When you talk to Reid Ribble, it's easy to figure out what is most important to him—family. He eats lunch with his wife, DeaNa, almost every day. He beams with pride as he talks about his sons, daughters-in-law and grandson. His office is adorned with pictures of family members—weddings, children and grandchildren—fitting because Ribble's start in the roofing industry began with his father.
"My father always wanted one of us to go into the business, but all my brothers were pursuing careers outside the roofing industry," Ribble says. "So I came up through the ranks. I finished my first year of college, and my dad applied fair but subtle pressure to work for him."
So Ribble joined The Ribble Group, Kaukauna, Wis., full-time in 1975, the year he married DeaNa. A few years later, Ribble's brother Rick joined the company full-time and was his partner for about 20 years. Ribble became company president when his father retired in 1980. Rick retired in 1999.
When Ribble joined his father's company as a salesman, his job was to develop and build a commercial roofing division. By the early 1980s, 80 percent of the company's work was commercial roofing. That percentage increased to 90 percent in the mid-1980s when the company purchased the assets of a residential roofing company, Luebke Roofing, Appleton, Wis., in 1988 to have a better balance between residential and commercial roofing work.
The company has changed quite a bit since its humble beginning (Ribble remembers the business operating out of his parents' home and counting inventory by hand every month). The Ribble Group now has 35 employees, as well as a gutter protection company and branch office in Rochester, Minn. New construction accounts for about 10 percent of its annual revenue, with reroofing making up the other 90 percent. Most of the company's work is negotiated, so it does not regularly competitively bid for projects.
Ribble's emphasis on family transfers to his company. Many of his employees have been a part of the company for more than 10 years and have formed a tightly knit group.
"We have a lot of fun," says Jay Safford, residential roofing salesman. "It's light; we're always laughing; we play pranks on each other.
"That's how we are as a whole," he continues. "We're serious when we have to be, but we joke around and laugh a lot. It's the reason we enjoying working here so much."
Another factor contributing to the intimacy of the office is that some employees have known Ribble for more than 30 years.
"I met Reid in 1974," says Jon Goodman, general manager. "We were in college, and he always needed a ride from me."
That's not the only longtime joke running between Ribble and Goodman.
"Reid and I have some jokes we share about each other," Goodman says. "The joke I like to share about him is that he's pompous and arrogant. Once, when I was meeting a customer, Reid showed up in a sporty car with a leather jacket and sunglasses. When he left, the customer asked 'Who was that pompous and arrogant guy?' He may come across that way sometimes, but he's not."
"Pompous" and "arrogant" are not in the vocabulary of Ribble's employees when they describe him.
"He's a good boss and fair," says Bill Brown, repair service manager, who has known Ribble for 32 years. "He's readily available. His door always is open. He can communicate with everybody—from the oldest guy to the youngest guy."
Betsy Goodman, office manager and wife of Jon Goodman, says Ribble goes out of his way to accommodate his employees.
"With Jon and me working here together when our children were young, Reid was flexible," she says. "He let us rearrange our schedules and cover for each other when it came to our kids. He's easy to work for that way. He really values family."
Gregory Harrison, salesperson, experienced the same accommodating attitude after he had been working for Ribble for a couple months and Harrison's wife was diagnosed with cancer.
"I was fairly new to the company, and I got all the time off I needed," Harrison says. "Any help I needed in any way—money, food on the table, taking care of the kids—whatever I needed was offered. And that's why 14 years later I'm still here."
Ribble's employees also describe him as knowledgeable and ethical.
"Whenever there's a project that poses a question, Reid has the answer," Harrison says. "He knows how roof systems should be installed and the critical components."
And being ethical is one of the reasons the business has been so successful.
"The customer always is first," Safford says. "Reid makes an effort to take care of customers and make sure they're happy even if that means taking a hit on a sale or taking money off just so a customer walks away smiling.
"I appreciate the ethics of the company," he continues. "It makes it easy to be truthful. When I meet a customer, I tell him we follow all building codes and regulations. Our prices might be higher, but that's the price you pay for good work."
