The leak whisperer

Luis Villalta wins the prestigious Best of the Best Award

Luis Villalta is a roofing rock star. His exceptional skills in his role as roof technician at Antis Roofing & Waterproofing Inc., Irvine, Calif., have earned him the nickname “the leak whisperer” among those who work with him.

“He takes pride in his work and is a sought-after technician, especially when it comes to leak repairs,” says Susan DeGrassi, president and COO of Antis Roofing & Waterproofing. “He just knows what to do.”

Antis Roofing & Waterproofing Founder and Chief People Awakener Charles Antis says Villalta joined the company soon after its founding, and it quickly became clear he had a special talent for finding and repairing roof leaks.

“He really knew how to do that one thing—to find roof leaks when no one else could find them,” Charles Antis says. “He took the time to imagine the other places the water could go. He has a swagger when he walks because he knows he will find the leak.”

His talent in the field is one of the reasons Villalta won the Best of the Best Award during NRCA’s 137th Annual Convention and the 2024 International Roofing Expo® in Las Vegas. The Roofing Alliance’s MVP Task Force presented Villalta with the award, which is an extension of the Roofing Alliance’s Most Valuable Player Awards. The MVP Awards program celebrates workers who are outstanding employees within their companies and recognizes them for their excellent performance outside the workplace. OMG® Roofing Products Inc., Agawam, Mass., and Professional Roofing co-sponsor the honor.

Villalta (center) received the Best of the Best Award at NRCA’s Industry Awards and Celebration.

“Luis is obviously a critical part of the Antis Roofing & Waterproofing team,” says Reed Gooding, president of GSM Roofing, Ephrata, Pa., and MVP Task Force chairman. “But he also is a hero in his community, giving his time and talents to take care of others. Luis’ commitment to volunteerism and community service made him an ideal candidate for this year’s Best of the Best Award.”

A fresh start

Antis Roofing & Waterproofing’s Lobo Awards honor extraordinary efforts spent building and repairing roofs, staying safe and watching each other’s backs. Villalta has been awarded a Lobo Award five times.

Villalta was born in El Salvador and grew up with six sisters and one brother. As a child, he liked to go to school and play soccer.

“At 10 years old, soccer was my hobby,” Villalta says. “I played in school and after school.”

He also worked in vegetable, bean and rice fields from the age of 8. After graduating from high school, unrest in El Salvador caused by the Salvadoran Civil War led him to leave his country and move to the U.S. when he was 18.

“At the time, my country was at war, and it was a bad situation,” he says. “A lot of people came to the U.S. because of it. My sister came to the U.S. before me, and I stayed with her for a while.”

In the U.S., Villalta got a job at Sunny Sally, a company that cut and bagged vegetables to send to restaurants. At the time, Villalta’s brother-in-law was working at Antis Roofing & Waterproofing. Villalta was interested in working at the company and asked his brother-in-law about getting a job as a helper.

“In the roofing community, we hire a lot of family, so that’s how he came to work for me,” Charles Antis says.

Charles Antis says he appreciated that Villalta showed up to work every day, and when Villalta returned to El Salvador to be with his sick mother, Charles Antis felt there was a void.

“When he left, I lost a sharp repair force,” he says. “He was so kind, and I missed him.”

Fortunately, Villalta returned to the U.S. one year later, bringing his mother back with him, and resumed his job at the company. He has stayed for the past 27 years, working his way up from helper to a truly skilled roof system technician.

Taking the time

Villalta’s hard work and diligence have contributed to his tenure at Antis Roofing & Waterproofing. The company’s core business is condominiums, and he strives for perfection as he performs roof system inspections, writes reports and repairs roofs when needed.

When Aaron Antis, Antis Roofing & Waterproofing’s chief growth officer, first joined the company, he was amazed by Villalta’s accuracy on the job.

