As a 4th generation roofing contractor, Bill has spent his life around roofing. Today I spend my time helping people see that a roof can be more than just an umbrella for their building. Commercial roofing solutions including green roofing, solar roofing, and other renewable energy technologies are available to our customers maximizing the investment they make in their roof.
- Your trust in your employees leads to confidence
- Respect your employee's knowledge that wins them over
- Your employees can only bring you a problem if they have 3 solutions how to fix it
- There is no substitute for hard work
[Podcast Transcript Using Artificial Intelligence]
Umar Hameed 0:06
Are you ready to become awesomer? Hello everyone, this is Umar Hameed, your host and welcome to the no limit selling Podcast, where industry leaders share their tips, strategies and advice on how to make you better, stronger, faster, get ready for another episode.
Umar Hameed 0:36
Today I'm joined by Billy Cole, the CEO of coal roofing and
Billy Cole 0:41
Fisher energy Baltimore. Yes, sir,
Umar Hameed 0:43
definitely. So you've got the roof and you got the solar panels. So we do have both. So in 90 seconds, tell us who you are and what you do here.
Billy Cole 0:51
So Baltimore raised guy, we have a fourth generation Commercial Roofing. And in 2009, despite the greatest recession of my lifetime, or whatever, we thought it would be a great time to start another business. So we got into the solar business that kind of came out of seeing solar panels showing up at roofing trade shows and thinking that that was the next product offering that the commercial nice
Billy Cole 1:15
Umar Hameed 1:16
What was the internal dialogue? Like? I'm sure there was some folks that were saying absolutely makes sense. And other people saying, Yeah, hold on this. Is this our core business? What were those conversations like
Billy Cole 1:26
why I think we started from always believing we were offering our customers, you know, the best, the best products that were available. This was a little different, because people didn't necessarily want to talk about their electrical usage with a roofer. But it did seem to be something that was coming, we had already started building vegetated roofs, so putting plants on top of roofs for stormwater reasons. So this this concept of using the roof as a platform for something else that was not foreign, the
Umar Hameed 1:59
seeds were laid. Yeah,
Billy Cole 2:00
we like that was good. Yeah, we like that. I mean, it made sense to us. And especially if you're focused on putting a really good roof down, then it gives us the confidence to, you know, what else can we do with this space? So that made sense. My grandfather was adamant that I was too early. And he was right. But you know, it's still at the same time, I guess you want to be ahead of the curve and thought that that might benefit to so
Umar Hameed 2:24
this expression from Silicon Valley, leading edge and bleeding edge?
Billy Cole 2:28
Yeah, no doubt. I mean, it took us the first year that that company was in existence was entirely an education year. I mean, just trying to start the conversation with people in Maryland. It was, you know, they had no idea
Billy Cole 2:41
yet they had no idea.
And Ella was transitioning the conversation of Solar's all about loving the environment and saving the planet. And it is like no, like, we it has to be economically good for us to really want to do it.
Umar Hameed 2:56
I had heard a while ago that the amount of energy it took to make the solar panel was huge, the amount of heat and stuff. And they were claiming that, you know, over the lifetime, you may not recover the energy used. Yeah, I have changed by now with technology.
Billy Cole 3:13
And I've, I've heard that we might put that in the urban myth category. I don't know. I don't have the research to know that answer. But I have definitely heard that as Bigfoot and and Yeah, well, and if if so if your idea is to, to move away from solar or not let solar get any traction. I think that's one of the arguments that's used.
Umar Hameed 3:33
Is solar like regular technology, because my computers get faster, and they get cheaper.
Billy Cole 3:39
Yeah, that those products, I think, has taken a bit of a different path. It seems like all the money that has been invested in the solar was focused on trying to manufacture them cheaper, as opposed to making them better efficient. Yeah, so our efficiency levels aren't much greater than they were 510 years ago, there they are better, but not nearly as significantly as the price decreased over that same time period. I was
Umar Hameed 4:09
at a lecture in Silicon Valley maybe 220 years ago, and there was a company that wanted to put up these giant flying airplanes that had solar panels, all electric, and they used magnifying glasses to focus the sun because they wanted to get flying antennas. That would be the new cell towers. And it was like science fiction. Yeah, but also possibly feasible.
