I grew up in New Zealand. At an early age, I really took an interest in working with my hands and building things.
I would often help my father around the house. We also had a family friend with a successful plumbing business and I would tag along with him on weekends or holidays.
I thought that profession made for a great lifestyle, so instead of going the university route I decided to do a four-year plumbing apprenticeship.
Plumbing in New Zealand includes the roofing trade, hence the tie to what I do today.
When I was finished with my apprenticeship, I immediately went to get a business degree and became a craftsman plumber. I took a job with a large commercial plumber in Auckland. We were working on a large hotel and I ran a $3 million job for them as the on-site project manager with 12 plumbers working under me. I did that for 18 months.
During that time, I was also racing in triathlons at an elite level. I was very disciplined about my running, swimming and biking. We Kiwis like to travel, so I saw triathlons as my ticket to go places.
I came to the States in 1999 for six months. I raced in a pro series race and later a few World Cup races.
I met my future wife, who was in graduate school in Wisconsin, where I was based. I quickly realized that getting free running shoes and bikes doesn’t really pay the bills.
So I got back into the business. I ended up working in Wisconsin for a roofer that was doing historic restorations.
When my wife graduated, we moved to the Gaithersburg area. I saw an ad in the paper for a sheet metal mechanic for a company in Baltimore. They realized my qualifications pretty quickly and I rose to become regional president responsible for 12 offices.
One of the key qualities I bring is that I’ve been at all levels of the business. I have no problem going out with the guys and strapping on my tool belt and doing the work.
I was in a corporate role where my job entailed a lot of numbers and dealing with much higher-level stuff. I had a real desire to get back to the core business.
I started talking with Chuck Wagner and decided to join the company in 2013.
Wagner Roofing is a 100-year-old business. It is third-generation owned. I’m the first non- family member to be running the business. There’s a lot of pressure to continue the business with the same ethics and values it was built on.
I want to continue to provide top-quality roofing and sheet metal on some very interesting buildings and continue bringing the right people into the business to train them well.
—Interview with Vanessa Small
President of Wagner Roofing Company, a roofing and sheet metal contractor based in Hyattsville.
Career highlights: Project manager, Wagner Roofing Company; president, Architectural Metals – Tecta America; regional managing president, Tecta America; president, RoofersInc; project manager, RoofersInc.
Education: Business management certification, Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand; Future Executive Institute Program, Northwestern University.
Personal: Lives in Baltimore with wife Emily and two children, Owen, 3, and Alice, 1.