Pete Korellis joined his father’s roofing company after college, eventually taking the reins of the Indiana-based Korellis. Now, 40 years later, he is handing those reins to the company’s more than 220 capable workers.
The CEO is stepping down after completing an eight-year succession plan to transfer ownership of the commercial roofing family business to its employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).
“It was eight years in the making, and I’m glad to say that if I was to do it all over again, I would’ve done it the exact same way,” he said.
Korellis Roofing, founded in 1960 by Koreliis’ father, George, originally operated as a residential roofer. Upon joining in 1983, the junior Korellis helped the company take the leap from solely residential into commercial work. One of their first jobs was Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant, which was re-tooling the facility to start producing the brand-new Ford Taurus.
“We were fortunate enough to get the job,” Korellis said. “I was pretty nervous. But we got in there with a good team and we were able to do the job, and that job gave us the confidence and sent us in that direction – it was the catalyst.”
He credits his father, who passed away in 2015, with giving him the space and confidence to take the company in new directions. He said they got along famously, and even if disagreements popped up or he made a mistake, they always worked it out.
“He was so easy to work for. He always let me try new ideas even when they were pretty bad ideas, never said, ‘I told you so,’” he said.
Time for a Change
The decision to create a succession plan and retire came not long after Korellis’ son, a West Point graduate, decided to pursue his dreams of flying instead of joining the roofing industry. That led Korellis on the path to discussing the future of the company with some of his business mentors. During those discussions, he learned about ESOPs.
“I researched an ESOP and thought it was a perfect fit for the culture that our company has,” he said. “This ESOP is an incredible opportunity for the employees and an incredible opportunity to continue the family business for many years to come.”
Part of the agreement had Korellis relinquish his ownership but stay on for another five years, passing on any advice or past knowledge he picked up during his career. When asked what changes he’s seen in the industry during his career, he said the public’s perception of roofing and how it’s done are the most obvious.
“The perception of and the sophistication of the roofers have really raised up,” he said. “It's been a huge change from conventional built-up roofs where the foreman who is generally mopping the hot asphalt down would set the pace and everybody would have to follow. Now it's more independent with individuals doing individual projects on the job or individual assignments.”
Confident that the company was in good hands, he officially phased himself out. Korellis joins his longtime friend and business partner, Jeff Tharp, in retirement. They’re taking a combined 76 years of experience with them, but they know Korellis is in good hands.
John Ziolkowski is taking over as CEO. He has been with the company for 12 years and served as president since April 2021. Joining him in leadership is Julie Tattersall as vice president of operations, who has been with the company since 2009.
Korellis said much like his father letting the next generation lead the charge, he’s excited for the young leadership team to not only foster his family’s business, but the workers in the field who make it all happen.
“I made it a point that our employees come first, our customers come second. We take care of our employees first. They'll take care of our customers,” he said. “There’s nothing more honorable a business can do than to employ people and employ people at good wages, good benefits, so they can have a good life.”
As for his new free time, Korellis said he is looking forward to enjoying some of the simpler things in life he couldn’t do while working, such as working on his home or even mowing the lawn, as well as spending more time with his family.
“My wife has pretty much worked her schedule around my work life, so it’s time for me to work my schedule around her life,” he said with a chuckle.