Soon after Dennis Dudek started working at Tecta America Southeast LLC, Sanford, Fla., he caught the attention of Michael Winant, the company’s operating unit president, when Winant was visiting a job site in 2011.
“I dropped by a project unannounced,” Winant says. “At the time, Dennis was not the project leader, but I quickly could tell he was leading the job. I realized he set up the job, and I was impressed. All the safety equipment was being used properly, and all the work was being installed in an organized, efficient manner. I knew he had all the right stuff and would be a future leader in our company.”
Now a production superintendent at Tecta America Southeast, Jacksonville, Fla., Dudek recently won the Best of the Best Award during NRCA’s 135th Annual Convention and the 2022 International Roofing Expo® in New Orleans. The Roofing Alliance’s MVP Task Force presented Dudek with the award, which is an extension of the Roofing Alliance’s Most Valuable Player Awards. The MVP Awards program celebrates workers who are exemplary employees within their companies and recognizes them for their outstanding performance outside the workplace. OMG® Roofing Products Inc., Agawam, Mass., and Professional Roofing co-sponsor the honor.
“The accolades from Dennis’ co-workers were proof he is an invaluable member of the Tecta America Southeast team, but what set him apart was his off-the-roof contributions,” says Reed Gooding, president of GSM Roofing, Ephrata, Pa., and MVP Task Force chairman. “Dennis served in the U.S. military and has continued his service to others by giving his time to Give Kids the World and helping to reroof a fellow veteran’s house. Dennis is a shining example of working hard and giving back—a true best of the best in the roofing industry.”
An early leader
Dudek was born in Muncy, Pa., but when he was 2 years old, his family moved to Panama City, Fla., because his father joined the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base.
When Dudek was 5 years old, his parents divorced and he moved with his mother back to Pennsylvania. He says he was thrust into a leadership position at an early age.
“My mom wasn’t around much, so I took care of my little brother and little sister,” Dudek says. “I didn’t want my siblings to be neglected or not have food. I would go to wrestling practice, go home, get my brother and take him to wrestling practice, get home and cook dinner for the three of us. Making sure my siblings were taken care of was the beginning of my leadership role.”
Dudek loved the outdoors and spent much of his free time fishing.
“I loved getting on my bicycle and riding down to the creek by myself,” he says. “I would take a metal pot and overturn rocks and handpick crayfish. At 12 years old, I was on the creek bank, cooking mini lobsters by myself and having the best time of my life.”
When he started high school, Dudek moved back to Panama City to live with his father.
“When I was in high school, the people there were classified as headbangers, smokers—all the stuff I didn’t care about,” he says. “You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with, and at that time, it was me, myself and I.”
Eight days after graduating from high school in 1995, Dudek joined the U.S. Army.
Honing leadership skills
Entering the military provided Dudek with direction.
“I didn’t have much parental guidance,” he says. “I wanted to make sure I was turning into a real man, and the military provided that for me.”
Dudek credits the Army with honing his team-building and leadership skills.
“When I was in Advanced Individual Training school, I was a platoon guide, so I’ve always been overseeing large groups of people and ensuring we met our common end goal,” he says.
Dudek flourished in the Army, and his skills could have led to a long-term career in the military.
“When you’re in the military, you qualify with your weapon,” he says. “They give you 40 live rounds with 20 in each clip. You do 20 laying on your stomach and 20 standing in the foxhole, and the range is 300 yards. Out of 560 troops, I was the only one who shot a perfect 40 out of 40.”
One day, a recruiter approached Dudek to offer an invitation to sniper school. After confirming Dudek had a girlfriend and close family members, the recruiter cautioned Dudek that if he decided to go to sniper school and graduate, he would be marrying the military.
“Coming from a broken home, I always told myself I would be better with the people in my life,” he says. “I wanted a white picket fence, a two-story home and a big family. So I declined the invitation.”
Dudek served a four-year term in the Army and a two-year inactive term, and in 1999, he decided to try construction. In 2000, he got the opportunity to work on his first roofing project when a friend who owned a roofing company offered him a job.
“That night, I went home and dreamed all night about the pattern of shingles,” he says. “In the morning, it felt like I had worked all night in my dream. I was dead tired but thought it’s how a real man is supposed to feel. I went back to work on the project the next day and got a $2 per hour raise. I said to myself: ‘I’m going to be a roofer.’”
A new career path
Dudek started out working for smaller “mom-and-pop” roofing companies and subcontracting. Although he knew he liked the roofing industry, his early experiences gave him pause.
“When I was subcontracting and working with small companies, they weren’t concerned about safety,” he says. “There were workers drinking beer at lunch and coming in with hangovers, and I was working around all these guys. It was a dangerous environment. I thought I needed to rethink my profession.”
