As the roofing industry mourns the loss of Samuel J. Heyman, industry leaders spoke of the lasting legacy of leadership, philanthropy, public service and family devotion he left behind.
Heyman, Chairman of GAF Materials Corporation, died Nov. 7 at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, N.Y., following heart-related complications. He was 70.
“For more than 25 years, Sam has been a driving force behind our company and our culture of world-class performance and success,” said Bob Tafaro, President and CEO of GAF Materials Corporation. “We’re all saddened to lose such a great man.”
Tafaro said the Heyman family has been instrumentally involved in developing the business and its culture, and will continue to be going forward.
Heyman understood the potential for growth at GAF, and he challenged his company to realize it. “Sam had an unwavering commitment to meritocracy … that is, he believed in recognizing people based on merit and achievement,” Tafaro said. “It’s a key reason why today we have the best and most talented people in our industry working on our GAF teams.”
Heyman was a leader who believed that no matter how much you achieved, you could always do better, Tafaro said. “Sam was driving that desire to achieve in us, encouraging us never to accept ‘good enough’ but rather to strive for the next level,” he said. “I’m convinced that’s why the hallmark of our company today is value and innovation. One of the best ways we at GAF can honor Sam’s memory is to stay on course to becoming known as a company committed to innovation, excellence and value. We intend to do just that.”
Heyman led GAF to new heights, but his passion for public service was also remarkable. He searched for ways to create opportunities for the brightest people to serve the federal government, including establishing the Partnership for Public Service in Washington, D.C. For this achievement, he received the Presidential Citizen’s Medal in 2008.
“He lived a wonderful life and was a great family man and tremendous friend,” said Robert Buck, Chairman and CEO of Beacon Roofing Supply Inc. “He loved this country. He encouraged - through his philanthropic activities - the brightest folks to serve our country. He believed our democracy was important.”
Buck, who met Heyman in New York City about eight years ago, said his lasting legacy is one that centers on family.
“They will continue to positively impact generations,” Buck said. “With GAF, he built the world’s largest shingle manufacturer and that tremendous management team he has. They will continue to provide jobs and careers. His wonderful company and all those folks who believe in his philanthropic efforts, I think are his legacies. It’s cliché to say, ‘He leaves something better.’ But he really did that. The goal now is to try and measure up.”
Diane Hendricks, Chairman of ABC Supply Co. Inc., met Heyman in 1983 shortly after he purchased GAF.
“Sam was highly educated, brilliant and driven, and surrounded himself with other highly competent professionals,” said Hendricks, who noted her initial meeting with Heyman involved a week of negotiating the sale of the GAF roofing distribution network that had been owned and run by GAF manufacturing for years.
“It was a learning experience that I have never forgotten,” Hendricks said. “That transaction not only changed our lives, but changed the course of distribution in the roofing industry.”
Within a few years, independent distributors were selling multiple brands of products from one distribution center, giving the contractor and the consumer choices that had never before been available, and giving manufacturers greater exposure for their products, she said.
“Sam appeared to have limited involvement in the direct operation of the roofing industry, but you could always feel his presence in the decisions that his top management team made,” Hendricks said. “His quiet but strong voice will be missed by many.”
Heyman, who was also chairman of ISP, a global specialty chemical company, as well as the nation’s largest roofing manufacturer, was born March 1, 1939, in Danbury, Conn. He graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School before he began his career in the Justice Department under Robert F. Kennedy. He served as Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney for Connecticut from 1964-68, when his father’s death necessitated his taking over the family real estate development business.
“His commitment to GAF and his desire for quality products really helped drive a lot of innovation in the industry,” said Bob Feury, Jr., CEO of Allied Building Products. “He knew how to grow the company and develop quality products, and he was financially and emotionally committed to the success of GAF.”
During a period of growth, Heyman had a proxy fight in 1983 for control of GAF. He believed the Wayne, N.J.-based company was an undermanaged specialty chemicals and building materials company. Today, however, GAF is North America’s largest roofing products manufacturer. Together, GAF and ISP employ 6,400 people and their products are sold in over 90 countries.
Brad Segal of Bradco Supply Corp. said Heyman had high expectations for his employees and the company.
“Sam was a tough but fair leader that pushed his people to be the very best they could be,” Segal said. “He set high expectations for them and created an atmosphere in which they looked to constantly improve GAF.”
Heyman supported the growth of his business by investing heavily in the company's plants and people, and by making strategic acquisitions.
“Under his guidance,” Segal said, “GAF has become not just the largest manufacturer of roofing materials in the country, but an industry leader.”
Barry Segal, founder of Bradco Supply Corp., said Sam Heyman “had a great life and he accomplished a lot.”
“I have many memories of Sam - foremost would be memories of me and my wife, Dolly, playing tennis against Sam and his wife, Ronnie.”
Heyman was an avid tennis player and played varsity tennis for Yale in the late 1950s. He recently donated $5 million to build an indoor tennis facility at Yale. Still, through all his successes, Heyman was not concerned about material possessions like fancy clothing, expensive cars or fine wine. The exception was the works of art in the collection he and his wife Ronnie assembled over the nearly four decades of their marriage.
Besides his wife of 39 years, the former Ronnie Feuerstein, Heyman is survived by his mother, Annette Heyman of Palm Beach; four children, Lazarus Heyman, Eleanor Propp, Jennifer Millstone, and Elizabeth Winter; and nine grandchildren. He was predeceased by his father, Lazarus.