He may have difficulty acknowledging it, but leadership is probably in Pete Schmautz’s DNA. You don’t get to grow through both the corporate and professional ranks in a competitive industry without it — that knack for sound decision making; that ability to instill confidence and inspire those working for you to exceed their own expectations; and that commitment to success regardless of the obstacles that present themselves along the way.

Now, at 50, Schmautz — soon to be immediate former president of the Western States Roofing Contractors Association (WSCRA) — has reached an interesting point in his career. He reflects on what he’s accomplished with a grounded perspective that also keeps him focused and driven toward the future. His decades of experience have taught him to keep an even-keel attitude to both corporate successes and failures, and he’s seen his share industry-wide since entering the business in 1983.

Schmautz’s continued involvement in leading local and regional trade organizations continues a tradition instilled by his mentors in the industry. And just like in business, where Schmautz firmly believes doing the best work possible to serve the customer can define success, he’s taken his time in associations to focus on improving the job for his ‘clients’ — contractors.

Unlikely Beginning

Schmautz, who’s also president of Star Roofing Inc. in Phoenix, has had a long career in roofing that almost never began. The Portland, Ore., native was studying electric engineering when an opportunity came up with his uncle. Arnie Schmautz owned and operated Buckaroo-Thermoseal in Portland and took him under his wing.

“You’ve got to have a family member in the business to get really into the business,” he said. Under ‘Uncle Arnie’s’ tutelage, Schmautz worked his way from a roofing technician into estimating. He moved out to Phoenix to continue his education, but his experience with Buckaroo-Thermoseal paid off when he joined Universal Roofers and ultimately rose into management. He said he learned a lot from watching how Universal Owner Wayne Mullis conducted his business, and he reached general manager before joining Star Roofing in 1996.

Under Owner John Plescia — with whom he worked with at Universal — Schmautz has served in various roles from general manager to vice president of operations. In January, he became president and is responsible for cash flow, yard operations, fleet management and directing more than 70 employees. Whether it’s technical skills, client relations or management style, Schmautz said he incorporates elements from all three of his professional mentors into his business philosophy.

Another invaluable trait they instilled was their dedication to the profession and making sure the industry grows.

While leading his company, Arnie Schmautz also headed the WSRCA as president from 1984-85. Mullis served as WSRCA president in 1974-75 and earned the WSRCA Hall of Fame Award in 1991.

Plescia is a lifetime member and three-term past president of the Arizona Roofing Contractors Association (ARCA); a past vice president of both the WSRCA and the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA); and current chairman of the National Roofing Industry Health and Welfare Trust.

Like them, Schmautz said he found a calling of sorts with professional organizations to improve working conditions for contractors. In addition to his eight years as part of the WSRCA Executive Board, Schmautz is also past president of ARCA and current member of the American Society of Professional Estimators.

As a young contractor, Schmautz said he never envisioned himself in the position he’s in now. But leadership grew on him.

“Not initially, no,” he said. “But as I got into higher positions, it was kind of a natural progression. I’ve seen the value of participation in an association throughout the years through the owners I’ve worked for.”

Benefits of Membership

That value varies on a contractor’s strengths and individual company goals, but Schmautz said he believes trade associations like the WSRCA are equipped and versatile enough to help roofers become and stay successful.  

Whether it’s through training manuals, providing business or legal counsel, or putting contractors within reach of technical experts that can offer advice, the WSRCA remained committed to education during his year-long tenure as the organization’s 41st president.

“I’m proudest of the fact that we’ve been able to continue with the goal of the association to educate our membership,” he explained. “One the biggest things we as contractors have to deal with is risk. WSRCA is constantly striving to keep our members aware of issues in the marketplace that may adversely affect their operations.”

The organization continues to bring industry issues to the forefront. How to understand, recruit and retain the Latino workforce, and reviewing the Synthetic Underlayment Research and Testing Project are just two of the opening-day seminar topics at the 2015 Western Roofing Expo.

The issues facing contractors in a geographic area as vast and with as many contrasting climates and laws as Alaska, Oregon and Texas will often vary. However, Schmautz said the business solutions can apply universally. The difficulty is sometimes getting the contractor engaged enough to recognize it.

“When you’re focused on your company, sometimes you get a little tunnel vision and lose sight of the bigger issues facing our industry as a whole,” Schmautz said.

Keeping One Eye on the ‘Star’

Managing that balance between company obligations and moving the industry forward hasn’t always been easy. The time commitment alone of preparing for multiple WSRCA meetings and helping set the organization’s annual agenda has been taxing at times. But Schmautz said he’s taken it all in stride by applying a similar mentality to both.

“There are times when association work is time sensitive and has to be dealt with,” he said. “The same constraints apply to running the business. You have to balance the demands of both entities and do your best to find a balance between the two.”

With Schmautz’s help, Star Roofing has continued the growth Plescia envisioned when he bought the company in the 1990s. The union shop specializes in roofing and waterproofing in the commercial arena, with about 10 percent of its revenue dedicated from residential.

Notable projects recently completed include the Bartlett Dam facility on the Verde River northeast of Phoenix and the Arizona State University Student Recreation Center in Tempe. Those successes, and other large undertakings on Star’s schedule, demonstrate an improving business climate. Opportunities with even the municipal, county and state government entities, which have been sluggish in recent years, appear to be trending positively through this year. 

“Since the debacle of 2008, there has been a slow, but steady increase in the amount of bid opportunities,” Schmautz said. “We are now beginning to see a number of projects that had been shelved previously, moving forward.”

Ultimately, Schmautz said that maintaining a successful business remains the top priority, and he credits WSRCA Executive Director Tom Papas and the staff for helping him do that. It’s one of the key takeaways he said he’ll pass on to Mike Tory, of Tory’s Roofing and Waterproofing in Pearl City, Hawaii, who takes over as WSRCA president in July.

Moving Forward

Schmautz will remain active on the WSRCA’s executive board as the immediate former president. Though his exact duties are to be determined, he said enhancing membership will remain paramont. The board is continually looking for ways to improve its messaging and showcase the benefits of the organization.

Part of increasing membership will be to continue telling success stories like that of Star Roofing, and to show how staying involved in the WSCRA can keep companies on the leading edge of technology, best practices and business trends. Schmautz has made that mission clearer, if not easier, by leading through example.

“Pete is a positive, effective leader with strengths in finances and management,” Tory said. “At the beginning of his tenure, he clearly stated our goals and guided us through the whole process.”

 Just as his professional mentors did for him, Schmautz said securing the future of the industry starts with grooming the leaders of today properly for what can be a difficult, long haul. “It’s always easier to judge from the sidelines, but it takes more commitment to get involved and make the positive changes we all want to see.  There is a satisfaction in doing your part, whatever that may be, to make this industry the best that it can be.”