"What we do—providing shelter—is way more important than it gets credit for,” says Kyle Thomas, executive vice president of Thomas Industries Inc., Mobile, Ala. “If I could change one thing about the roofing industry, it would be giving roofing workers and the work they do more respect.”
On June 1, Thomas began his term as NRCA’s chairman of the board.
“Kyle has improved the professionalism of the roofing industry in our area,” says Ray Bing, sheet metal department manager for Thomas Roofing, Mobile. “He’s an incredible, honorable man. I’ve never met anybody like him. He’s the hardest-working person I know.”
“It is an honor to be selected by my peers to lead NRCA,” Thomas says. “The fact they hold me in high regard motivates me to take on and uphold their confidence and show them it was the right decision.”
The early years
When Thomas was 2 years old, his parents, Jan and Lawrence, moved the family to Fairhope, Ala., where Thomas still resides. He grew up with an older brother, Derek, and a younger brother, Cory.
“My favorite memories growing up with Kyle are the ones where we got in trouble,” Derek says. “One time, we came home late with scratches all over us from riding down a huge hill on our bicycles. Our mom couldn’t find us, so she called our dad to drive home from work. I don’t remember us being late. We were just having fun.”
While in high school and college, Thomas worked summers at his father’s roofing business. In 1992, he graduated from University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, with a bachelor’s of science degree in commerce and business administration and a minor in English. While in college, he also completed a real estate finance program and graduated with a broker’s license. Although his education offered multiple employment opportunities in cities such as Atlanta and Chicago, climbing the proverbial corporate ladder didn’t appeal to him.
“So me and my buddy loaded up my Nissan Pathfinder with a bunch of stuff and drove to Colorado with no job and no place to live,” Thomas says. “I found a job at Winter Park Ski Resort as a cook and found a place to rent with a couple of other guys. I woke up at 5 a.m., cooked breakfast for everybody and was off by 2 p.m. to go skiing.”
When ski season ended, Thomas realized he may have been wasting a good opportunity back home.
“I was sitting on the back porch with my mom and dad and talking about my future in the family business,” Thomas recollects. “They weren’t pushy or in any way forcing it on me. We had a good conversation.”
In May 1993, Thomas decided to join the family business full-time.
“And once I made that call, I was going to do it well,” he says. “I’m not one to look back on decisions. I was determined to make it the right decision and succeed.”
The family business was a company previously known as Owen and Burnette Roofing that predated to the 1950s. Thomas’ father joined the business in the 1960s and became part owner by 1968. By 1980, his father had bought out all the partners and it became solely owned as Thomas Roofing.
Now, the company is known as Thomas Industries.
“We had a sheet-metal division and a roofing division,” Thomas explains. “When Derek graduated college, he started working for the company. And then when Cory graduated, he started a general contracting company. So we rolled up all three divisions into Thomas Industries as the parent company.”
Thomas manages the roofing division. Cory runs the general contracting division. And Derek handles the administration side of the entire company.
“My mom is an accountant,” Thomas says. “Unfortunately, my dad passed away in 2021, but mom is still engaged and looks over the books.”
Thomas’ youngest sons, Jared, 21, and Benjamin, 19, also work at the company part-time while attending college. And Thomas’ daughter-in-law, Campbell, wife of Thomas’ oldest son, Bradley, 25, works full-time as estimator and project manager.
“Kyle is an amazing boss, leader, father-in-law, grandfather and friend,” Campbell says.
Many employees, including Lisa Irby, service department manager and vice president of Thomas Roofing, have worked at Thomas Roofing for more than 25 years.
“When I started here, Kyle’s parents were the leaders of Thomas Roofing,” Irby says. “When the brothers took over, I thought it was going to be a difficult transition because I didn’t think they’d be as family-oriented as their parents, but it was seamless. It’s a big family atmosphere, and they believe family comes first.”
Since the Thomas brothers assumed operations at Thomas Roofing, the company has grown to about 65-70 employees.
“Kyle sincerely cares for his employees and leads by example. He never asks you to do something he wouldn’t do or hasn’t done himself,” says Todd Manus, sales and estimator for Thomas Roofing’s service department.
Employees say Thomas’ passion for taking care of customers along with his positive attitude and team spirit is contagious.
“He’s an optimistic person who really sets the tone and creates an atmosphere that values customers, employees and communities,” says Christie Lambeth, roofing estimator at Thomas Roofing. “Kyle works hard to provide customers with the best, most cost-efficient roof system and service possible. Seeing the way he helps people get back to their daily lives after a hurricane definitely makes me appreciate the roofing business in a way I never would have before meeting him.”
Bing believes Thomas’ commitment to the trade is an asset to the industry.
“Kyle is extremely involved in the details,” Bing says. “We have done several things here with sheet metal where we have changed the details of how we do it. And now those details have been incorporated into the NRCA manuals—better ways of keeping a building dry. Kyle has brought our level of roofing up to a better level than it used to be. He’s involved in making the industry evolve. Now, he’s helping NRCA evolve.”
