All roads lead to roofing

Meet Doug Duncan—NRCA’s new chairman of the board

The English idiom “all roads lead to Rome” means different methods of doing something eventually will lead to the same result. The phrase takes its origins from the intricate system of roads built by ancient Romans. As roads from every province were situated to eventually lead back to Rome, all paths essentially led to the same destination.

Doug Duncan, president of Nations Roof—Illinois, Villa Park, was born into the roofing industry. Then, he moved across the U.S several times, owned a couple of businesses and did a few stints in other trades before he found himself back in roofing a few decades later.

“My dad owned a roofing company, and my brothers worked there. I did not want to be a roofing contractor,” he says. “But I’m super glad I came back to the industry.”

This month, Duncan begins his term as NRCA’s chairman of the board, the highest-ranking officer in the association. He plans to offer his tale of journeying back to the roofing industry as inspiration for others to consider roofing as a successful professional path.

“I didn’t know anything about roofing, but Doug welcomed me and gave me the opportunity to create a career in the industry,” says Gerardo Rodriguez, safety and training manager for Nations Roof—Illinois and a 2024 Roofing Alliance Most Valuable Player Awards finalist. “When I started, he and Nations Roof taught me everything. I’m grateful he saw my potential even when I didn’t and encouraged me. Now I’m a safety manager and train others. He’s a great leader who is passionate about roofing and seeing people succeed in it.”

Starting out

Duncan grew up in River Forest, Ill. His parents, Jack and Marilyn, separated when Duncan was 5 years old, so he grew up with his mom, two brothers, Mark and Alan (who passed away in 2022), and a sister, Jill. He went to school in River Forest through eighth grade and then attended Oak Park and River Forest High School, but he didn’t graduate.

“I dropped out my senior year,” he says. “I hated school, and I wasn’t a good student. I smoked cigarettes with my friends, who also didn’t go to school, and we did our own thing. We were getting into trouble all the time.”

Duncan’s father started Duncan and Sons Roofing in Lyons, Ill., around 1975, and the Duncan boys grew up helping their dad with tasks like cleaning out the warehouse. After leaving high school, Duncan worked with his dad occasionally installing roof systems, and a few months after he left school, he found himself on the roof of his high school pondering his fate.

“I was literally tearing off the roof over the field house on my high school wondering whether I made the right decision,” he says. “I was thinking it may have been easier to stay in school than tearing off this roof.”

A few years later, he decided to try school again.

“At that point, I had enough of roofing and obtained my GED and decided to go back to school,” he says.

Duncan attended Parkland College in Urbana, Ill., and studied architectural drafting for one year.

“I liked it better than high school, but sitting at a computer doing CAD was not my thing,” he explains.

After leaving junior college, Duncan and a friend set out for northern California, where Duncan found himself doing roofing work in the San Francisco/Monterey area tearing off and installing shakes.

“In California, I continued to work, attended concerts like the Grateful Dead, did a lot of hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains and enjoyed ocean sports,” he says.

In 1992, his father passed away unexpectantly.

“My brothers were still working on roofs at my dad’s roofing company when my dad passed away, so they hadn’t been exposed to office management,” Duncan says. “They had no clue how to run a big company. There was no succession plan, so the creditors took what was owed them, and my brothers were left with a large company and no business training.”

Duncan returned to Illinois to work at the family business again. His brother, Mark, managed to keep the company afloat as long as he could, but he had no management or business experience; the company eventually dissolved in 1994. Then, Duncan started his own remodeling company—Old Town Construction in Chicago.

“I was the salesman, the estimator, the contractor and the installer; I worked in all roles,” he says. “It was great, and I was making money. But I had no business background or training and zero clue how to run a business.”

Duncan tried hiring an accountant to help with the finances. At the first meeting, he handed the accountant a plastic bag full of receipts.

“It was an absolute mess,” Duncan says. “I was way too busy. It became overwhelming, and I couldn’t keep up with things. I wasn’t paying bills on time. I couldn’t find employees who would stay; it was a revolving door. It was crazy, crazy, crazy.”

In 2004, Duncan found himself at the crossroads of keeping his business or finding another job.