In 2011, Dudek was in the Orlando, Fla., area and met Mike Mulroney, service department manager for Tecta America Southeast. After seeing Dudek struggle with the subcontracting environment, Mulroney asked Dudek to interview with a service manager. On April 1, 2011, Dudek started with the company.
At the time, Dudek had 10 years of experience in the roofing industry and was hired as a helper to work with a lead technician in the service department. After working at the company five months, he became a lead technician and had his own truck.
“Dennis has a positive attitude and always is hustling,” Mulroney says. “He shows up every day ready to go. When Dennis was in the field, any new employee started with Dennis.” Dudek worked in the Sanford branch for five years as lead foreman, participating in leadership training during that time. In 2016, Dudek was promoted to a superintendent position in the service department of the Jacksonville branch. For four months, he traveled from Orlando to Jacksonville every day—a two-hour drive one way—before leasing a home in Jacksonville.
An opportunity arose during a government contract project.
“The production superintendent was let go in the middle of the project,” Dudek says. “My general manager asked me to help until they found a replacement. The project lasted another year, and I saw it as an opportunity to work in a different department. I requested to stay permanently, and in 2020, I became the production superintendent in Jacksonville.”
Dudek thrived in the new position as he took over the project.
“We were behind schedule, and the government was talking about collateral damages because we were two months behind,” Dudek says. “In the middle of the project, we were shut down because there was a fire at a facility nearby. All the men had to be certified in torch application and fire watch. Then, COVID-19 hit, and we had to implement those protocols—it was just one thing after another when we already were behind.
“I took it as a personal challenge,” he continues. “I like the bigger team atmosphere and the million-dollar on-the-line projects when there is more accountability. You’re running a 10-man team with multiple pieces of machinery at a government facility where expectations and required outcomes are high. It fit with my military background and was a marriage I loved.”
Dudek is proud the project came in on time.
“It was a nasty, dirty tear-off, and there was no room for issues because if we were to hold anything up, we were holding up operations,” he says. “Just to see that project in shambles and bring it back to a home run was amazing.”
Dudek’s Army background also was valuable when it came to leading crews.
“My military background translates to roofing when it comes to team relations and camaraderie,” he says.
“In the military, you never want to see your teammates get hurt or injured; you want everyone to go and come home as a unit.”
Dudek credits the military with making him team-oriented.
“We’re all in this together,” he says. “The military gave me the confidence to find a way around an obstacle and bring my team with me. My team may not be able to make it over that wall, so I need to have a contingency plan to make sure the whole team makes it over.
“I always tell my guys: ‘I’ll be here for you every step of the way. I’ve got your back as much as you have my back,’” he continues. “It makes a difference when everyone is on the same page.”
James Iselin, a roofing worker on Dudek’s team, says Dudek always is looking out for his teammates.
“He is a hands-on leader,” Iselin says. “He’s goal-oriented and always has the best interest of his teammates in mind. He listens, answers questions, takes advice and is a willing participant in all tasks.”
Kyle Monday, sales and estimating in the production department for Tecta America Southeast, says Dudek’s management style is personal.
“He wants to get to know you, shake your hand and look you in the eye,” Monday says. “He wants you to prove yourself but is extremely fair. If you’re having a bad day, you’re not a bad person. He just wants to communicate and fix the issue.”
Winant says Dudek leads by example.
“He’s a great team builder and communicator,” Winant says. “If someone doesn’t understand a process, Dennis will take the time to explain it and show him how to do it.
“He’s open and understanding,” he continues. “He truly cares about all his teammates—not just work life but also personal life. They respect him because they trust him and he’s passionate about what he does.”
Dudek says his main satisfaction is leading a safe and happy team.
“We can put 100 proposals out and make hundreds of millions of dollars for the company, but if you lose one man, all that goes away,” he says. “So when my guys are happy during a nasty tear-off and they’re singing and getting along—that is my reward for the day. Knowing everyone gets to go home to their families trumps everything.”
Dudek believes team building is his No. 1 strength.
“I have an open-door policy,” he says. “My life’s mission is to help people. If everybody thought like a team player, this world will be a better place. I pride myself on team building and camaraderie—no man left behind.”
Dudek also prides himself on the relationships he builds with customers.
“You have to win confidence,” he says. “If they’re not confident in you, they will look for someone else. I want them to be 100% confident what I say is the truth, and if there are any issues, they can always call me.
“I believe face-to-face goes a long way rather than a phone call or email,” he continues. “It’s a relationship—the more you put in, the more you get out. You’re building a relationship for the long term; it takes effort but is rewarding.”
Winant says Dudek is professional and well-respected by customers.
“They trust him,” he says. “He stands behind what he says and delivers. We’re all in it to make a profit, but he ensures we deliver a quality product.”
