Does life begin at 40? Guess I am about to find out. I turned 40 earlier this week. Forty years in the roofing industry, that is.
It started for me as a way to arrive at the end of a seven-year career in the retail grocery business. I entered that business in high school and stayed through a short time away for some training with the Air National Guard. One thing led to another, and I was running a supermarket, but not exactly loving it. I wanted to find a Monday-through-Friday kind of job and wanted a sales job.
My friend, Barry, went to high school with me and worked at the same grocery store with me. He left the grocery business right after school and worked a few different sales jobs. I could not help but notice that he was doing pretty well for himself. He went to work where his father worked selling construction specialties and later introduced me to the owner, who hired me to sell equipment to roofing contractors.
So it does not sound too romantic, this “following my dreams” tale, I must explain what was really going on at the time. I was 22 years old, married with a two-month-old daughter. The pay cut I took moving from a management position to an opportunity to be trained in a new field was monumental. My father thought I had lost my mind. How could I walk away from a budding career in management into the abyss of … selling roofing equipment?
It was a tough couple of years, but I did develop as an equipment salesman and stayed with the Julien P. Benjamin Equipment Company for nearly 11 years. Those were good years, and I learned from the best in the business, including the man who hired me, Julien P. Benjamin Jr. I was able to learn because Julien allowed me to focus on my education in the business instead of simply getting the next order. As it turned out, I was able to learn a great deal from the roofing contractors I met with every day.
After those years selling equipment I went to work with JGA, running their branch in my hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. After working 10 years in that location I moved to the JGA office in Atlanta, where I have held a number of positions and still do to this very day.
Before leaving the equipment business I was invited by a customer of mine to help out with some ideas and information for the new magazine he was starting called The Roofer. That customer was Danny Carson, and his belief was there were no trade magazines that focused strictly on roofers. So being an entrepreneur and an “I can do this myself” kind of guy, he launched the magazine. From a comparison chart on belted conveyors in the second issue of the publication, I have been a contributor ever since.
So here I am, 40 years later. I choose to mark this milestone with some random statements and comments. Not a true retrospective … just a few things off the top of my head:
- I have always thought it was very fortunate for me to have veered into the roofing industry.
- In 40 years the learning has never ceased.
- No matter how long I am in this business I know that when I leave I will take away more than I ever gave.
- As a young man, I was shown a lot of respect by roofing contractors who truly owed me none. My sense, now that I am older, is that they were paying back those who had treated them the same way in their youth.
- By “respect,” I mean they gave me their time. They talked and taught. And they listened to my questions and sometimes crazy ideas.
- The 40 years I spent in the roofing industry were unique.
- My time selling equipment to roofing contractors was really unique and it is, in a word, over.
- My time in the distribution of roofing and building materials has been rewarding on many levels, especially the relationships I have been able to develop and enjoy.
- My work with The Roofer, which later became Roofer Magazine and then Roofing Contractor, has been the most incredible opportunity of all.
- Of all the publishers and editors I have worked with over the years, the team I work with today is the most in tune with the roofing industry. I am blessed to work with such a dedicated team.
- I have learned that change has been the one constant over the past 40 years in the roofing industry, the past 50 years of gainful employment (thank you, Lord!), and 62 years of life.
- When I grow up I would like to write a history, from an insider’s perspective, of the modern era of the roofing industry in this country. Jimmy Yundt has promised to fund this adventure (when he wins the lottery).
- No matter what I have done in my professional life, my family has been the glue that has held me together all these years — the ones who came before me and the ones who follow me into the world.
- As I approach the twilight years of my career I find myself focused on the work and less concerned about a legacy. When I finally depart (not going anywhere anytime soon) this business I will say, “My work here is done.” And it will be and there will be someone to take my place (I should say, all of my places).
And the one comment that keeps running through my mind is not a comment at all, but a question: Where did 40 years go?