A new era

Reid Ribble returns to the roofing industry as NRCA’s new CEO


It is a new year, and every new year represents change. As T.S. Eliot said: "Last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning."

For many people, January marks the annual audit of bad habits to break and the following through on New Year's resolutions. For the U.S., January is a time when, every four years, the country inaugurates a president, ushering change for all. And for NRCA, this January is quite different. This month, after leading the organization for 28 years, NRCA says goodbye to Bill Good and welcomes Reid Ribble as the organization's new CEO.

"Bill has been a passionate supporter of the roofing industry and its members for a long time," Ribble says. "Everything going on right now at NRCA has been initiated or implemented by Bill. He's a tough act to follow, and his are really big shoes to fill. To be considered for this opportunity to serve as NRCA's CEO certainly is an honor."

In the beginning

Good may be a tough act to follow, but Ribble is no stranger to the roofing industry and will be the first roofing contractor to lead NRCA in a CEO capacity. He is a second-generation roofing contractor who joined his father's roofing company, The Ribble Group, Kaukauna, Wis., as a salesman in 1975, the same year he married his wife, DeaNa. In 1980 after his father retired, Ribble became the company's president. Soon thereafter, Ribble's company joined NRCA.

"My involvement with NRCA was almost revolutionary in my company's life and growth," he says. "We really began to plug into everything NRCA has to offer."

Ribble served on numerous NRCA committees and task forces, including chairing the technical operations, residential steep-slope and government relations committees between 1995 and 2001 and serving multiple terms as a vice chairman between 1994 and 2004. He also served as chairman of the board-elect in 2005 before becoming NRCA's chairman of the board from 2006-07. Ribble says beyond providing all the technical and safety information, NRCA provides an opportunity to connect with other contractors on a personal, noncompetitive level.

"There are a lot of people who want to be members because they want to support the broad industry at large, but often they don't connect the dots of how much NRCA can help them," Ribble says. "You can have a connection with roofing contractors in your town, but you're competing with them, so there's not a lot of sharing of best practices. NRCA provided a place for me to make friends with contractors from throughout the U.S., and because we had no ax to grind with each other, we could share best practices. Some of my best friends are folks I met through NRCA and my time in the roofing industry."

Ribble managed his family's roofing company for 30 years until his sons challenged him to consider running for Congress.

"The catalyst was the 2008 presidential election, where we had the exact opposite of what happened in 2016," Ribble explains. "The American people elected President Obama and gave him a super majority in the Senate, as well as a full majority in the House. And he immediately moved to do things I believed were bad for the country, such as Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and an $800 billion stimulus. So during conversations with my two sons at Christmastime in 2009, they really challenged me to consider running for Congress, and so I did."

Getting political

After defeating four candidates to win the Republican primary, Ribble sold his company. And in 2011, he was elected to Congress to represent the people of Wisconsin's 8th district, where he worked on reforms that would begin to curb federal spending.

"The year I was sworn into office, the deficit was $1.4 trillion, and we reduced that by $1 trillion," Ribble says. "In 2015, the deficit was $438 billion. One trillion dollars is a lot of money to return to the economy in an unfiltered way. That was the type of thing I wanted to see and to begin to have pragmatic, thoughtful conversations about entitlement reforms. Although those kinds of things weren't able to be done in a divided government, a lot of groundwork was laid."

As a congressman, Ribble fought to bring common sense into government through his legislative work and authored the Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act, the only piece of legislation during his six years in Congress that passed through the budget committee with bipartisan support.

"No other piece of legislation on the budget committee had a single Democrat support it but this one, yet the power brokers were able to block it from getting a vote on the floor in the House," Ribble says. "It had 237 co-sponsors; 54 percent of the House of Representatives supported it; 30 percent of the Democratic conference supported it; 77 percent of the Republican conference supported it; a majority of the budget committee members supported it; and a majority of the rules committee supported it. But it's been frozen because we have a top-down pyramid power system and somebody didn't want it to go to the floor for a vote."

Ribble says his time in Congress "wasn't particularly enjoyable" because he believes the power structure is completely upside down, and members of Congress hardly have a say about anything.