A father’s love
Another source of pride for Dudek is his family. Dudek and his wife, Anna, married in May 2017.
Dudek’s wish for a big family instantly came true as Anna had six children from a previous marriage—Desiree, Mark, Angel, Alex, Benji and Nina. The couple also have four children together—daughter Emma, twins Noah and Lily, and daughter Bella Rose. The children range in age from 1 year old to 26 years old, and Anna homeschools five of the younger children.
“We have a humungous family,” Dudek says. “When I walk through the door, all my kids are chomping at the bit. My personal time is spent with my children. I want to make sure, no matter what, I’m always there for my kids.”
The family lives on 10.5 acres in southeast Georgia and enjoys being outdoors.
“We have our own fishing pond and four-wheelers,” Dudek says. “I’m big on the outdoors life. I like walking down my driveway and following deer tracks with my kids.”
But his idyllic life is not without hardship. Tragedy struck the Dudek family in July 2021. Sons Mark (25), Angel (23) and Alex (21) were in Tampa, Fla., and Angel was having problems with his girlfriend. When the three brothers went to see her, she and a man she was dating ambushed them. All three were shot, and Mark passed away at the scene. Angel and Alex survived, but Angel was shot in his leg and Alex was shot in his abdomen.
“When we got to the hospital, they had to remove part of Alex’s liver, kidneys and lung,” Dudek says. “They told us there was a 1% chance he would live. He was on a ventilator for two weeks, and we were told to say our final goodbyes.
“2021 was a trying year for me,” he continues. “But I told myself, no matter what, my obligation is to make sure I take care of my children. So I took two weeks off to help the family and then returned to work. I have a wall I can build to separate my personal life from my job, and I built that wall every day on the way to work.”
Dudek says he continues to do what he does best, which is provide for his family and make an honest living.
“Markie wouldn’t have wanted me to quit or have it inhibit what I’m doing for the rest of the family, so I pray every day to him,” he continues. “I’m still here and plugging away at everything I know is critical for my career and my family.”
Dudek says he is blessed to have his wife, who he says is his rock.
“Without her in my life, I wouldn’t be who I am,” Dudek says. “I see how strong she is. Beside every married man is a stronger woman.”
Dudek’s hardships and blessings inspire him to help others.
“If I can do something related to my trade to help someone, I’ll do it for a barbecue,” he says. “The reward is walking away and seeing the relief of the people I’ve helped.
“I’m concerned about everyone around me because if I’m going to be a man of Jesus, I want to live and act like he did,” he continues. “He was a servant to every person. My life goal is when I see somebody in need to ask them if they need help.”
Dudek participated in this year’s Community Service Day in New Orleans during the 2022 IRE and volunteers for Give Kids the World, a nonprofit program that provides a resort in central Florida where children with critical illnesses and their families are treated to weeklong, cost-free vacations.
Dudek learned more about the nonprofit when performing service work at the resort and immediately decided to volunteer. He and his wife have trimmed bushes, repaired roofs and hung Christmas lights for the families.
“I just think about what they deal with in their lives, and if I can get one smile out of a kid or parent, it means the world to me,” he says.
The sky’s the limit
Dudek explains why he puts in extra effort for other people.
“I go the extra mile because nobody ever did for me,” he says. “I haven’t had people in my life go out of their way for me. If I needed help, I was doing it on my own, and I felt the sting of that when I was younger.
“I wanted to be the kind of guy who helps people,” he continues. “With everyone pitching in, nobody suffers. People need help in life. They need guidance, the pat on the back, the door held open for them. I’m always going to be that person.”
In a testimonial for Dudek’s MVP Award nomination, Robin Woods, safety coordinator for Tecta America Southeast, said she admires Dudek’s ability to inspire others during tough times.
“This has been an incredibly hard year for Dennis; he has experienced family tragedy beyond measure,” Woods says. “When most people would unwittingly let that stress spill over into their work, Dennis continues to inspire those around him. He is, without a doubt, one of the kindest and most hardworking people I have ever met.”
Winant believes Dudek’s future in the industry and Tecta America Southeast is bright.
“Dennis is always willing to take on new challenges and trying to grow and improve his skills,” he says. “He has the drive and ability to move up into more management positions and beyond as other opportunities present themselves. He’s the face of Tecta and the roofing industry. The sky’s the limit.”
Dudek says it was a bit odd to win the Best of the Best Award.
“I didn’t want to be awarded for doing the right thing,” Dudek says. “I’m already awarded and honored by just being here and being able to give back to people who need help and guidance.
“I’ll keep doing what I’m doing,” he continues. “Now that I’ve been honored by this award and all eyes are on me, I need to up my game. A true MVP tries to shatter his record from the year before, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
KRISTA BERNS is an NRCA director of communications.