Thomas Roofing joined NRCA in 1981 when Thomas’ father was an active, engaged member in the state association and industry.
“What got me personally engaged was two things,” Thomas explains. “First, our company was one of the first members of the Roofing Alliance. That was something we did because of my dad’s leadership, and I wanted to continue that and excel professionally. The second was joining the first class of NRCA’s Future Executives Institute.”
Developed 20 years ago, Future Executives Institute is a three-year comprehensive program that focuses on leading and managing a roofing business.
“What I got out of FEI was associating with fellow members of the industry from a broad geographical range and an understanding of the problems roofing contractors face,” Thomas says. “I joined a class of peers who were dealing with the same issues in an informal setting, and I got to bounce ideas off of friends who weren’t competitors.”
After graduating from FEI in 2005, Thomas began serving on several NRCA committees and task forces, including the manual update for which he also served as chairman.
“I served many years on the Manual Update Committee, and I enjoyed doing it,” he says. “It can be a tough committee because you could be talking about some minute detail, and you end up in a 30-minute discussion about where a screw goes. But what I learned in those meetings was valuable. It helped me recognize people can have differences of opinion on one specific topic, but you learn how to sort through those differences to come to a decision you agree with as a committee. In an association like NRCA that is totally driven by committee work, it is an important lesson.”
After serving on committees for several years, Thomas was elected to NRCA’s board of directors and served from 2005-08 and 2011-14 before being elected to the Executive Committee, where he served as an officer from 2016-18 and 2019-22.
During 2019-20, Thomas served as vice president for the Roofing Alliance, and from 2019-20 he served as president. He also served as chairman to the Roofing Alliance’s construction school management committee for several years and was a mentor to students at Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., competing in the Roofing Alliance Construction Management Student Competition.
“I got in the trenches with them and spent a lot of time going to the university and being with the students,” Thomas says. “That was a fun, fulfilling and rewarding experience for me. The students are hard-working, intelligent and willing to put in the effort. I think the student competition is now a huge success story. I’m proud of that.”
During 2020-22, Thomas served as NRCA’s chairman of the board-elect before becoming chairman of the board.
“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve had two years as chairman-elect to prepare for my role,” Thomas says. “We paused everything and extended NRCA roles for two years. And that really worked out well for me because Mobile was struck by Hurricane Sally in September 2020. If NRCA had not extended the roles another year, that really would have been a challenge. It’s difficult to describe what life is like for a roofing contractor when you get a direct hurricane hit. It’s running around with your hair on fire for six months nonstop.”
While the pandemic slowed things down worldwide, Thomas says NRCA learned to become nimbler during the crisis.
“The association has been challenged tremendously the past couple of years from the pandemic to the supply chain shortage issues we’re facing now,” he says. “When the pandemic first began, the world was shutting down. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but NRCA continued to work and do its job to inform members.
“Associations don’t typically work fast, but during this timeframe things changed so rapidly with COVID-19 restrictions, NRCA learned how to respond more quickly. The staff worked tirelessly to keep up with regulations and were successful at making roofing work considered an essential business in most states, so NRCA was able to help keep the industry working.”
Thomas attributes part of this success to his predecessor, former Chairman of the Board Rod Petrick, president of Ridgeworth Roofing Co. Inc., Frankfort, Ill.
“Rod helped steer the association during the pandemic and the beginning of the supply chain debacle we’re in,” Thomas says. “He helped keep the association focused on getting the job done. Even with all that was going on, he kept the association doing the job of the association—taking care of members. He’s a ‘get it done’ kind of guy.”
During a time of unprecedented crises, Thomas’ main goal for the coming year is remaining prepared to help members when the unexpected happens.
“What we’ve all learned during the past couple of years is we don’t know what the next curveball is going to be,” he says. “It’s been such a reactive time dealing with crisis after crisis, I don’t want to be overly aggressive and add new endeavors into the mix.
“The world we’re living in right now is unlike anything any of us have ever seen. We all thought the supply chain shortage would be over by the first quarter of 2022, and we’re not anywhere near past it. NRCA can’t solve the issue overnight, but it can put out a lot of information to make it possible for contractors to know what is happening and relay that information to their customers.”
As Thomas begins his term, some of his readiness preparations include managing the transition of NRCA’s CEO from Reid Ribble to McKay Daniels (see “Please allow me to introduce myself”).
“Reid is a big figure in the industry. He’s a persuasive cheerleader for NRCA, and he retired in May,” Thomas says. “As NRCA transitions to McKay’s leadership, my focus is making sure the transition is smooth and ensuring the messaging is clear internally and externally.
“The One Voice initiative was Reid’s endeavor, so I want to make sure all those One Voice partners realize and recognize that just because Reid has retired doesn’t mean things will change. We are still one voice. We are still one industry striving in the same direction. McKay’s advantage is coming into the association with a fresh perspective, which will help everyone.”