“My plan was to go work for a company and learn how to run a business and then start my own company again,” Duncan explains. “I looked in the Sunday newspaper’s want ads and saw Nations Roof had an ad; I had never heard of Nations Roof. I applied and was hired as an operations manager.”

Nations Roof

Excited to finally get some office management experience, on his first day at Nations Roof, Duncan eagerly answered a ringing phone.

“Good morning, this is Doug with Nations Roof,” he greeted the caller. But the caller didn’t answer because he had picked up the fax machine receiver. “I looked over to the person who had hired me, and he was sitting there shaking his head and saying, ‘Oh my God.’ That’s how inexperienced I was.”

Duncan (middle) with Gerardo Rodriguez (right), safety and training manager for Nations Roof—Illinois, and Mike Olszta (left), vice president of Nations Roof—Illinois

Nations Roof is a national network of partnerships providing commercial roofing services. In 2004, when Duncan was hired, the company had four offices nationwide. The Nations Roof, Wauconda, Ill., branch had only been open one year; not much work was coming in at the time, and there weren’t many employees. When a job came in, Duncan handled it. He acted as foreman and helped install roof systems. But work wasn’t picking up.

“I wasn’t seeing many jobs come in; we were stagnant,” Duncan says. “I wasn’t sure how a branch of a national roofing contracting firm was supposed to work, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t it. I called Jim Nugent, one of three Nations Roof owners at the time and whom I had never met, and said: ‘You might want to take a look at what’s going on here.’”

A new branch president was hired, but he only lasted about six months.

“Jim asked whether I wanted to run the business, and I replied: ‘No way, not a chance,’” Duncan says.

After he turned down the opportunity to learn the management side of the business, Nations Roof hired a third person to run the office.

“That was another disaster,” Duncan says. “So Jim came and offered the job to me again.”

This time, Duncan’s answer wasn’t an absolute “no.”

“I went outside and called a close friend and told him what was going on,” Duncan explains. “My friend said: ‘Get back in there and accept the job immediately.’ I had been there almost three years and was starting to build things up without having a boss around, so I went back in and told Jim I would do it. In 2007, I became president of Nations Roof—Illinois.”

With Duncan at the helm, business began picking up. He leaned on nationwide operations Nations Roof already had in place for assistance, such as the human resources department to learn how to enter payroll.

“I had a lot of help learning how to do things,” Duncan says. “I don’t think the previous people were using the support that was already in place.”

Duncan started with small scope repairs, preventive maintenance and building a customer base.

“I was pounding the pavement for customers and would scour Craig’s List to see whether someone needed help with a leaking gutter,” he says. “I would go anywhere I could. If I was driving and saw a piece of metal hanging off a building, I would stop. What really launched us was finding and stopping a leak that nobody else could fix for a major property management company. That gave us a customer for life and many other roofing jobs.”

Next in line

Alex Hernandez, president of Clark Roofing Co., Broadview, Ill., became involved with NRCA at the urging of his father-in-law, Mike Promen, a former NRCA president and J.A. Piper Award recipient. Promen was president of Clark Roofing before passing away in 2015.

“It was difficult to say ‘no’ to Mike,” Hernandez says. “He knew how enriching volunteering with the association could be. I started serving on committees and was hooked.”

This month, Hernandez begins a new NRCA role as chairman of the board-elect, the association’s second-highest ranking officer.

“I am grateful for the companionship, inspiration, advice and friendships I have gained through NRCA,” he says. “This is my opportunity to give back to the roofing industry.”

In 1996, Hernandez began serving on NRCA’s Contractor Management Committee and Internet/Electronic Communications Committee and has since served on numerous committees and task forces such as safety regulatory, rooftop PV, safety manual, residential contractor and technical operations.

“The committees I enjoyed the most have been some of the timeliest ones, such as the internet committee because at the time the technology felt like such a strange, new world, and the committee was tasked with the direction of something no one fully comprehended back then,” he says. “I’ve also been fond of serving on well-established committees such as National Roofing Legal Resource Center and Insurance Board of Governors; they were challenging and gave me the opportunity to learn.”

Hernandez was elected to the board of directors in 2003 and has served multiple terms: 2007-10, 2012-15 and 2016-19. He was elected to the Executive Committee in 2010 and also served 2012-15 and 2023-24.

