Mike Wade, the recently minted CEO of PAX Services Group, a commercial roofing firm based in Laurel, Md., with regional hubs in Florida and Texas, recalled the moment when the notion of safety became more than a rallying cry or cudgel used to enforce regulatory requirements for roofers.

It was a Saturday morning during a summer years earlier, and Wade, now 50, was doing what many homeowners do during the weekend: outdoor maintenance. 

In Wade’s case, it was trimming the weeds around his property. Ready and geared in flip-flops — shirtless — sans hat or eye protection, Wade began “eating the weeds” when the epiphany emerged.

“I stopped and thought, ‘You’re a hypocrite; you spend all this time talking about safety, but you’re not exemplifying it,’ … and if one of my guys drove by and saw me doing that, they’d be like, ‘You know, sure, get up and talk about safety as much as you want but look at you now,’” he said.

So what did Wade do? 

“I went inside, put on boots, long pants, long sleeve shirt, gloves, safety glasses and walked back out,” he said.

Despite it being about 95 degrees Fahrenheit that day, he not only felt safer but was, in fact, safer and better prepared, and he acknowledged it made the job easier to accomplish. 

He said that moment was when the rhetoric of safety became more than just empty words: If he was not going to live by the credo, why would he expect his crews to take him seriously? 

Mike Wade and Mike Gowl of PAX Services Group

LEFT: Mike Wade was elevated to CEO in January 2024. RIGHT: Mike Gowl, principal of PAX Services Group, rebranded the firm in 2023.

Becoming PAX

Founded in 2008, Patuxent Roofing & Contracting started as a family-owned local commercial roofing company that generated approximately $4 million in annual revenue. In 2013, its founder, Mike Drew, approached one of his manufacturing representatives, Mike Gowl, asking for help finding a new first officer after the previous one departed. 

Gowl said after six months of searching without success, Drew asked if Gowl would consider buying the firm. Until then, Gowl had been on the sales and technical side of roofing, working for manufacturers up and down the East Coast before striking out as an independent sales rep. 

The position allowed him to see how various roofing firms ran, giving him a working idea of how he would operate and position a roofing company if given a chance.

The opportunity presented itself in late 2013; Gowl entered a five-year scheduled buyout, gaining control of Patuxent in 2018. During the intervening years, he scaled the business and increased revenue more than 10-fold while honing the niche that would differentiate PAX within the commercial sector. 

Gowl pivoted Patuxent’s core business model from principally multi-unit roofing to a focus on highly complex, specialized reroofing and maintenance within the industrial and commercial space. Those projects included hospitals, government buildings, and other jobs requiring specificity in filed requests for proposals with demanding technical detail, highly choreographed scheduling and rigid safety standards.

“I [also] wanted to start expanding geographically, so for six months, I started doing that on my own in terms of kind of looking at acquisitions, you know, preparing for geographic expansion,” he explained. 

He discovered geographic expansion through acquisition was neither quick nor easy. It was suggested he bring on a partner specializing in mergers and acquisitions to help facilitate deal streams and the banking and credit relationships required to execute procurements at a grand scale.

“So I went to market, hired a banker, and went through the full-blown process,” he explained.

The process introduced him to New State Capital Partner, which won the bid for work, and the two entities closed the deal for an undisclosed amount in April 2022. 

New State Capital Partners, headquartered in suburban Westchester County, N.Y., is a private equity firm working with founders wanting to scale and remain directly involved in operations.  

Shaun Vasavada, a firm principal who serves as New State’s point man with PAX, said what made Patuxent attractive as an investment — beyond the numbers — was the ethos of its owner, Gowl’s vision for growth, synergies shared by both entities.

“Everything that [Gowl] had built really lined up with what we look for in investments,” Vasavada said. “[He is a] founder, entrepreneur-owned, growing nicely, a nice market position, great financial profile in terms of margins, but [also someone] looking for a partner to take to [the] next level.”