“We were doing general maintenance on roofs in a massive community and also were rebuilding areas that were leaking prematurely,” Aaron Antis says. “Luis had been to this community many times before to stop leaks, and he knew exactly how they failed and how to rebuild the areas so they would not leak. I remember seeing it as a repetitive job—there were probably thousands of these areas in the community—yet he treated each one like it was the only one that mattered. By the time we were reroofing that community 10 years later, none of the problem areas had leaked again.”

Villalta says he takes the time to identify the problem so he can fix it appropriately.

“Sometimes, it can be difficult to find the real problem and fix the leak the right way,” Villalta says. “I may spend more time working on it than another technician, but my goal is to do quality work and make the customers happy.”

“Other guys might complain he takes longer, but he wants to make sure that leak does not leak again,” says Jesus Zermeno, senior field supervisor for Antis Roofing & Waterproofing. “He does the repair right the first time. He wants to make sure people stay safe.”

Charles Antis appreciates Villalta’s dedication.

“He is the guy who will never compromise speed for quality,” Charles Antis says. “He will pause a job to lecture new technicians about why they are hurting the job if they do not let the primer set as long as it is supposed to set.”

Aaron Antis says Villalta’s work ethic especially shines when it rains.

“We are called out to be superheroes for homeowners and stop leaks from coming in their houses, and he really enjoys being able to be the expert and make that happen for people,” Aaron Antis says. “When asked, he will take night calls and work extra hours during the peak of our busy season, which he has been doing for the company for a long time.”

Villalta says the effort he puts into his work is worth it.

“In an emergency, people are really scared when they have a bad leak,” he says. “When I temporarily stop the leak, they feel safe. I like to see their happy faces. That is my goal.”

Sharing knowledge

Aaron Antis says Villalta increasingly is teaching his leak repair skills to other Antis Roofing & Waterproofing employees.

“There are not as many of him out there as this area needs and the roofing industry needs,” Aaron Antis says. “We want him to be able to take his passion and pass it to the next generation so it lives on through them rather than retiring with him. The people he is paired with are phenomenal technicians after working beside him.”

One employee who has benefited from Villalta’s wisdom is his son, Luis Hernandez, a lead field technician who has been at the company for 10 years.

“He is patient when he’s teaching,” Hernandez says. “He teaches with detail and allows you to develop the skills needed to do the job well. Above everything, he told me to make sure I respect the rules of the company and everyone within the company.”

Charles Antis says Villalta has become a great communicator during his years with the company—an asset when he is teaching others. “He’s mature in his communication,” Charles Antis says. “That ability to teach is profound. When it comes to leaks, he’s teaching young people to imagine all the scenarios instead of simply what their head tells them. You’re looking at a particular building, landscape and where the wind will fall. No two roofs are the same, and Luis is the guy who understands that and makes it ring true. That is the person I want people emulating.”

Villalta’s commitment to safety also sets an example.

“He’s been with the company 30 years, and he has never had an accident in an Antis Roofing & Waterproofing vehicle,” DeGrassi says. “That is remarkable. It demonstrates he obeys the vehicle laws, drives at a reasonable speed, and is thoughtful and cautious.”

Villalta credits the company’s safety culture with his dedication to safety.

“Nothing is simple on the roof,” he says. “For our company, safety is the priority. They make sure we know we need to take care of ourselves. We have all staff safety meetings, talk about safety requirements and make sure equipment is in good condition. Safety supervisors visit us on the job to make sure we are safe in the field. The company provides everything we need for safety.”

Family man

Villalta’s family surely appreciates the company’s focus on safety, which brings Villalta home to them every day.

Villalta receives the Employee of the Month Award.

Villalta and his wife, Elizabeth, have four children—Madelin, 23; Emily, 19; Melaney, 17; and Maximus Luis, 14.

“Outside of work, I like being with my family,” he says. “We like to go to the beach and visit places we haven’t been. We enjoy that time.” Other family members have come to the U.S. from El Salvador and now live near Villalta, so he also is able to frequently spend time with his extended family.

There are days when Villalta travels four hours roundtrip to San Diego for work, but he makes sure he has time for his wife and children when he gets home.