On the road
Because of Ribble's past involvement with NRCA committees and his senior vice presidency, it is not new for him to be out of the office. Therefore, his employees do not expect significant changes this year with regard to his traveling. Ribble's employees also say his management style is "hands-off," which most likely will be an advantage when employees will have even more freedom and responsibility.
"I think his going is the best thing that could happen," Goodman says. "It forces us to work without him and improve our reporting mechanism. We have an intimate office, and intimacy has familiarity. We know what everyone is doing, and sometimes, that makes us a little lazy. I create chains of accountability, helping him know what's going on and get a feel for what's happening here."
Troy Ribble, Ribble's nephew and vice president of the company, agrees.
"He traveled a lot last year, so it may not affect the business much," he says. "I think he's done a good job to get the place to run efficiently even when he's gone. I think his traveling this year will force the rest of the company to run even more efficiently."
Ribble notes that he believes his employees are ready for his absence.
"The balancing act always is difficult," he says, "but people here are prepared to have me gone, and that helps. They seem to be proud of the fact that someone from this company is NRCA president."
But Ribble critiques his "hands-off" management style.
"I'm fond of hiring people and telling them what the expectation is and releasing them to do that job," he says. "That's a good and bad approach. The good thing is they feel empowered to do what it takes to satisfy customers and they won't get second-guessed; the downside is they often don't get feedback. I'm not likely to read someone the riot act or pat them on the back, and I need to do more of the latter, encouraging people and holding people accountable for their performances. I recognize that style as having inherent weaknesses, so that's why I've got someone like Jon Goodman to offset my weaknesses."
Ribble's management style will be tested as he embarks on his term as president of an association he has valued for a long time.
"When I started working full time with my dad, he encouraged me to divide my time in different places, and one was donating time to the industry," he says. "He encouraged me to be involved in the industry at some level."
Another influence was the prodding of Don McNamara, former president of F.J.A. Christiansen Roofing Co. Inc., Milwaukee, and former NRCA president. McNamara always has been a source of encouragement for Ribble.
"Don called me one day and invited me to his place for lunch and said, 'Reid, I want you to get involved with NRCA, and someday, I want you to be president of the association,'" Ribble recalls. "That was in 1984. It has been an interesting journey from there."
Ribble contacted NRCA and went to its Industry Leadership Conference. There, he met other roofing professionals, including former NRCA President John Gooding, chairman of the board of Gooding, Simpson & Mackes, Ephrata, Pa., who also was attending for the first time.
"I volunteered to serve on committees, was asked to serve on the board of directors and went from there," he says. "It's been about 20 years." Now, ready to head into his presidency, Ribble is hoping for a smooth term.
"John Gooding told me, 'You know, Reid, the wind is going to be at your back,'" Ribble says. "NRCA is in a perfect position right now to not only leverage its influence, but to grow. We have taken back the association financially. The single biggest contributor to NRCA's income is its contractor members, and that communicates something to the manufacturing community, insurance industry and government—all of it positive."
Ribble praises the work of 2004-05 President Dane Bradford, president of Bradford Roof Management, Billings, Mont., who tackled controversial issues such as dues restructuring and the sale of NRCA's trade show.
"Dane grabbed the bull by the horns when it came to restructuring the financial situation at NRCA," Ribble says. "Dane's biggest contribution was his ability to communicate with members. He is a remarkable guy in that he is so charismatic."
Ribble sees Bradford as a good act to follow and plans to build on the former president's actions.
"Dane personally went to most of the affiliate groups," Ribble recalls. "The platform is in place, and I am more in the position of maintaining what has been done and trying to launch off it. I think my job is to not botch it up because things are going in the right direction. There may be some new big challenge, but for the most part, I foresee a relatively easy year."
Ribble hopes a year without huge hurdles will give him a chance to work on membership and affiliate relations, two issues on his agenda.
