Mike Wakerling swears he had a choice when choosing his profession: no matter that his grandfather, Jacob, started General Roofing Co. in Northern California in 1924, only to be succeeded by his son, Howard — Mike’s father — in the mid-1960s.
Mike planned to go to college and got on the rooftop the summer after high school to make some extra tuition money. That was 30 years ago, and he still hasn’t gotten off rooftops for a living.
“I worked over that summer … and just never went to college,” Wakerling explained with a smirk. “I just enjoyed it so much that I stuck with roofing. There was never any pressure, but I think Dad was kind of relieved when I did.”
General Roofing is a mainstay in the Oakland area, installing and repairing residential, commercial and industrial roofs throughout the Greater East Bay for nearly a century. He established it with three core principles: craftsmanship, integrity and reliability, which remain the mission four generations later.
Having someone his father could trust and lean on in the business positively impacted the company — and their relationship. Yet, Wakerling still paid his dues, working closely with his father and veteran crews for roughly a dozen years before taking over the company in 1987. Still, that didn’t mean he was exactly ready for the challenge.
“It was kind of scary because I worked on the roof; I didn’t really know the business end of things, which was really eye-opening,” he said.
The installation crews with General Roofing have become a mainstay in the Oakland area by adhering to three core principles established by company founder Jacob Waklerling: craftmanship, integrity and reliability.
The business was growing, but after about five years at the helm, and with his father semi-retired, Wakerling distinctly remembered feeling lost. Not as a contractor — the self-proclaimed “roofing nerd” knew the roofing systems crews installed and was a quick study on new materials entering the marketplace. But when it came to entrepreneurship and running a sustainable enterprise, he needed help.
He wasn’t afraid to seek it out and ask key questions from the right people. He started regularly working with Monroe Porter’s PROSULT Roofing Networking groups, and the transformation from roof installer to roofing businessman was underway. Slowly.
Wakerling and his team had to dive into their operating numbers to develop profit/loss statements, accurate balance sheets, and long- and short-term projections. They also revamped the company’s safety program, implementing quarterly training and reviews. Paying attention to the details was laborious, but it ultimately paid off.
“Before, I just didn’t understand it — all the business stuff that came with the job,” Wakerling said. “Then it all clicked, and it made sense and became much easier.”
He may make it sound easy, but Porter said the inquisitive roofer’s commitment to the process and desire to constantly make progress made Wakerling one of their group’s top success stories.
“He was the perfect candidate: smart, curious, technically proficient, and hardworking,” recalled Porter, who recently retired. “He just needed to learn and gain confidence in his business skills.”
Not a prototypical closer in sales, or slick talker, Wakerling developed into one of the program’s best salespeople because of his listening skills and knack for problem-solving, Porter said.
TO BE LIKE MIKE
Retired business consultant and RC columnist Monroe Porter helped Mike Wakerling work on his roofing business for more than two decades as part of the PROSULT Roofing Networking groups. He said if other roofing contractors want to succeed and be like Mike, the formula is simple:
• Put your ego aside and seek guidance.
• Listen and gather facts.
• Be willing to make informed and tough decisions.
• Gain joy from helping others
Find out more at www.proofman.com.
He wants to listen, get the facts straight and then solve the problem,” Porter continued. “His unique listening ability and problem-solving skills … make him a great leader.”
Wakerling said he also benefitted from the relationships made through the program over the years, noting he has great friends to call anytime with any question, business or personal.
He found similar comradery and a host of other roofing experts by becoming an active member of the Western States Roofing Contractors Association (WSRCA) early in his career. Wakerling will cap two terms on the WSRCA executive board when officially named association president in Las Vegas at the Western Roofing Expo, Sept. 23-25, 2023.
Over the next year, he said he plans to help members improve their businesses just as he did, through education and further technical study of roofing systems. That includes taking education seminars offered at the expo on the road to cities throughout the West.
“We felt there was quite a need for that because people know how to put on roofs, but a lot of people don’t know the ins and outs of the business part,” Wakerling explained. “If we can educate them to be better businesspeople, or put a safety program in place to protect everybody. That’s what this is going to be about.”
Porter said he has no doubt Wakerling will be a great leader for the association, not just for what he knows, but what he’s not afraid to ask.
“He is not an egotist and is willing to seek counsel,” Porter said. “We’ve had lengthy conversations regarding employees, business strategy, life and other topics. His style is to listen, seek out the facts and make an informed decision. He quickly emerged as a leader in his peer group.”
Since 1924, General Roofing Co. has installed and repaired various roof types in California, including solar reflective shingles, slate, shake, tile, and metal shingles as well as commercial systems like PVC, TPO and standing seam metal.
The company plans to officially celebrate its centennial with employees and the community next year.
“We’re going to have a big celebration and customer appreciation event,” Wakerling said. “I didn’t realize what kind of accomplishment it was until you start asking around and don’t see many businesses of any kind get through a third generation and into a fourth. I’m pretty proud of that.”
Despite its history, Wakerling takes great pride in the company’s hard-earned reputation and knack for being forward-thinking. He describes the company as an early adopter of equipment and technology that deliver efficiencies and always looking for the next product or innovation that could improve operations to enhance the customer experience.
Transitioning to WSRCA president means Wakerling will relent some duties at his company to the family’s fourth generation of roofers — specifically, his son Shane. He formally joined the company in 2007 after graduating with a business degree from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
“He brought in a lot of new ideas that we accepted — kicking and screaming because they were kind of foreign to us, but they worked out well,” the elder Wakerling said.
Over the past year, Wakerling said he purposely stepped back a bit while Shane got comfortable running the company’s day-to-day operations as general manager. He officially took over as president in July.
To help soften the learning curve, Wakerling passed on his spot in the still-active PROSULT Roofing Networking groups to Shane earlier this year.
It also feels like a full circle for the younger Wakerling. While other family members worked summers at the company, it was never assumed that any would join or eventually take over the family business.
But Shane vividly recalls going to job sites with his father as a child and being in awe of how grateful people were for his dad’s help. Fixing customers’ problems on rooftops and watching his father become a leader, not just within his company but in the industry, illuminated the purpose Shane sought.
He said he also feels distinct gratitude for learning to solve problems beyond just roofing courtesy of his lineage.
“(Mike) or my grandpa Howard would teach my siblings, cousins, and [me] how to do certain things or explain why they failed and how to fix them,” Shane said. “It was an easy everyday lesson, which has helped develop our curiosity and ability to try and fix things on our own.”
With the company’s centennial afoot, that sense of gratitude spills over to the customers that have supported them for so long.
“I don’t think my great-grandfather ever dreamed the company would be here, let alone still in the Wakerling family, 100 years after he started it. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment and means the world,” he said.
Both said they’re humbled to continue the legacy and usher in another 100 years. It’s the same spirit that kept generations of Wakerlings going before.
“Every roof day is different — every day,” Mike Wakerling said. “No matter if it’s the same house or same neighborhood, every day there’s always something different happening, and you always have to be thinking; that’s what’s attracted me and kept me in it.”