Billy Cole 4:35
Yeah, we've never messed much with the sort of the collection using mirrors and things like that. But there's definitely a segment of the industry who believes that's critical to maybe what will ultimately be mainstreamed deployment. So there were some rooftop units that because you tilt them all towards the sun, the backside of that presents an opportunity to put something they were putting mirrors there. And that was reflecting more light on to the next panel behind it. So there's definitely they also in along the same lines, were putting panels over top of white roofs, you probably remember the story of Solyndra. So that that company, I mean part of their concept. I mean, that was really actually an ingenious product a clearly business wasn't managed properly. But putting the solar cells in a circular nature, allowing to collect light, not just from sun coming down, but reflecting up off of a white roof, give you more surface area, solar is ultimately a surface area question. How much sun can we collect? So it also allowed for wind to flow between the tubes and cooling down? And so there was a lot of good stuff there. But, you know, didn't didn't make it.
Umar Hameed 5:48
So let's talk. You said this is a fourth generation company on the roofing side. Yep. So what's that, like, for a lot of companies with is multi generations, people have to make their mark, and also respect what's been done, then you've got employees, I was working with a company in New Jersey, fourth generation marine product distribution company. And the employees were convinced that other people in the management team, that the owners were having secret meetings, and they were like, no, believe me, we're not doing that. So what was it like coming into multi generation family?
Billy Cole 6:21
At some point, you kind of realize what's going on. But I mean, I started when I was 13, that just started bringing me to work. And I was doing odds and ends, whatever, cutting the grass or whatever. So if you don't, Dr. Nate, yeah, you don't really know. And I mean, I worked summers building roofs. So I definitely got the full picture painted for me that I was gonna have to earn my way nice. I think, you know, we were really fortunate in that, my grandfather, so we're fourth generation, but we behave a lot like third generation, where my grandfather really was the entrepreneur who took us from a Residential Roofer to a commercial. And then my father is a little bit introverted, very much process operationally driven. So he, you know, without having a fancy family business evolution book or anything, he just sort of immediately dove into laying process on top of all the things that my grandfather had built. So he built our safety program, he created job tickets for the men when they went out in the field. And, and that was really what I think, you know, if you, if you do learn about business evolution, what I mean, you have to have that in that second generation. So we're, we're really fortunate, and that allowed us to grow a little more. And then when I came in, you know, I started in HR, and then I did some project management, and then I got to estimating and my father was running the company, but my grandfather was still in charge of sales, which allowed me the opportunity as an estimator to sit with him, I learned a lot of the business from his perspective, probably also was the kind of the side I liked a little bit more, right. And that, him running it. And then having the two of us over on the side working on the sales was was really, you know, I mean, that's like, just kind of the stars aligning that you can have an operational oriented person, and then these other sales people, so I got to learn that side from him. When we transition to me as President, we were very, you know, it's like succession planning, right? You get all this teaching, and you learn all this about Scott. And then we didn't do any of that we, you know, just came time and economy was struggling, and we needed to shift and, you know, I took over and, you know, he still is supports us from the operational side. And, you know, it's that, okay, let's take all these procedures, we need to get rid of them. Yeah, that's my green not knowing any better. We're too bogged down with process. Oh, wait a second. Okay, hold on, we need that one back, bring this one back, bring that one back. So I definitely made a lot of those mistakes along the way early on, just trying to, we were very clear about my leadership technique as opposed to his and just our personalities in that. When he when my father was president, he we were still small enough where he could keep his arms wrapped around everything. And then in order for us to keep growing, I needed to push the decision making down to people who were highly qualified and able to do it, right. They just hadn't had to for a long time. So we're, you know, we're six or seven years in at this point, and I would still classify us in the transition period. But they are I think, if you asked my people they feel empowered and engaged and they they like being trusted to make the decisions and we're we're still building framework so that they have confidence in those decisions. And but that's was the biggest shift was to push the decision making down to people who had been doing it for 10 1520 years and are highly qualified just had never really had to do it.