"A contractor gets the most out of his NRCA membership when he gets involved, and the fascinating thing is it's not hard to be involved," he says. "I think one of the things I would like to do is participate in affiliate meetings to take the mystery out of participating in NRCA activities. I would share my experiences and the things I have gained through NRCA. For example, we were about a $600,000 per year roofing company in 1979, and in 2004, we did more than $3 million. That growth directly is connected to my NRCA involvement.
"Also, we need to embrace what NRCA's affiliates are doing, and the affiliates need to embrace what we're doing. But it's complicated because there's always this sense of competition," Ribble continues. "I want to spend more time with the affiliates in meaningful dialogue. If there is a dispute between associations, we can deal with it when it happens instead of allowing things to fester and relationships to break down."
Ribble hopes this can be helped by his experience and people viewing him as someone who truly has good intentions for the organization and industry.
"I want people to see me as someone who is fair and taking a well-reasoned approach to the presidency," he continues. "I want people to know I want to know their side. People can disagree in an agreeable fashion—it lets both parties leave a meeting with respect for each other."
Ribble's employees have a high regard for his involvement in NRCA.
"Because Reid is exposed to the broader range of the roofing industry, it rubs off on the rest of us," Goodman says. "He brings in this scope of experience and absorbs best practices and the desire to aspire to what other people are doing. It motivates us to really examine what we do. It's good to see we do some things better than other people, as well. We can hold ourselves up to a standard to which other companies may not have the opportunity to compare themselves."
In addition to his agenda items, Ribble views issues such as affordable insurance and the work force as being at the forefront of industry problems.
"I think everybody can find insurance if they need it, but whether they can find it at a price they can afford is a different story," Ribble says. "And the roofing contractors getting squeezed are the smaller guys because nobody wants to insure them. They don't have enough payroll or revenue and are just getting creamed on price. The temptation for those guys to do roofing work, particularly residential, without coverage is now getting more than they can bear. We are seeing more contractors going without any type of liability insurance at all.
"Availability of documented workers also is not good," he continues. "We have to look closely at immigration regulations and laws, and though we must hire only documented workers, we also must use our influence in Washington, D.C., to facilitate effective immigration reform. I am concerned work force issues are going to cripple the roofing industry during the next decade."
However, Ribble notes there also have been noticeable improvements in the roofing industry.
"The industry is much more professional than it was when I started in 1975," Ribble says. "The industry also is safer now than it ever has been. We are seeing a greater voluntary emphasis for contractors to be safe, as well as an attitude shift from the 1980s when everyone just hated the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). That's partly because OSHA is more cooperative in its approach, and contractors are seeing the benefits of being safe."
But one of the main challenges that is key to all issues surrounding the roofing industry is communication.
"It's always a challenge to maintain profitability in a market or economy that always is trying to commoditize us," Ribble says. "My challenge is to do a better job of communicating to our customers that the roofing industry is not a commodity and that the roof systems on their buildings and houses require some thought and are an investment."
A family affair
Although Ribble takes great pride in his accomplishments as a roofing contractor and takes his NRCA responsibilities seriously, nothing takes priority over his family.
Ribble, the youngest of eight, with five brothers and two sisters, met DeaNa at church at the ripe age of 12.
"He threatened to marry me," she says. "We were having a snowball fight and I got him down the back of the neck, and he turned around and said, 'I'm going to get you DeaNa; someday, I'm going to marry you!'"
Ribble made good on that threat. Both attended the same church and became a couple at 15. But the first official date didn't occur until they were 16.
"He didn't want to have our first date until he could drive," DeaNa explains.
Ribble asked DeaNa to marry him when they were 17 years old. They married when they both were 19.
Following high school, Ribble attended Grand Rapids School of Bible and Music in Grand Rapids, Mich., for a year with the intention of going into ministry work. But his father's desire for Ribble to join the family company took precedence. So Ribble switched his career path and settled into married life.
Ribble's first son, Clint, was born when Ribble was 21, and Ribble calls it one of the major turning points in his life.
"When you pick up that first child, the weight of the world and the responsibility of raising that child consume you," he says. "His birth was one of those moments where I wanted to get my wife out of work and at home, raising our family."