"I can honestly say I didn't enjoy most of my time there," he says. "It's a system that is not at all transparent for the American people. I went into Congress relatively cynical, and I'm leaving it relatively cynical. I don't want to be a cynical person. I want to be optimistic and hopeful."

But not all of Ribble's efforts in Congress were frozen. Some were indeed hopeful and life-changing to people such as Elizabeth Grace, a girl born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). When Elizabeth Grace was born, she was adopted by a couple from Green Bay, Wis., who, despite being awarded legal custody through the DRC, along with 420 other families, including seven families from Wisconsin, didn't meet their child for almost four years because the DRC would not issue exit visas for the children. Many families had no choice but to relocate to the DRC so they could be with their children.

"In the meantime, the DRC was extorting these families to the tune of $500 per month subsistence in a country where the annual average income is less than that," Ribble says. "I was fed up with it. I was on the committee of foreign affairs and I approached the committee chairman, Ed Royce from California, and asked whether we could go there, and he set up a trip for five of us to go."

Soon thereafter, Ribble found himself in the DRC, acting as lead negotiator to unite 421 families.

"I'll never forget those meetings," he says. "One night we were going to have a reception for all the families who were there, and I asked the U.S. ambassador to the DRC whether they could reach out and find Elizabeth Grace, and they brought her to me. I was able to pick her up and take a selfie with this little girl, whom her adopted parents had never held in three and a half years, and I was able to tell those parents their child was coming home in 20 days."

Not only did Elizabeth Grace come home, but about 60 days later all the families were united with their children, thanks to Ribble's efforts.

"There's nothing special about me," he says. "These kinds of stories are happening in every Congressional district in the U.S. These are the kinds of things that matter, and I will look back and remember."

Coming full circle

Unlike most members in Congress, Ribble self-imposed two three-year terms on his time in office, so the minute the 115th Congress was sworn in Jan. 3, Ribble officially ended his term as a congressman and began his new career as NRCA's CEO. Ribble says the transition poses a few challenges.

"On the personal side, I'm asking my wife to move to a city (Chicago) where she doesn't know anyone," he says. "Professionally, getting my feet wet and getting to understand the staff and their needs and how I can help them to reach their full potential, as well as finding out what our members really want from us and leveraging those things, will be challenging because it will take some time to get up to speed. We have good and competent staff, though, so it should be relatively easy."

According to Ribble, the most important issue facing the industry is an aging workforce.

"You can't grow an economy without a growing workforce," he says. "There's been a lot of technological advances in the roofing industry during the past 20 years, but we have a mature industry. We have to understand and accept that paradigm. We need to make the industry more appealing and let young people know the roofing industry is a place of opportunity and a place where dreams can be fulfilled and is something that can lead to a better life for them and their families."

Ribble also says the government itself is a substantial threat to NRCA members and the industry.

"The ever-encroaching regulatory environment we have makes it difficult to work in this industry," he says. "And we have a tax code that penalizes the roofing industry unfairly. These types of things should be fixed during the first 100 days of Trump's presidency; but if not, we have our work to do."

Although Ribble is hopeful fewer regulations and tax reform will help improve working conditions for NRCA members, he says it's difficult to predict how a Trump presidency will affect the industry.

"He's been on almost every side of every issue," Ribble says. "Before he was pro-choice; now, he's pro-life. He was anti-immigration, and now he's pro-immigration. I have no clue what he believes, and we have no idea what Donald Trump will do at any given time. However, I do believe he will begin to remove the regulatory regime that's going on in Washington, D.C., and he wants to reform taxes. These types of things will be significant for people who own roofing companies and for workers as we're going to begin to see economic growth."

NRCA agenda

Glimpsing ahead in his CEO role, Ribble believes the trend toward more energy-efficient roof systems that protect the environment and help control the amount of water coming off roofs is a tremendous opportunity for NRCA and something on which he'd like to focus.

"The opportunities for vegetative roof systems are going to get exponentially larger as urban areas move toward systems whereby water containment in large low-slope roof systems are going to be part of the discussion in a big way," Ribble explains. "Right now it costs more money to buy water in a grocery store than gasoline. Water is a highly valued commodity, and we're going to see more urban developers going to extremes to capture and contain water. The roofing industry has a huge opportunity to affect all that."