Umar Hameed 10:10
So for new, like you've gone through the baptism of fire, so for new leaders, what would be the three pieces of advice you would give that would allow them to step into that leadership position? more effectively? Oh,
Billy Cole 10:26
three, let's call the three. But
Umar Hameed 10:30
as I go along there, you guys my strategy,
Billy Cole 10:32
good deal. Um, I think one of the things I came into it with, which wasn't necessarily intentional, but I think was really advantageous was always having respect for the other people that you're working with. And in my case, everyone was always older than me and had been doing it longer. Yep. So in an effort of trying to get the right answer in the most efficient way, why wouldn't you lean on these guys that you knew have already been through the battles? And I think that wins them over, you know, immediately, when you're going to them asking them for their advice.
Unknown Speaker 11:11
Billy Cole 11:12
So I think that's so respect. Yeah. redact, and using them, you know, right. I forget, I was just reading something the other day, but it's like, you the quote was something like you paid me for my hands for 15 years, you could have had my brain for free the whole time. I believe it's, that was jack welch. But the idea is, yeah, they know all these things. So source them for the information. And if you do that, they're, they're more likely to be engaged in work with you move forward.
Umar Hameed 11:40
Billy Cole 11:42
And then I do subscribe to the theory of, you know, bring me your problem. Bring me three potential solutions and your recommendation. And then let's get the resolution, right. So don't just bring me your problem, right? You got to think about it. Don't
Umar Hameed 11:58
use me as a crutch. Yeah,
Billy Cole 12:00
exactly. It's Don't make me do your job for you, you know, you can do this, let's but I'm happy to confirm it gives you the confidence,
Umar Hameed 12:08
and change it because it's a great teaching moment. But they've done the homework, and then they get the insight, as opposed to you telling them what to do, which basically just doesn't improve what they're doing at all.
Billy Cole 12:20
Yeah, and I, I'm clear, with everybody to explain that. You know, it's not my goal for you to carry this burden. I'll carry the burden, right? Like, you, you make the decision, but I'll rubber stamp it, you know, like, bring me the information, let's talk through it. You don't need to carry the burden. If it goes wrong, we're gonna make the best decision we can and I'll bear that. But Bring me the best answer that you think you're closer to it, you know, more than I do, is by default, you think somehow I've got all the answers in my file cabinet. And I just
Umar Hameed 12:54
step in one, respect them, she'll step to empower them and actually help them go outside of their comfort zone and actually be the boss. Sure. And then did you come up with a third one?
Billy Cole 13:05
Yeah, we can make one up.
Billy Cole 13:08
This is just me personally, but work ethic and being willing to put in the time it's no substitute for hard work. Yeah. And, and being shoulder to shoulder with them. And I mean, I'm not one to make sure that my lights the last one out at the end of the day, it's not that sort of weird thing. But I don't want them to ever question you know, whether I'm willing to go to the nth degree. I mean, in commercial roofing, we do a lot of schoolwork. And it's it. You know, in Maryland, the weather the way it is, we will get an afternoon thunderstorm that is bearing down on my guys. And it is not beyond us to jump in our trucks here. And management are out there on the roof, trying to make sure this thing is tightened up before the water comes in. And I mean, that's just that's just how we do it. So
Umar Hameed 13:56
in your journey as leader. What's the lesson you learned along the way that you still hold? Dear,
Billy Cole 14:04
I do think that we're in a time of great opportunity. Everybody probably says that is pretty trendy thing to say. But there are some interesting demographic shifts occurring and baby boomers exiting and not enough Gen Xers and a whole bunch of millennials and like, you can read a million articles on that. All I know is that there there do tend to be opportunities that exist. And I think having some kind of framework to sort of scrub those, figure out which ones might make sense for what you're working on. And then having the courage to do it. And do it not necessarily in a totally bootstrapped startups standpoint, but more of an entrepreneurial type in the company, sort of new division, new product line. acquisition. That's a little Bit of a slight difference, but having the courage to do that, and then doing it, like I always regret maybe not being more aggressive with the solar company along the way, right. But I may not be here, if I had, it's a you know, it was it's a different business than roofing entirely. And we've definitely slow played it from a conservative old business, trying to start this other new thing. And there's those were the only tools I had was the way we were, you know, fiscally responsible, or, you know, just balance sheet protecting and things like that. So.
