Architect’s Family is His Strongest Foundation
By Rodney Campbell
Phil Swaim picked up many qualities from his father, Robert. Swaim’s dad instilled in him a commitment to working hard, having compassion for others, and finding a successful career in architecture.
The younger Swaim and his wife, Sabrina, made sure they encouraged their daughter to establish many of those same traits. While Kelly Swaim, now 24, may not have chosen an architecture career, she shares interests with her father, including a love of being outdoors and playing sports.
“Kelly started skiing when she was 2,” said Swaim, principal at Swaim Associates. “She would follow me anywhere and everywhere.”
Father and daughter still bond through sports, especially soccer. Kelly played the sport at Sabino High School and dreamed about competing in college at the Division 1 level. But Phil said his daughter had to make a tough choice: She could do two of three things – perform well in the classroom, have a social life, or play soccer. Kelly opted for classes and a more typical college life when she picked Northern Arizona University.
With his daughter’s move, Swaim went through soccer fan withdrawal. Just like his parents, he always carved time out of his busy schedule to watch his daughter on the pitch.
“When Kelly was playing growing up, I was an assistant coach,” Phil Swaim said. “I was the guy out there shagging balls. I don’t think I missed a game. When I was growing up, I was a bicycle racer and baseball player, and my mom and dad were always there.”
Just as his parents encouraged him to strike out on his own by attending the University of Oregon, Swaim and his wife saw value in Kelly going to Flagstaff for college. She was a four-hour drive away, enough distance to have an independent life.
“It’s a challenge as a parent to let children grow on their own,” Swaim said. “You want to make sure things are perfect for them and you can’t always do that.”
Swaim became president of his family’s company in 1992, continuing a tradition of success started by his father three decades earlier. After his father merged his company to form one of the largest architecture firms in the state in the 1960s, Robert Swaim went on his own, even operating out of the family’s home for several years starting in 1969.
“Dad was a fascinatingly talented architect,” Swaim said of his father, who is now 92. “He told me, ‘If you love it, there’s nothing like it.’ ”
Swaim Associates is one of the premier architecture firms in Arizona. Swaim said he’s trying to pare his busy schedule to 60 hours a week in order to ensure more time at home. Kelly spent the last semester of her college career in Tucson taking online classes from NAU.
“One of the big challenges is how to balance home life and business life,” Swaim said. “Especially after taking over the business. One of the things I always made a priority was to be there for Kelly’s soccer games or track events, graduation or birthdays.”
Using his resources to help underserved communities also motivates Swaim. Ian McDowell, VP and Tucson regional director for Sundt Construction, has worked with Swaim on numerous projects and appreciates the architect’s willingness to donate his time.
“I worked on a project to add the DEK hockey rink at Doolen Elementary School next to the Boys and Girls Club,” said McDowell, who heads Sundt building efforts in Tucson. “The goal was to install the rink at no cost to TUSD or the Boys and Girls Club. Phil took a personal interest and donated his services and the services of his company to help us make the rink a reality. He never submitted a bill. In fact, he never even asked. I think giving back is just in his DNA.”
Lending a hand has been Swaim’s priority in his professional and personal lives. Just as his dad was his role model, he wants to be the same for his daughter.
“You want to be helpful.… It’s similar to being a father,” Swaim said. “Dad has always had incredibly high morals and that’s the way I’ve wanted to live.”
Pictured above from left – Kelly, Phil & Sabrina Swaim