Wade In

By: 
Sep. 1, 2017

Kelly Wade, recently named CEO of a $150 million national roofing business, aims to be the type of egoless executive who willingly admits to messing up.

Take Blue Sky Friday.

Wade came up with that initiative a few months ago at Tampa-based North American Roofing. The idea: All senior-level managers have to work from home, or out of the office, on Fridays. And all employees are supposed to spend the workday off email. (Phones are allowed, but only in emergencies.)

“The goal is to allow employees time to think about where they are in their departments and careers,” says Wade, 46. “'Am I really focused on customer service and profitability or am I stuck down in the weeds?'”

Turns out Wade drove the struggle bus, at first, on Blue Sky Friday. “This was my idea,” quips Wade, “and the first time we did it, I started my day emailing everybody.”

Wade, chided by employees, righted herself. While it remains a work in progress, Wade hopes Blue Sky Fridays will become another unique part of the culture at North American Roofing. That culture, hopes Wade, could separate the company from competitors in its biggest challenge: finding talented employees in a host of departments — not just crews on a roof — to match the company's recent growth spurt and future projections.

North American Roofing, founded in 1979, had $150 million in revenue in 2016, up 25% from $120 million in 2014. “In 2015 and 2016 we had some major growth and not enough good people to handle all of it,” says Wade. “And that's a time we don't want to go through again.”

The company, with a total of about 500 employees, including some 150 in its Tampa office, is also a new corporate entity in the region. It relocated its headquarters from Asheville, N.C., to Tampa in March. Its Tampa home, in the Hidden River Corporate Center of Fletcher Avenue, is an open-space, 25,000-square-foot office, where the only executives with a door are Wade and the CFO.

Getting to Tampa, not just the move, had a messy side. The company, after considering a slew of options, including opening a second office in North Carolina, initially sought to relocate to Sarasota. “We had outgrown our space,” says Wade, promoted from COO to CEO at North American Roofing in August.

But a proposal to move to Sarasota ran into obstacles when it came before the Sarasota County Commission in May 2016. Namely, other roofing businesses mobilized against the idea that Sarasota County might approve economic development incentives to woo a competing company to town — one that could poach employees in an already-tight labor market. The proposal would have provided North American Roofing more than $1.5 million in state and local subsidies in return for 180 jobs over six years.

Sarasota County Commissioners denied the incentives in the project. That forced North American Roofing, and its site section consultants, to go back to the beginning. The company looked at other areas, including spots in three different states, and ultimately decided Tampa was the best location, executives say, partially because of the talent pool.

State and Tampa officials approved a jobs performance-based incentives package for North American Roofing. The subsidies, using the Qualified Target Industry tax refund program, can total $1.2 million. Around $720,000 of the funds would come from the state, $270,000 in a training grant and the rest split between Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa. While some employees remain in North Carolina, North American Roofing officially moved to Tampa in March.

Big advantage

Beyond the controversy, North American officials are pragmatic about their new home. “Tampa has been great for us,” North American Roofing Vice Chairman Brian Verble says.

Carl Verble, Brian's Verble's grandfather, founded North American Roofing in 1979, and Carl Verble's son, C. Michael Verble, joined a few years later. The goal was to create a national roofing company that focused on repair and targeted clients with multiple facilities, such as retail chains and health care businesses. That runs counter to the traditional way most roofing companies get started, which is by doing local work and concentrating on new construction. “We were a national firm from the beginning,” says Wade.

The idea to start that way, say company executives, was to create a business with scale and buying power, but also one that could build long-term relationships with clients. While North American Roofing has dozens of crews spread out nationwide, all the office work, from sales to IT to human resources, happens in Tampa.

“We are the only centralized national roofing company in the country,” Wade says. “There's nobody that can service the needs we do. We're not a franchise and we're not a rollup.”

North American's client list includes Home Depot, Lowes and Walmart, in addition to medical facilities and education buildings. The company's niche in roof sizes, says Wade, is 150,000 square feet, and it rarely does anything less than 50,000 square feet. A key to the company's success, executives say, is it has a uniform approach to repairs, from crew safety to the last tile. One way it does this is by using its own employees to complete jobs, wherever they are, rather than rely on subcontractors.

“It doesn't matter if you're getting a rooftop repair in Utah or Maine,” Wade says, “you are going to get the same experience.”

Another advantage the company's size provides, says Wade, is in responding to emergencies rapidly. That happened in Denver recently, when North American bid on a project to replace a badly damaged roof. The company won the job, had 80 people out there the next day and completed the project three days later. “There's no one in the country that can (execute) large bids like we can,” Wade says. “Another company would have taken weeks.”

Moved up

Wade didn't start out in the roofing industry. A Miami University of Ohio graduate, Wade started her career in marketing and branding. She was working for an ad agency in Asheville, N.C., in 2009, when North American Roofing executives called about hiring the firm for work. “They had a good reputation for treating customers well,” Wade says, “but they weren't good at telling their story.”

Wade ultimately left her job at the agency and went to work for North American Roofing. After several promotions, she was named COO in 2015. The promotion to CEO came after several months of a grooming process.

“Early on I knew Kelly had an ability to engage with people,” says Brian Verble. “And she gets more things done in a day than you could imagine. We have a lot of trust that Kelly will continue to move the company forward.”

Wade's biggest challenges as CEO, so far, have been to learn as much as she can, as fast as she can, about two areas she previously had no role in at the company: finance and risk management. She's read a bevy of books and manuals, hired consultants and met with executives in a few departments. “Not thinking I know everything is the best way to learn,” Wade says.

While Wade's main responsibility is to oversee the company and drive major initiatives, a lot of the day-to-day work, she says, lies in creating a great place to work. “We spend more time on company culture than anything else,” she says. “I want people to be happy and engaged here.”

That comes in a variety of ways.

One example is the company allows employees to move departments to try another line of work, leaving a spot open in their old department if it doesn't work out. “You can't grow the company and you can't grow personally if you don't allow people to fail,” Wade says. “The point is to learn from it.”

The company is also big on flex scheduling, Wade says, particularly in the summer when many employees face logistical challenges with children and family members. Another move to help retain employees came in 2012, when the company crated an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

The plans and programs to create a top place to work underline Wade's passion, both for the company and her new role. An aspect of being CEO of a $150 million company that comes easier to Wade is on the leadership side. She holds regular roundtable meetings with department heads, for example, and makes a point to accomplish agreed upon tasks with a keen sense of urgency.

“I'm quick. I'm fast and decisive,” Wade says. “I have a clear vision. I know what the Verble family wants out of this company and when I see it I execute on it quickly.”