When you live practically an entire ocean away, it’s sometimes difficult to see the big picture of where you fit in modern America, much less an industry as vital — and volatile — as roofing.

Admittedly, those were probably the least of Louis Tory Jr.’s concerns when he became a roofing contractor for an honest $2.50/hour in the late 1960s. One of nine siblings growing up in a two-bedroom, one bathroom old military barrack, he knew he’d need to maximize any job opportunities that came his way to build a family and life of his own.

He did just that, and founded one of the largest and well-respected roofing companies across the entire state. Now, 44 years later, the next generation of Torys is leaving the company’s mark on their Hawaiian homeland while making a difference for roofing contractors on the mainland through determined and creative leadership.

Roofing Roots

One could say Louis learned the profession in the school of hard knocks – mentored straight out of high school by his uncle, an ex-U.S. Marine.

“He taught me roofing like a soldier in training,” he recalled. “I fell in love with roofing, and loved to work. I worked for every roofing company on the island before deciding to open my own company in 1972 when I was 22 years old.”

To say he and his wife, Sandy, started with humble beginnings is an understatement.

“I started by buying an old beat up truck and kettle with our wedding money, going house to house, knocking on doors asking homeowners if I could give them an estimate,” he said. “The rest is history.”

Despite cyclical ebbs and flows in the economy and unique challenges presented by Hawaii’s climate and distance from typical distribution channels, Tory steadily built a business that evolved from offering roofs to strictly single-family homes to large-scale commercial, state and federal projects. The company’s fingerprints are on some of the most recognizable buildings on Oahu to both tourists and locals alike. The portfolio includes the tear-off and reroof of the Sheraton Waikiki (555 squares), and the historic Sheraton Moana Surf Rider Hotel (373 squares); and local places like the Target Honolulu (1,710 squares) and the University of Hawaii Physical Education Athletic Complex.

The company generated $13 million in revenue in 2014, ranking 85th on RC’s 2015 Top 100 Roofing Contractors list.

“I think our father is a great example of the ‘all-American’ success story,” said daughter, Sandra, who handles the company’s marketing and public relations. “He never really had anyone who believed in him, but he was determined to provide a good life for his wife and children.”

Stepping Forward

The work ethic and love for roofing rubbed off on the next generation. Each of Tory’s four children have a role in the company, led by eldest son, Mike, who was all too eager to get involved in the family business.

He started working during the summers at age 16, and money wasn’t the draw.

“I thought the best way to get to spend time with my dad was to work for him. He was always working. So I worked during the summers and any chance I had,” he said. The younger Tory kept working part-time when he started college, but after about two years, he said he followed his calling and dedicated himself to the company full-time. “I opted to go to the school of hard knocks instead!,” he said.

Also involved are Tory’s younger brothers Bryan, a commercial and residential estimator, and Brandon, who runs the production side of the business.

As president, Louis is still actively involved in all major business decisions and helps keep the peace as family counselor, Sandra said. She added that all the children deserve credit for helping the company grow and carrying on their father’s legacy, but that Mike drove the company to new heights with precision focus on customer service, quality work and unwavering dependability. He also seemed to excel by investing his time and talents with industry associations.

Mike is a former president of the Hawaiian Roofing Contractors Association and was a long-time executive board member of the Western States Roofing Contractors Association (WSRCA) before becoming the organization’s 41st president last summer. His year-old tenure ends on July 1, but he said he will stay actively involved as the immediate former president on the executive board.

“There’s a huge value in being involved with these associations,” Tory said. “Not only do they build a comradery within the industry, but it also serves as a sounding board for us. The topics discussed at the conventions are all to better the industry and (for contractors) to utilize new technologies and efficiencies within the ever changing roofing industry.”

Tory credited having great role models in his personal and professional lives such as his father, and former WSRCA presidents John Plescia and Pete Schmautz, of Star Roofing Inc.

He’s also making sure the experience rubs off on others, too.

“Mike is a great person that always treats others with the utmost respect,” said WSRCA Senior Vice President and Treasurer Brad Baker. “He wants to make sure that everybody’s journey with WSRCA is a productive yet enjoyable time. Mike has a knack of calling many on the board of directors and asking, ‘What can we do better and how is your family?’”

Baker, owner of Professional Roofing in Bellevue, Idaho, is slated to become the next WSRCA president later this month at the Western Roofing Expo. He said he admires Tory’s commitment to running organizations like a family.

“When you watch your mom and dad put in all that effort growing up, you feel the pride to continue on that tradition,” he said. “(We) talk often of how our ‘family work ethic’ given to us by our parents has made us successful in running our companies and thus our WSRCA leadership skills.”

Built for Business

Tory’s company has about 50 non-union employees working in three divisions: production, administration, and sales. The production team manages all the field crews, final inspections and job scheduling. Last year, roughly 60 percent of work was in commercial projects and 40 percent residential.

Training and safety are also key elements of the company’s success. Tory said they host weekly safety meetings to emphasize the importance of tying off and other precautions, as well as general jobsite etiquette. Leaders on the production staff are also known to do random worksite checks to make sure safety standards are followed.

Additional training seminars with manufacturers are scheduled throughout the year, and new employees are enrolled in an apprenticeship program where they attend trade school for three years to become journeymen. The company follows that type of commitment with a profit-sharing plan and bonus incentives based on that profit, which in turn motivates high performance.

The crews also benefit from integrated marketing programs that strengthen the company brand and continue to evolve with technology and social media trends.

“(We) never stop learning and training,” Sandra said. “The market and economy is always changing and adapting, and to ensure a legacy company, you must learn to change and adapt.”

But what won’t change is the family feel.

“It’s what sets us apart from the competition,” she explained. “Because the company is such a central part of our family, we care very much about the success of the company. We care very much about each other.”