How I became a family firm’s first non-family president…

Wagner Roofing has been around for 100 years, 99 spent under Wagner family leadership, most recently owners Chuck and Sheila Wagner. That changed this year when Dean Jagusch, a nonfamily member and New Zealander, was tapped for the president’s job. Now he plans to build on the company’s century-old groundwork — with touches of his own leadership style.

What did you do before Wagner? I spent 11 years with a local operating unit of a large roofing consolidation. I worked there in various roles — estimator, project manager. I became the local operating unit president and then, most recently, was working on the corporate side running a region of 12 offices for them.

Why did you choose Wagner? I had an interest in getting back closer to the core business. Chuck Wagner and I had connected, and it was obviously very appealing that he had a 100-year-old, family-owned business that’s been well established in the Washington area. Wagner works on a lot of unique and very interesting buildings, and I definitely had an interest in that side of the business. Since I’ve been here, some of the more significant buildings that we’ve worked on have been the DAR Constitution Hall, the National Shrine, obviously the Cathedral — we’ve done some stuff on there — and the U.S. Naval Academy.

Were those unique projects part of the reason you were attracted to Wagner? Absolutely. It’s trying to create your own kind of marketplace or really distinguish yourself from the pack. I think Wagner’s done a tremendous job of that, and obviously we’re going to continue to strive to do that. We don’t get involved a lot in the bid market. A lot of the projects that we do, we’re fortunate to be one of the few contractors that’s capable of doing some of these pretty unique restoration-type projects.

How did you first meet Chuck Wagner? Actually, we initially met at a prebid conference — I think it was for one of the Smithsonian buildings. I actually had, working for me, some of his former employees. One significant one came back here [to Wagner Roofing] in 2012 and was instrumental in getting Chuck and I back together and talking again. So it’s exciting to be back here working with him.

How did you develop that relationship with Chuck? Over a series of get-togethers over about a 12-month period. I think we were getting together and talking about the long-term plan, the long-term strategy for the business and whether there was a potential for a transition in the works.

What was the hardest part of getting your foot in the door? Chuck and I had met back in maybe ’09 or ’10. A lot of it was getting to know each other and for Chuck to get to know me and size me up, if you like, and be comfortable that I would be an asset to his business.

What’s the first year been like? Initially, I came in more or less in an estimating, project management capacity. The first year, I’ve gotten to learn what our capabilities are. I’ve gotten to work with the team that we have here and really get involved in some of the more interesting projects that we’ve had and get a true understanding of what our abilities are to do in house.

How has it helped having such an extensive background in the industry? I certainly think that the education I got working for a much larger entity has definitely helped me with an understanding on the financial side, on the [profit and loss] side of things. Taking that and really being able to apply that to, for instance, how we’re applying overhead to projects, how we’re covering our costs on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis.

What were the initial challenges of taking on the position? Probably the biggest challenge is just getting used to the volume and types of work. I was more familiar with much more of a subcontractor-type role, and here, we do a lot more direct-with-the-customer-type business, where we are the prime contractor and we handle everything. I wouldn’t say that was so much a challenge as it was just a change. It’s something I enjoy — much more of a handle of the individual projects. Previously, a lot of the big projects, a lot of the work that I’ve been involved in was directly with general contractors on maybe larger construction projects, as opposed to being the prime contractor and having the run of the entire project.

Did you see any resistance to your leadership from people within the company? What did you do to overcome that? It’s all still very fresh, and I’ve gone through leadership changes or led companies through that before. This is very different because Chuck and Sheila are still very involved. They’re still the owners of the business, they’re still very involved. So for Chuck and I, it’s been a matter of slowly handing off the reins. So I’ve got the day-to-day running of things and I can start creating that day-to-day consistency with people. Whenever there’s change, people tend to be — I wouldn’t say wary — but there’s always concern, if you like. We’re still working through a bit of that.

Any specific instances?No, there’s nothing real specific. It’s more a segregation of more defined roles. We’re working through what those roles are. How have you kept the culture of a family-owned company intact? I think this company has had a really strong culture that’s really extended from Chuck Wagner, himself. This has been a very successful company and there’s been a lot of successful and well-proven processes in place — obviously still maintaining those. But the big thing is trying to take and build on that and add my own style to it without diminishing what the Wagners have created.

How did you add your own style? I think a lot of it really comes down to day-to-day direction with the team and consistency. How I approach things on a day-to-day basis from an operational standpoint and just creating the individual relationships with people, I think, has been an important way for me to be able to do that.