Ribble also wants to focus on the industry's reputation to be able to recruit more workers.

"It's not that the roofing industry has a bad reputation, but there's not a single mom or dad on the planet who when his or her son or daughter is born they look down on that bassinette and say 'Wow, I hope you become a roofer when you grow up,'" he says. "To the degree that we can begin to capture the imagination of parents, and, quite frankly, society thinking about the importance of construction workers, their value to our economy and our society, we can begin to change how they speak about the men and women who work in the trades. You go anywhere in the southern hemisphere and a construction worker is among the most respected and highly paid."

The shortage of workforce labor is not new to the industry, but Ribble has a different approach to alleviating this issue.

"The U.S. roofing industry is a uniquely American experience," he says. "We make our materials here. Our primary goods are supplied here. The raw materials are supplied here. The roofs are distributed here. And they're installed by American workers. We don't talk about it much, but I think we should begin to focus on that aspect."

According to Ribble, NRCA has become highly adaptive to what is happening around it, and it should use this ability to its advantage.

"I would like to see greater collaboration in the industry," he says. "There is an appropriate level of tension among the manufacturing, distribution and construction sectors that keeps pricing restrained. However, there is a lot of opportunity to begin to take down walls and find out how we can all grow together. We have common interests, and the government is the biggest threat to all of us. We need to work together to deal with encroaching government regulations at virtually every level. Ultimately, I'd like to find a way for us to all put our swords down and really embrace the benefits all the various parts of our industry provide and not see each other as competitive threats."

Balancing work and life

Ribble is prepared for these and other challenges ahead of him and is used to working 65 to 75 hours a week to get things done, but when he "needs to let off some steam," you may find him on his motorcycle.

"I like to take a ride during late September/early October through the woods in Wisconsin," he says. "If I can take my time and drive through all those colors, all my cares in the world disappear."

Ribble has been riding motorcycles since he was in high school and recently checked off one of his bucket list items this past August when he and his wife drove across the U.S.

"DeaNa and I shipped our motorcycle to Anchorage, Alaska, and drove to Key West, Fla. It was the trip of a lifetime," he says.

The Ribbles crossed the Continental Divide of the Americas six times and followed the Rocky Mountains from the most northern part of Canada to the most southern part of the U.S. Along the way, they stayed with Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R) in her home near Jackson Hole, Wyo., where they had shipped hot-weather gear to swap out the cold-weather gear. They also stayed with Sandy and Dane Bradford, a former NRCA chairman of the board, in Montana. The coldest temperature they experienced during the trip was 35 F in Silverton, Colo., and the hottest temperature was 103 F when they arrived in Key West. Ribble says there was no rain the entire time, and DeaNa was a trooper and the best part of the trip.

"I anticipated DeaNa wanting to fly back home from Key West when we got there, but she wanted to ride along with me another 1,700 miles to Green Bay, so she was on the back of that motorcycle for more than 8,000 miles," he says. "And this is going to sound corny, but being with my wife was my favorite part about the trip. We've been married for 41 years, and we just don't get to spend that much time together. We had a blast!"

Liftoff

As Ribble embarks on a new professional journey, he is confident he is on the right path and prepared.

"Because I've had a foot firmly planted in the industry for three decades, I have a relatively good understanding of what our members' lives are like," he says. "And because I served many years on NRCA's board of directors and chaired several committees, I also know the working role of NRCA. I have a real affinity for the association and its members and staff. For me, it's much like coming home."

Chrystine Elle Hanus is Professional Roofing's associate editor and NRCA's director of communications.



The lighter side

What is your favorite word?
Exogenous

What sound do you love?
DeaNa's voice

What sound do you hate?
Anything that disturbs my sleep

Any other professions you'd like to attempt?
No, I think this will be good.

What is your favorite quality in a person?
Genuineness

What is your fear?
I choose not to live in fear.

Which season of the year do you prefer?
Fall

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Well done, good and faithful servant

Do you have a favorite food?
Rib-eye steak

What is your pet peeve?
People who say they'll do something but don't do it

COMMENTS

Be the first to comment. Please log in to leave a comment.