“NRCA has provided me with mentors, teachers, a sounding board, advocates, a ‘seat at the table,’ cheerleaders, great advice and a crazy group of friends from every corner of the country,” Hernandez says. “I believe the greatest strength of the association is the selflessness and unrestrained honesty in support of its members. If my input over the
years has helped in any way, that is my greatest accomplishment.”

According to Hernandez, the greatest challenge facing the industry is its unfair stigma.

“The roofing industry often is perceived as a low-skill trade,” he says. “However, the reality is far from this perception. Our challenge is to change that narrative to attract and train requisite, highly skilled tradespeople.”

One goal for NRCA Chairman of the Board Doug Duncan, president of Nations Roof—Illinois, Villa Park, is improving the industry’s professionalism and reputation.

“My aim is to help Doug in any way I can, pay attention to the details and provide support for his initiatives,” Hernandez says.

Hernandez was born in Cuba and emigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 1 year old.

“My sons are first generation,” he says. “They have a pretty great mom, too.”

Hernandez has been married to his “beloved” wife, Michele, Promen’s daughter, for 30 years.

“Mike drafted me into the industry when he gave me the opportunity to join his company in 1994—six months after I married his daughter,” he explains. “He gave me a three-month trial period to see how things would work out. Thirty years later, I’m still here.”

The Hernandezes’ share two children: Patrick, 27, and Christopher, 25.

“Patrick and I have been working together for three years,” Hernandez says. “Christopher is in North Carolina working for GE Aerospace in Asheville.”

In his free time, Hernandez enjoys playing the drums, endlessly planning the next remodeling project or disappearing in his wood shop for hours.

“I like to work with my hands and make old things look and work like new again,” he says.

During the next year, Hernandez looks forward to volunteering and assisting wherever possible.

“The opportunity to help NRCA and the industry at any level is humbling,” he says. “I am flattered to offer any help I can.”

Nineteen years later, Nations Roof has 23 nationwide offices, and the location Duncan manages has several production crews, eight service technicians and 12 project managers/safety personnel. Most people who work in the office also have worked in the field like Duncan.

“I have a lot of guidance to offer employees transferring from the field to the office as I did it, and it helps make an easier transition for them,” Duncan says. “It’s not easy; people can really struggle with it.”

“Having worked in all the positions from laborer to leader of a company, Doug shares his knowledge with others,” says Paige Harvill, corporate projects manager for Nations Roof, Mobile, Ala. “He truly cares and genuinely wants to see people succeed. He will take someone off the street and teach that person everything he knows about roofing in hopes the person will become successful.”

Luke Warner, service manager for Nations Roof— Illinois, says he has Duncan to thank for loving his job.

“My experience with Doug has been amazing,” Warner says. “He’s my boss, but he’s been so supportive of me personally through the years. He strives to make us a great team. I’ve been in the industry a long time, and Nations Roof is by far the best place I have worked.”

Attending NRCA’s Future Executives Institute was a “game-changer” for Duncan as it helped him learn how to successfully lead a team and business.

“My first piece of advice to someone wanting to start a roofing company is get some kind of business training,” he says. “NRCA’s FEI program really did it for me. It gave me the whole array of how to run a roofing company; it was eye-opening for me. You can’t just leave the receipts on the truck floor anymore—that stuff will come back to haunt you.”


Duncan (middle) with the Bradley University, Peoria, Ill., Roofing Alliance Construction Management Student Competition team

FEI was Duncan’s first exposure to NRCA. He graduated from the program in 2015 when Rich Nugent, a co-owner of Nations Roof, was NRCA chairman of the board.

“Rich was the one who came to me about attending FEI,” Duncan says. “When I graduated, he handed me my FEI diploma. That was cool.”

After graduating from FEI, Duncan began serving on NRCA committees such as PROCertification® Oversight, University Operations and Young Contractors. In 2016, he served on the board of directors. In 2020, he was elected to the Executive Committee and then served as chairman of the board-elect from 2023-24.

Additionally, for the past three years, he has served as a mentor to the Bradley University, Peoria, Ill., team through the Roofing Alliance’s Construction Management Student Competition.

“It’s been awesome being a mentor for the team of students,” Duncan says. “Mentoring people in careers and watching them grow is a major source of satisfaction for me. One of the Bradley University students this year is staying in the roofing industry as a project manager. I was so happy when I heard that.”