Villalta and his daughter at a Habitat for Humanity event

“We usually have dinner together, and that is a time when I can talk to them, see if they need anything and help them with schoolwork,” he says.

Aaron Antis says Villalta always has been a family man, but his devotion to his family has grown.

“He makes sure they are taken care of and happy,” Aaron Antis says. “He’s more conscious about spending time with them. He tries to prioritize family as much as possible, and it’s good to see him have that balance between his life and demanding work responsibilities.”

Hernandez agrees: “I admire a lot of about him, but the main thing is the way he is as a father. He always supports me and places family before everything.”

Villalta also spends time outside of work helping with Antis Roofing & Waterproofing’s charity projects. He most recently worked on a large roof system repair for the Boys & Girls Club of Central Orange Coast, as well as a roof system repair for the Ronald McDonald House in San Diego.

Spending quality time with his family is a priority for Villalta.

In a testimonial, David Blair, director of philanthropy, corporate partnerships for the Boys & Girls Club of Central Orange Coast, said: “Luis’ dedication and expertise have been nothing short of exceptional. In his role, Luis performed multiple leak identifications for the Boys & Girls Club of Central Orange Coast across various club locations. His meticulous work and keen eye for detail proved to be invaluable as he methodically identified and helped to resolve numerous roofing issues, ensuring our clubs maintained a safe, secure environment for our young members.”

Villalta and his family also participate each year in a charity walk for the Orange County Ronald McDonald House. In addition, he has been known to help his neighbors free of charge when he notices their roofs need to be repaired.

Villalta says Charles Antis has inspired him to give back.

The Villalta family enjoys a day at Disneyland.®

“My inspiration is when I see how happy Charles is to help people when they need it,” he says. “Sometimes people don’t have the money to pay, and he never gets angry about that. He likes to make people happy. I saw him doing this and decided to do the same because I believe it is a good example to follow and makes me a better person.”

Villalta shows his appreciation for the company by sharing pupusas—thick griddle cakes or flatbreads, which are the national dish of El Salvador and made by Villalta’s wife—with the Antis Roofing & Waterproofing staff.

Charles Antis admires Villalta’s care for others and how he has influenced the company.

“He has a real humility and is a man of wisdom,” Charles Antis says. “He helps workers understand how to make a roof last longer or solve the leak but also instills in them the power and meaning of using their hands to help provide a basic human need. He is telling the people he is training that they need to love their trade and keep families safe and dry—that every nail matters. That is important to me. If my leaders did not have purpose in the field and were about getting it done fast, I would lose hope.

“If something isn’t right, Luis is the first to let me know,” he continues. “His ideas through the years have shaped the policies of this company and helped forge the values in our handbook. His character helped influence and form how we take care of our people.”

Passion for the industry

Villalta’s character is one reason why all who work with him respect him.

“He is a truly good man,” Aaron Antis says. “He is caring and really wants to know how you are doing on a personal level. He also wants the company to be successful, and that is where he takes a lot of pride in his work and ability to literally stop any leak.”

Narciso Alarcon, field operations manager for Antis Roofing & Waterproofing, says he enjoys working with Villalta because he does not get stressed, even when work is stressful.

“He always remains calm,” Alarcon says. “That along with his knowledge makes other people feel safe and comfortable working with him.”

Hernandez respects how his father views the role not as a job but as a service that allows him to help others.

“Instead of thinking of clocking in for eight hours, he is thinking about helping the family that has the leaking roof,” Hernandez says. “He puts himself in their position and thinks about how he would feel and how he would want the problem to be fixed.”

Villalta credits his success to Charles Antis and his company.

“Charles always makes me feel like I am part of his family,” Villalta says. “I’m happy with everything he does for us—he does it for everyone, not just for me. He helps a lot of people, and I just want to thank him. I am proud to be part of this company and plan to work here until I retire. I will do what I can to help this company get bigger and better.”

KRISTA BERNS is an NRCA director of communications.



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