Two years later marked the birth of Ribble's second son, Jared, who remembers how his father often included him and his brother in activities.
"He used to coach volleyball," Jared, now 26, says. "He would let me hang out in the gym when I was little, and it continued all the way through high school when I became his assistant coach. When he was working, he would allow my brother and me to be involved. And when I came home from college on school breaks, he would let me ride along with him to see clients." However, he never pressured his sons to join the roofing business.
"I remember he used to always tell us he would be happy if we were doing what we wanted to do rather than following in his footsteps," Clint, now 28, says. "That's such a positive memory. He never tried to live vicariously through us. He just supported us. Our parents never missed a single event of mine or my brother's."
Clint attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and studied music synthesis and now is an interactive media developer. Jared attended Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., and studied drum set performance. He now is a professional drummer touring with Denver & The Mile High Orchestra, a big-band music performance group.
It is not a coincidence that Ribble's sons had contact with music growing up; Ribble always has had a love for music.
"I've been involved in music in one way or another for my entire adult life and have had all kinds of experiences in the music world," he says.
One significant musical experience was starting a record label with DeaNa and Jared four years ago. The recording company, Reel Loud Records, represents contemporary Christian music. Reel Loud Records is based in Nashville where Ribble's sons and their families live.
"We produced five nationally distributed projects and have had our artists on television and at the Olympics in Athens. They've played all over the world," Ribble says. "The group Jared plays for has a top 10 single in Europe right now. We've had moderate success on radio in the United States with two songs in the top 40."
Ribble always has been active, as evidenced by his participation in the roofing industry and music industry. In the past, he also coached varsity volleyball at his alma mater, Appleton East High School, for 25 years. Ribble coached boys volleyball from 1975-81 and girls volleyball from 1982-2000, leading his teams to eight conference titles, five trips to the state tournament and one state championship win.
DeaNa believes Ribble's involvement coaching volleyball is one of his greatest accomplishments.
"I wish he could have continued for his sake and for their sake," she says. "Not because he had the best win-loss record, which he did, but because of the influence he had on these kids that lasted a lifetime. We have maintained friendships with these girls, and they still call him and tell him what's going on in their lives."
Ribble also reads at least one book a week and usually is reading three or four books at a time. He describes himself as an avid water-skier and table tennis player and once was ranked second in the state of Wisconsin for table tennis. In addition, he and DeaNa travel whenever they can.
"There are a lot of exotic places we would love to live, but we wouldn't live there because our family doesn't live there," he says. "Our family is in Tennessee right now, so if I could live anywhere in the world, it would be Tennessee. I have another grandchild on the way, and you couldn't get me to live far from them."
In fact, Ribble calls his family his one true passion. He enjoys that the family is growing and now consists of Clint's wife, Rachel, and their son, Joseff, as well as Jared's wife, Amber.
"The great thing about being passionate about family is that through the natural seasons of life, the family gets bigger; therefore, the sphere of things I'm passionate about gets bigger," he says.
It is obvious Ribble and DeaNa are passionate about their family and each other.
"We have so much fun together," DeaNa says. "We learned way too late that life is just too short, and I learned from Reid to focus on the majors and let the minors go. I can't think of anyone else I want to be with."
Jared and Clint have great admiration for their parents' relationship.
"It's definitely a partnership," Clint says. "They work together well. They are so different, and figuring out how to work with the differences has helped them learn how they can benefit from each other. It's been an example for me and my wife."
The relationships with his family are what Ribble sees as defining factors of success.
"I would much rather be measured against a standard that is relational than professional," he continues. "I'd rather have people look at my relationship with DeaNa and say for a couple who got married at 19 and are still together 30 years later, that's successful. Or to look at my two boys and say he's raised two polite, professional, articulate young men. These are the reasons there isn't a single aspect of my life that I don't like, so I am in a fortunate place."
A tight network
As with his family and company, Ribble has formed a tight-knit unit with fellow NRCA members.