From 2017-19, Duncan served as chairman of the FEI Committee.

“Going through FEI helped me to become more professional and take things—meaning everything—more seriously,” Duncan says. “If I were to recruit someone to NRCA, I would mention the professionalism I have received from being part of NRCA.”


Improving the roofing industry’s professional image and attracting younger people to the trade is a focus for Duncan during the coming year.

“As a whole, the industry has improved its image and receives more respect, but I don’t think the professionalism is where we want it to be,” he says. “I think PROCertification is helping with that.”

One challenge outgoing Chairman of the Board Lisa Sprick, president of Sprick Roofing Co. Inc., Corvallis, Ore., undertook during her term was helping direct the PROCertification program.

“She did a great job because now there is newfound excitement about it,” Duncan says. “Consultants and specifiers are now getting interested in PROCertification. I plan to help build off that with market adoption.”

Duncan also commends Sprick for addressing suicide prevention in the industry.

“At one of the recent board meetings, Lisa was courageous and talked about mental health awareness in the industry and shared a personal story of how suicide has affected her life,” Duncan says. “As we learn the staggering numbers of suicide in the roofing industry, we cannot ignore it. It can affect even the strongest men and women. We all need to do our part to keep our industry healthy—physically and mentally.”

Duncan plans to continue recruiting more people to the industry by offering his story to any audience that will listen.

“It’s important for people to see you do not need a college education to be successful in this industry,” he says. “I bring a different perspective because I still can see things with the eyes of an installer. I show people all you need to do is do the right thing and work hard. Those two things can take you anywhere you want to go.”

“Doug’s greatest professional accomplishment is helping people view the industry more positively,” says Jill Valdez, office manager for Nations Roof—Illinois and Duncan’s sister-in-law. “He shows what the industry can offer, and his passion for roofing is going to help him be a great chairman.”

Becoming NRCA chairman of the board never was in Duncan’s plans.

“But when I started getting involved and seeing what really happens and how things work in an association, I feel I owe it to our industry and need to give back to it,” he says. “When I look back at my whole story and how I didn’t want to be in roofing, I am unbelievably grateful I have the roofing industry now and appreciate what my dad and brothers did. I feel obligated to help in any way I can; I want other people to be successful in running their roofing companies. I have a crazy passion for roofing now.”

The family circle

Duncan’s passion for the roofing industry occasionally overflows into personal time.

“I know way more about roofing than I ever thought I would,” says Jennifer, Duncan’s wife. “Even the kids know about roofing. Recently, we were somewhere and the kids pointed to a roof and asked what type of roof it was. I told them they’d have to ask their dad when we got home.”

Duncan met Jennifer on a blind date set up by his mother.

“I’m sure my mom was getting sick of me, so she nudged me a bit,” Duncan says. “She has always been a huge inspiration to me. She went back to school later in life and had the drive to never quit. She became a registered nurse who worked in the dialysis field as an operations manager. She said she wanted to set me up with a ‘really nice woman.’”

The Lighter Side

What is your favorite word?

What sound or noise do you love?
Ocean waves

Why sound or noise do you hate?
There are two—the sound of rain and the phone ringing on the weekend when we have a large project in progress (my fellow roofing contractors will understand)

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Owning a scuba diving shop

What is your favorite quality in a person?

What is your fear?
Not being myself

Which season of the year do you prefer?

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
You gave it your best shot! Come on in!

Do you have a favorite food?

What is your pet peeve?
Not getting the full story

“I worked with Doug’s mom for many years until her retirement,” Jennifer says. “She called me one day and asked whether I would be interested in meeting her son. She said we had a lot in common. So she gave me his number, and I called him.”

The two talked on the phone and met for coffee that week. Then, they decided to go out to dinner.

“We met at a local Spanish tapas restaurant I had been wanting to try,” Jennifer says. “What I didn’t know at the time is Doug is not terribly adventurous with food, so there probably was a lot of things in that meal he wished he hadn’t ordered.”

Duncan with his wife, Jennifer; daughter, Avery; and son, Owen

Despite Duncan’s lack of adventurous food palate, Jennifer was immediately interested in getting to know her date more.

