Beck Road Office Center
July 12. 2007
It’s five thirty AM and already Bill Damas is at the helm of a Caterpillar backhoe, digging trenches along with his son, who is also chef of the nearby Acropolis Restaurant of Wixom. ‘Hands on’ pretty much sums up the Cretan-born Damas, a value which he has handed down to his four children, all of whom work alongside him in his numerous business enterprises.
At first, Bill Damas appears to be the embodiment of what we’ve come to call ‘the American Dream’, having arrived in Pennsylvania as a teenager with nothing, and built a contracting empire here in Detroit.
It may not have been an inevitable outcome in his native Crete, where he grew up with eight brothers and sisters in a twelve-by-twelve roofless hut without plumbing or electricity, where goats and a single donkey shared the living space, but Damas is quick to point out that this is not the same Crete that exists today.
“We have made tremendous strides,” he says, “in all aspects of Cretan life.”
According to Damas, his own early life was tough, but filled with respect for the fruits of labor and love of family. By the age of fourteen, he had already left his birthplace of Veni in central Crete and taken work on the farms on the coast, near Chania, sheparding sheep and picking olives. It was a tough move for the youngster, but one which he understood was vital to the financial wellbeing of his family. His father had done much the same throughout his life, picking up work when and where available, but to this day, Damas credits his late father for the intelligence that drove him forward, both in ambition and energy.
By seventeen, Damas realized that there was a larger world and more opportunity available outside of the then-impoverished island. He came alone to the United States, and much as he had in Crete, he took jobs as they became available. But a sense of destiny and a quick mind for business quickly began to drive him toward bigger things, and, having paid his dues as a laborer, a painter, then a sub-contractor, he kicked over the motor on his own construction company, and has since been at the helm of countless projects, including a massive hotel back in Crete which is scheduled for completion soon.
“My original goal was to make enough money to return to Crete. But I came to understand that my destiny was the United States, and so I focused my strengths here.”
The compassion that Damas feels for his fellow man is part of the humanity that singles him out as an inspiration for all Americans, not just Greeks. Having heard the stories of the Nazi invasion of Crete in World War II from his parents, Damas maintains, “Of course the effects of that were devastating. Of course my country suffered immeasurably. But I believe that the German invaders were simply young men doing what they were ordered to do. They were dealing with their government’s issues, not their own. They were obeying men that should have known better. The Greeks prevailed, and I am grateful for that, but I hold no hard feelings towards the actual men and boys involved. We need to have feeling for all men and women on earth, Muslims, Christians and everyone.”
Now the father of four children of his own, ranging from the ages of 36 to 21, all of whom have followed him into the business, Damas believes that the ‘American Dream’ has proven out for his kids as well as himself.
But in truth, Bill Damas shares the universal dream: That hard work and dedication will lead to success in business, but more particularly, in life.