"NRCA has allowed me to pick up a telephone and call others for advice," Ribble says. "It's given me a base of other professionals whom I truly can call my friends. My company is a much better roofing company now than it was in the 1980s. Just about everything I know about roofing I learned from NRCA. There's hardly any aspect of my business that NRCA hasn't touched in some way."
Ribble wants to make sure other roofing professionals have the same kind of experience.
"I will work as hard as possible to represent their roofing businesses the best way I can through my work at NRCA," Ribble says. "And I'm going to keep their interests at the front of my mind."
Krista Reisdorf is associate editor of Professional Roofing magazine.
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Almost anything that is hard to do; someone telling me I can't do something.
What turns you off?
What is your favorite curse word?
I rarely use curse words.
What sound or noise do you love?
The sound of my son's voice saying, "I love you, Dad."
What sound or noise do you hate?
My alarm clock.
What professions other than your own would you like to attempt?
Someday, I would like to go into youth and family counseling.
What profession would you not like to do?
Lawyer, for obvious reasons.
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
My child, welcome home!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Living my life in a way that pleases God and earns the respect of my family.
What is your favorite quality in a woman?
Beautiful green eyes and a smiling face.
What is your greatest fear?
Which living person do you most admire?
I admire the children I have seen around the world who live in poverty but still have the biggest smiles I have ever seen. I admire the men and women who work on roofs every day for a living. I admire the courage of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for the freedom of people they don't even know.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would like to be able to sing really well.
Mark Gaulin, president of MAGCO Inc., Jessup, Md., a Tecta America company, became involved with NRCA in 1982.
"I had only been in the roofing industry for a few years and was in dire need of information and knowledge," he says. "I went to my first NRCA convention in San Antonio and have not missed a convention since."
Gaulin went on to be heavily involved with NRCA as a director from 1993-96, 1997-98 and 2000-03, as well as vice president from 2003-05. He has been chairman of the Architectural Sheet Metal Committee, Internet/Electronic Communications Committee and NRCA Retirement Committee. Gaulin also has been involved with the Investment Advisory Committee, Metal Roofing Committee and Public Relations Committee.
As Gaulin now takes on the role of senior vice president of NRCA, he looks forward to getting the opportunity to address industry issues he views as important.
"I think in the short term, material shortages and costs are a major issue," Gaulin says. "For the long term, I believe environmental demands will have the most effect with roofs requiring reflectivity, volatile organic compound exclusions, fume and smoke restrictions, storm-water management capabilities and water-quality demands."
Gaulin has been involved in important NRCA developments, making contributions to committees, offering input with the Executive Committee, and being involved in the difficult decisions about the sale of the association's convention and dues adjustment.
"The sale of the trade show and subsequent dues restructuring was a difficult and heavily deliberated issue," Gaulin says. "These were major changes we were requesting for the association and would require structural change for NRCA. However, these changes will allow the association to better focus its resources, issues and member services. Most members have responded positively to the change and look forward to a stronger, more independent NRCA."
He believes his involvement in NRCA has been valuable.
"It has made me a better and more confident contractor and has allowed me to grow professionally and personally," Gaulin says. "I would like to take my knowledge of business and roofing and help guide the association to provide a great industry service."
A self-declared "wise ass," Gaulin jokes he will support Ribble's presidency by "carrying his bags on all our travels." But becoming more serious, he says he and Ribble share views with regard to many issues.
"We believe we need to deliver value to the membership and have a responsibility to enhance the product and experience of membership," he says. "In short, I will provide any backup required.
"But I really wouldn't carry his bags," he adds.
Ribble knows Gaulin will have much to offer.
"I look forward to working with Mark, who is so funny and smart and has a good handle on finance," Ribble says. "It's going to be a really good year working with him."
Gaulin's goals for the coming term resemble Ribble's and include keeping the association strong financially and increasing the value added to its membership. Gaulin is grateful to be in a position where he can help make these things happen.
"Obviously, it is an honor to have your industry peers support you and have confidence in your abilities," he says. "It is an honor to have them trust you."