undertook Woolworths’ business training course.

In Feb. 1981, he moved to the New York Telephone Company, which was owned by AT&T.

"Retailing was not for me," Alger said. "The pay was low, you didn’t control it, and I worked about 70 hours a week for $16,000 a year. At the phone company, I made more money for half the hours."

With New York Telephone, he worked as a technician and later went into management. "I was exposed to the whole telecommunications industry with computerization and networks and AT&T’s divestiture of the Baby Bells. I was always hungry to learn."

In 1996, his entrepreneurial instincts led him to become a partner in Intelligent Building Systems, whose clients include the American Museum of Natural History, Omnicom Group, Bear Stearns and Montefiore Medical Center. IBS’ biggest contract to date has been a $2.5 million project for Ziff Davis Publishing, on Madison Avenue. The job involved outfitting 10 floors with high-tech telecommunications and audio-video communication capabilities.

Now, at 41, Alger finds himself the head of a multi-million-dollar telecommunications company with revenues expected to grow by 20 percent this year. He’s undoubtedly ambitious, which, he says, "is not a bad thing."

"I always wanted to do the best I could," he said. "A little hunger didn’t do anyone any harm. I always try to learn more so that I can control my own destiny and, of course, that’s a big laugh because it’s my customers who control everything."

Alger is married to Eileen Dolan, who’s ancestors came from County Westmeath. They have four children: three sons, James, 21, Rory, 11, and Michael, 7 , and a daughter, Catherine, 4.

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