Although supply chain issues currently are top of mind for roofing professionals, Thomas doesn’t want to lose focus on the industry’s most pressing issue.
“Looking at the big picture, the same big issue that has forever been in this industry is manpower,” Thomas says. “What worries me is because of the supply chain struggles, our industrywide manpower issue could get even worse. Most of us who have been in the industry a long time have never been in the situation we are in now—we have more manpower than material availability. We’re getting to the point we may need to start sending crews home. And when that happens, there’s a good chance those workers will find work elsewhere and not return to roofing.”
Thomas believes this is where NRCA ProCertification® can help.
“Another thing Rod did during his term that will have long-term effects is getting NRCA more efficient at developing ProCertifications,” Thomas says. “We currently have installer certifications available for architectural metal flashings and accessories, asphalt shingles, clay and concrete tiles, EPDM, metal panels and thermoplastics, as well as a certification for foremen.
“We now have a recruitment tool of offering a career path for potential incoming workers, which will help keep them in the roofing industry. I’d love to see an industry where a lot of our workers are trained and certified and proud of their certifications.”
A proud family man
When Thomas is not in the office or working on behalf of NRCA and the industry, he is enjoying time with his family.
“Kyle loves his family so much,” says Emily, Thomas’ wife. “We love going to the beach, boating and playing with the grandkids.”
Thomas met Emily in 1993 when he returned home after his brief stint at the ski lodge in Colorado. After enjoying his “wild-haired” excursion of moving somewhere without a plan, he was contemplating his next adventure of buying a mountain bike and hopping on a ship to Europe.
“And then I went to dinner with a group of people and met Emily,” Thomas says. “Had I not met Emily that month, I may have gone to Europe and who knows where I’d be now.”
Although the couple went to the same high school, Thomas was one year ahead of Emily, so they didn’t hang out in the same groups. But after everyone came home after college, the two formally met.
“Our little groups finally got together and went to dinner, and we’ve been together ever since,” Emily says.
Thomas and Emily dated for two years before getting married. In January, they celebrated their 27-year anniversary.
“We really have a lot of fun together,” Emily says. “He’s funny, and he thinks I’m funny. We like to explore and do fun things together. He’s a kind and patient man, a southern gentleman.”
The couple share four children, Bradley, Jared, Ben and Sara, 27, and two grandchildren, McLane, 8, and Ella Hayes, 2.“Kyle will stop whatever he is doing to spend quality time with his grandchildren,” Campbell says. “My children love to be with Kyle because when he is with them, they know and feel like they are the only thing that matters.”
Sara says Thomas’ natural inquisitiveness and innate positivity help her father maintain a youthful energy.
“He’s still learning new things and trying new things,” Sara says. “He still finds the time to go out and kick a soccer ball around with us, hike the Grand Canyon and do some crazy stuff. He’s always the first one to ride a zipline, go on the jet skis or ride rollercoasters with the kids.
“He knows things aren’t always easy, but if you have a positive outlook, you can make life enjoyable and make the most of it. He tries to do that for the people around him, his family, at the office and at NRCA.”
“He’s the best role model I could ask for,” Jared adds.
“I have enjoyed every second of growing up with my dad.”
The Thomas family has a beach house off the Gulf of Mexico, where Thomas often fishes. But don’t expect to ever see him sitting still.
“If the fish aren’t biting, I’m getting the kayak out and paddling around or going on the paddleboard,” Thomas says. “I can never sit for hours and watch TV. If I’m not at the beach, I’m working around the house or on a project in the yard. I’m going to be moving some way, somehow, somewhere.”
“I call him my busybody because he’s always into everything,” Emily says. “He loves a challenge. Kyle is the type of person that anything he has set his mind to, he’s accomplished. When he started volunteering with NRCA, one of his goals was to see whether he could make it far enough to become chairman of the board. It was always a goal for him. It’s exciting it’s now happening. Whatever he challenges himself to do, he will not give up until he gets his result. That’ll be a blessing for NRCA.”
Now serving you
As the roofing industry continues to face supply chain disruptions, manpower shortages and manages a transition to a new NRCA CEO, those who have worked beside Thomas believe he’s the right leader at the right time.
“I know Kyle definitely will be a blessing for NRCA in his new role as chairman of the board,” Manus says. “He is usually the first to arrive at the office and the last one to leave. I know he will continue to give 110% during the next year because that’s what he does at Thomas Roofing. He truly is a blessing to have as a boss and friend.”
During his term as chairman of the board, Thomas looks forward to hearing from and helping industry professionals.
“I want to know what I can do to help you succeed,” Thomas says. “It’s not about my agenda. It’s about what you need and how I can help you. If there’s something we or I can be doing from an NRCA perspective to help, let me know. I want to know what your problems are and then let’s see whether we can help you solve them. I’m here to do whatever the association and industry need me to do.”
CHRYSTINE ELLE HANUS is Professional Roofing’s associate editor and an NRCA director of communications.