Profits Through The Roof: How Asheville’s Kelly Wade Inspires Innovation Through Collaboration
By Sherri McLendon
Kelly Wade is a woman successfully nurturing change in the traditionally male world of commercial roofing. As vice president for North American Roofing, Wade has enjoyed unprecedented success while bridging old and new. In the past five years, she’s successfully – and collaboratively – led the three generation, family-owned company into a more democratic direction. Together, she and her co-workers have entered a new era of prosperity by embracing change, not fighting it. In October 2014, the company will celebrate its second anniversary as an employee-owned corporation, and is on track to gross more than $100 million this year. Currently the third largest commercial and industrial roofing company in the United States, NAR is on a major growth trajectory encompassing 50 markets in four years, with a 15% annual growth trajectory.
In this exclusive WNC Woman interview, she explores the challenges she faced, the innovations she implemented, and the lessons she learned.
$13 million in 4 months – it’s a quantifiable strong enough to get anyone’s attention. And five years ago, it’s a set of figures that helped Kelly Wade, as a woman without a construction background, successfully overcome objections that she didn’t know enough about the male-dominated roofing industry to effectively market the company.
“I love what I do,” says Wade, also a marathon runner who understands the value of beginning with the end in mind, and being willing to go the distance.
Wade quickly rose to the position of director of marketing about five years ago, and more recently was recruited by third generation CEO Brian Verble to serve as executive vice president.
In her role, Wade took what she learned in sales and as marketing director and put it to use. She found that clients perceived roofers as unprofessional and unpredictable. In the challenges, she found an opportunity to brand the company working from the idea that “we could do it better.”
“We could lead the change and break down many of those perceptions,” she recalls.
Shareholder expectations and market conditions make change a constant. But Wade didn’t espouse a traditional, top-down authoritative approach to embracing the road that lay head.
“We had to make change in a collaborative way,” she said. “I brought round tables to the company, with constant collaborative meetings. I listened and respected what I heard. Fifteen percent of our work force has been here for more than 15 years, and I relied on the talent and technical expertise they brought to the table.”
This approach meant Wade was able to apply her experience in other areas: structure, vision, career paths, operations, collaboration and innovation. Soon, ways to make positive differences found their way to the table.
“Looking back to five years ago, I didn’t speak up as much. I was definitely a listener. When I had an idea to present, I did it amongst a smaller group of people.”
If a thought came up, she’d jot it into her notebook instead of speaking up immediately.
“First, I’d make certain the thought was on track and had buy in,” she says. “I needed to respect the experience of the industry, and didn’t want to presume I knew how things worked.”
Over time, she earned the respect of the other employees at all levels of operation, making certain they were heard and their opinions were valued. Those early considerations have since paid dividends at a rate of 15 percent growth annually, and with the corporate infrastructure currently doubling in size and number of personnel.
Today, the company’s collaborative efforts are focused and on the “right path,” she says.
“It’s very important that I empower the next layer of persons under me, so the meetings now are run with that in mind. I’m doing a lot more thinking about the next few years. Do I have the right people? Am I training them to be great leaders?”
Training Great Leaders
In this industry which continues to be male-dominated, Wade is pleased when she has women to interview, and recently hired a woman to head NAR’s service department. She now coaches and mentors her progress.
“She is going through many of the same challenges I faced,” she says. “Even though I may have broken the glass ceiling, changed the culture and paved the way for her, those feelings and perceptions are still out there. She still has to prove herself… as a great leader.”
The company’s culture as it grows includes a shift in perception about who should lead in what areas, what a leader looks like. Not all leaders look the same, and every area is a little different.
“My belief is that you put a great leader in charge, someone who is passionate, has energy, character, understands process and procedure, and who surround themselves with experts.”
When you have a great leader, building the team fills in the gaps where he or she is weak, she says.
Focusing on the Customer
The inspiration, motivation and collaboration share the common goal of customer-centrism.
“Every idea we have has got to come back to the customer with negatives and positives. With the customer in our focus at all times, we ask how we can do it better, faster, with improved quality, more cost effectiveness. If something negatively affects a customer, it goes out.”
Five years ago, a snapshot of a sales meeting BKW (before Kelly Wade) would have yielded quite a different picture. Sales persons would call in and report what they were doing—instead of focusing on how they were doing it.
Communicating ideas, inspirations and solutions becomes the collaborative focus. Wade will ask specific persons what they think about new concepts, or ask someone to get up and show their thinking on the white board. And there’s always a message or area of focus to direct the conversation.
“We have a message and theme. We say our mission statement every single meeting, and end a meeting by asking questions: What are you trying to get out of this? Did you get everything out? Did anyone have anything else to add? So, what I see is that your take-away is this… Is that right?”
Innovative technology has also changed the face of company communications under Wade’s influence. Video conferencing brings individuals together regionally and nationally, increasing attendance and attention in synergistic ways. In the field, construction experts are now using a tablet to share information in real time with the customer. This innovation significantly changes another aspect of roofing culture for the better, removing the delay between the survey, pictures, report, quote and repair.
Kelly Wade is executive vice president of North American Roofing, Asheville. Writer Sherri L. McLendon owns and operates Professional Moneta International, Weaverville, specializing in mindfulness approaches to marketing public relations and content strategy.