“Doug is really determined and strong,” Jennifer says. “He’s got a lot of personal strength he doesn’t know he possesses. He also has a quirky sense of humor, which is what drew me to him in the beginning.

After their first official date, the couple began dating regularly and were engaged at Wrigley Field about one year later.

“Doug is much different than I am,” Jennifer says. “I think what his mom meant about us having a lot in common is our love for baseball and the Chicago Cubs.”

One year later, the couple welcomed their first child.

“For a while, we had a thing about June,” Jennifer says. “We got engaged in June. The following June we got married, and then the following June after that we had our daughter.”

The Duncans have two children—Avery, 13, and Owen, 11—with whom Duncan enjoys sharing his roofing world.

“During the previous schoolyear, Doug helped our kids’ school with a job fair where they showed eighth graders all sorts of different industries and job types,” Jennifer says. “Doug is really interested in encouraging younger people to think about roofing as a career. He set up a booth at the fair and had mockups to allow the students to try some hands-on roofing. The kids really enjoyed it, and we received great feedback from the school.”

This month, the Duncans will celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary.

“For many years, we would travel to wherever the Cubs were playing on our anniversary to watch the team play,” Jennifer says. “The COVID-19 pandemic and having young kids paused that recently.”

When the children are on breaks from school, the Duncan family enjoys vacationing together. During the summers, they like to rent a cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and during wintertime, they enjoy a trip somewhere warm. Most recently, they returned from Cozumel, where Duncan and Avery went scuba diving.

“Avery recently received her scuba certification, so we were able to go diving together,” Duncan says. “I didn’t think she would like it, but now she’s doing things underwater that took me years to do.”

Duncan scuba diving with his daughter, Avery

The Duncan children enjoy participating in several after-school activities: Avery is in choir, where she’s traveled to perform at the University of Denver; plays the clarinet and piano; and is active in track and softball and previously soccer. Owen plays the trumpet, where he recently placed first in his school competition, and has loved playing baseball since kindergarten.

“I attend 95% of my children’s events and combined with my work at Nations Roof and NRCA volunteerism, it can be a lot,” Duncan says. “Thankfully, we have a great team at Nations Roof that allows me to balance everything.”

The Duncans understand accepting the chairman of the board role means more commitments.

“It’s going to be a challenge with two younger kids,” Duncan admits. “Avery will be a freshman in high school during my term. There was a lot of talk whether we could make it work.”

“We had conversations when Doug realized this was potentially coming,” Jennifer adds. “We’re fortunate to have a niece nearby to help. When we travel, she usually comes and stays at the house with the kids. I plan to be active as much as possible during Doug’s term. This is a great accomplishment for him. We are both nervous and excited.”

A new direction

When Duncan retires, he sees himself owning a scuba diving shop in Roatàn, Honduras. But until he’s ready to permanently hit the beach, he’s focused on leading NRCA through a successful year of recruiting more members, continuing to improve the roofing industry’s image and getting more professionals PROCertified.®

“I have some big shoes to fill,” he says. “There is a legacy to uphold from the people who have served in this role before me. I owe a lot of gratitude and appreciation for the support I have received from former chairmen of the board. I especially want to thank Rich Nugent (2014-15), Kent Tolley (2011-12), the late Bruce McCrory (2012-13), ‘Dunkin Donuts’ Nick Sabino (2019-20), Lisa Sprick (2023-24) and a huge thanks to Kyle Thomas (2022-23), a great person. I’m super proud my peers have trusted me to do this and have confidence in me.”

Greg Arnold, president of Nations Roof—New England, Westfield Haven, Conn., says Duncan is the best person for the job.

“Doug jumped in to help me when I started working at Nations Roof,” Arnold says. “This industry is so awesome; you can come from the field and make it in the executive office thanks to people like Doug who want to see people like me succeed. He has a nerd-level passion for improving the professionalism of the industry and helping others see their potential. Doug is a great leader to work alongside.”

As Duncan begins his term as chairman of the board, he looks forward to helping to continue improving the industry with a little help from friends.

“Serving the industry in this capacity is truly an honor of a lifetime,” he says. “I am always open to suggestions and available for conversations about how we can all make this industry better together.”

CHRYSTINE ELLE HANUS is Professional Roofing’s associate editor and an NRCA director of communications.


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