On Aug. 1, 2023, Patuxent Roofing announced its rebrand as PAX Services Group. Along with the new name came its first C-suite hire, Wade, who was introduced to Gowl through New State and onboarded as PAX’s chief operating officer. Wade brought decades of experience in the building envelope, including executive roles at ABM Industries and Comfort Systems USA.

The third and fourth quarters of 2023 were spent on strategic objectives, and with the dawn of 2024, Wade was elevated to CEO while its founder ascended to Chairman. The firm is a member of the National Roofing Contractors Association and is also active in the SWR Institute, a trade organization for companies operating in the sealant, waterproofing and restoration space. 

PAX Services Group Headquarters: Laurel, Md.

Specialty: Commercial Roof Restoration, Repair, Servicing

Number of Employees: 155

Website: paxservicesgroup.com

Empowerment Opportunity

While Gowl concentrates on growing the company’s footprint, it’s up to Wade to maintain ballast at PAX. The task isn’t intimidating to Wade, whose self-described blue-collar childhood — his family often moved while his dad sought work — translated into the notion that stability is akin to agility.

Noting his deference for the trades, he still chose a more professional path, earning his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Pensacola Christian College and an MBA from the University of Virginia.

Before joining PAX, Wade’s most recent position was with a private equity-backed firm, Crete Mechanical Group, a national mechanical services platform offering HVAC, electrical, plumbing and other building services based out of Tampa, Fla. 

Despite his years of experience in the C-suite and earning two degrees, Wade insists he’s just a tradesman in disguise. 

“I’m a contractor through and through,” he says in a disarmingly charming manner, “So, I immediately went into the contracting side of the world and haven’t looked back.”

Still, his experience shines through in discussing what makes a company successful, which he says is having the right people in the proper role. When asked what makes someone “right” for a position, his answer was both surprising and brilliant in its simplicity: grit.

It’s perhaps no coincidence, then, that this became one of six tenants making up the core values of PAX. He said when Gowl, New State, and he strategized over what PAX wanted to be, identifying core values remained fresh in his mind, having just gone through the process.

“As a business, who do we want to be when we grow up?” he asks rhetorically. “And so, we developed six core values that [help guide] who we want to be, how we make decisions, and who we add to the team.

“The one that we love the most is ‘grit,’ that’s the one that everybody just really came to and went, ‘if we could only have one [trait], we want that one,’” he added. “It’s just that absolute, ‘get it done’ attitude.”

Wade said a significant indicator of success for an individual within any given position is directly proportional to whether they align with the company’s core values. Beyond that, he believes those individuals need guidance, reassurance and trust, which he aims to provide as CEO.

“I love creating that space where people can flourish and can really reach their full potential,” he explains. “Where they are enabled to explore, to take on new responsibilities, to test their skills, and then for them to be able to ask, ‘OK, what do I need to do in order to grow?’”

As employees explore their potential, the other core values PAX expects include discipline, accountability, integrity, responsibility and safety. The last circles back to the younger version of Mike Wade, weeding his lawn and recognizing that he was not practicing what he had been preaching. 

Contractor Profile sponsored by Beacon“Safety is part and parcel of what we do, and we focus on all aspects, but the three that just immediately come to mind are vehicle safety, obviously fall protection — we are working at [high] elevations, so we’ve got to be super careful there — and then soft tissue injuries,” he said. “We’re lugging around a lot of weight, so we spend a lot of time with our team, making sure that everybody reaches our expectation of what safety looks like, not just a minimum standard of OSHA.”

The company’s core values are the firm’s lodestar, and its CEO displays the disposition to know when things are working and when there is a drift from those central tenets. 

“I think this is part of the power of private equity-backed platforms, being able to say, ‘Do we do business the right way?’” Wade again asks rhetorically. “Do we protect our core values, and will scale enable us to perform at a higher level in the future?”

We will see, but all indications are this is a company not to be shorted.