What changes did you make right off the bat? There haven’t been a lot of changes that I’ve made at this point, but what we’ve done is gotten more consistent with just our daily interaction with the team. That’s an important key in working and communicating as a team. We have a morning and an afternoon huddle. Obviously we have an office, but our projects are all over the place and we have a need to get out and watch those projects from a supervisory standpoint on a day-to-day basis. So communication is really, truly the key to being successful at these types of projects. Communicating any issues that we may have run into, communicating progress towards completion, that sort of thing, with the entire operations team that we have here.

How did you do implement that communication plan? Really just formalizing it. We would always discuss needing to communicate on a more regular basis and, by putting in place the expected call-in at 7:30 and 2:30, everybody knows and expects to be on point at those times. At 7:30 a.m., that’s when it gets quiet around here. The bulk of our workforce arrives here at 5:30 and are generally gone by 6:15 out to projects and to get our supervisors on the road by 7:00. So we actually have a dial-in number that we use if they may not be at the office or if they’re still on their way in. We’ll dial into a conference number.

What’s one change you’d like to see but haven’t made yet? I’ve got so much spinning around in my head. You know how fresh all this is — we’re six weeks into it with me in this role. I think I’d like to get more streamlined in our monthly financial rollup. That’s just something that I’m working towards.

What are some general goals you have? I think the company’s on a steady track. Obviously we want to grow, not just stagnate. In terms of doing that, looking at some longer-term projects, looking out on the horizon a little bit more and being able to plan out would be something I’d like to implement — and more or less what we’ve started trying to do anyway. There’s a lot that I’d like to do.

What are longer-term issues you’re working on? What Chuck and Sheila have done over the last 25 years, since they really took the reins, is they definitely stayed — from a business standpoint — at the leading edge. So I definitely want to maintain and build on that. But more than anything, it’s extremely important to bring in a new generation on the trade side of things. Making sure that we’re bringing in eager, talented personnel that can learn our craft. In our industry, we’ve got a true labor shortage problem that we’re facing, and it’s really critical that we’re identifying those people that we can bring in and train up in our methods and to our standards to be that next generation down the line.

How do you do that? It’s tough. There’s no good answer to it, and that’s obviously a challenge from our perspective. What we’re trying to look at is how and where do we identify people that are interested in coming into the industry in the first place. You’re either trying to work with labor providers that may have personnel that could grow into learning a role or you’re looking at current personnel and their family and bringing them in. Or, in some instances, we might want to be looking toward some of the vocational schools, which is something that we haven’t reached out to. I think it’s got to be a multipronged approach.

How have you taken some of the things you’ve learned as a triathlete and applied them to business?Obviously there’s the competitiveness side of it. Then there’s the whole practice-makes-perfect side of it. But more than anything, it’s the discipline and the consistency of the training, if you like, and the discipline to go at it each and every day with just as much enthusiasm and focus. It’s the attention to detail. In anything in this business, it’s applying that same effort to a seemingly smaller, insignificant-type project, the same method you would apply in a larger, longer-term project. It’s sweating the small stuff because that’s what counts.

Any plans for more big projects? We’re getting ready to start another project at the Naval Academy. That’s coming up shortly. We’ve got some more work coming up over at the National Cathedral School. We’re currently working over at Tudor Place. We’ve got a bunch interesting projects coming up.

What’s been your favorite project in your time at Wagner? I think the most interesting project we’ve had since I’ve been here has been the Belmont Mansion, which we’re on at the moment. That’s a mansion in Dupont Circle. We in fact just had part of our 100-year celebration at the Belmont Mansion — we had a cocktail party there a couple weeks back. The stories that come with the history of that place is pretty remarkable, and the type of architecture and the work that we’re doing there.

What sort of planning goes into something like that? The typical project, we have a pretty good sense of what the customer is looking for to begin with. Then once we secure the project we go through a pretty intensive submittal phase where we’ll submit products for approval and samples for approval. Once we receive that then we obviously have the procurement stage of the project where we’re having to procure the materials, and some of them may be very unique and may have extremely long wait times. During that process we’re also assessing whether we’re required to go through an experimentation process with the project depending on what areas of D.C. we’re working in and whether or not we’re the prime contractor we may have to do some pretty hefty hearings and permitting. Particularly in Georgetown, with the old Georgetown board there are very strict requirements when doing any work on properties within a historic district there. That sort of thing all happens up front before we put hour one on the project with our manpower.

The basics
Company: Wagner Roofing Co.
What it does: Roofing and sheet metal contracting
Leadership:Chuck Wagner and Sheila Wagner, owners; Dean Jagusch, president
Location: Hyattsville
Employees: 45
Clients: Approximately 300 projects a year Revenue:$6 million to $8 million in 2011, 2012 and 2013 Website:www.wagnerroofing.com

This article originally appeared in the Washington Business Journal on June 20, 2014.
Photo by JoAnne S. Lawton.

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