Umar Hameed 15:40
So let me ask you a question. Let's say, you got fired today. And you happen to be the new person coming in taking over this solar business, with fresh eyes and no legacy things to think about. And no family ties. If you're coming to this business, now, what, which direction would you take it,
Billy Cole 15:59
we're at an interesting crossroads, I probably wouldn't wish that decision on anyone. But I so because of our legacy of the roofing company, I do believe eventually, larger commercial roofs will be everyone will want to get a price for a solar roof and a traditional roof. Not everybody will buy a solar roof, but they'll want to know what the cost is. So for us, the solar business represents the eventual integration Yeah, of those two together. The solar business by itself today is one that is wildly driven by community solar programs and solar farms, in different states, not local to Maryland, and all, you know, driven by state incentives. So there's probably more business to be done in the short term in the community solar on the ground space. But I don't believe that long term that has the staying power. distributed generation by itself is I'd like to generate the power on the roof, consume it down below, we have less line loss, we're kind of self sufficient. That seems to be seems to me to be a clear, long term path. So if there was no roofing company, you probably drive hard on the solar farms. And I continue to develop your business in that way and see what that looks like over time. With the roofing company, I think we need to continue to cross train people. roofers need to learn more skills, roofing project managers need to understand so are our salespeople. And our estimators are, when they meet with an owner, you know, there's a full range of products to offer and help them in multiple ways help them create new lines of revenue. So it's, I don't know there's,
Billy Cole 17:53
this is my work every day.
Umar Hameed 17:56
two things. Number one, sales drives every business, how do you select salespeople? Like, how do you know you're getting a good salesperson versus someone that sounds good? and turns out not to be like, what do you use to establish?
Billy Cole 18:10
I don't know, I don't have any really good answers to that. If I did, we'd probably be working on a book. And this would take a whole different path. But I think we fall victim a lot in that. We believe we can train anybody. Yep. And that when, when it's time to part ways with someone, it's as much a failure on our part as it is on theirs. So we really get hung up on that a lot. It if you are willing to continuously learn, you have a good chance of being successful in the world in
Umar Hameed 18:45
any endeavor, including sales. Yeah, I just did a comment on LinkedIn today, somebody had highlighted this podcast as well as eight others in sales. And one of my comments other than thanking them was one of the hallmarks of great salespeople is they're always learning is just nature who they are. And that's kind of what you do as well, right? Lots of reading
Billy Cole 19:06
lots of learning constantly. I mean, the if you have to be curious, the roofing, sure it evolves at a much slower pace. But even that still, there are new products that introduce new techniques, new ways of getting to cus customers, you know, we we have a repeat customer, who we've done business with for 10 years, and then all of a sudden that person retires when there's a new person in so your curiosity about meeting a new person,
Umar Hameed 19:35
is how you keep them engaged. Yeah,
Billy Cole 19:37
the whole thing. So I like people who like to learn, we do we talk about different podcasters and things like that, and just general in the world, just 90
Umar Hameed 19:45
smarter about everything. You know, what turns me on is when there's somebody from let's say chemistry, and they come into leadership and they go, you know, when a chemical does this, we could do this with like that cross pollination of disciplines That is frickin cool
Billy Cole 20:01
tour. I one time listen to a podcast, you know, to give you an idea of how good it was it was about coyotes. And like, I don't have any inherent
Umar Hameed 20:12
interest not at Coyote. Yes, correct. Good. Ah,
Billy Cole 20:17
but, you know, this was three and a half hours. And I'm, you know, I'm getting out of my car, like, I'm a coyote expert now. And it's like, so it was very much a well done interview, but I like it stuff, because so there's a person out here who is wildly fascinated with coyotes and and the, the data that they collected and the way they apply that data to decision making that right government entities do or how we can eradicate this problem, or is this a problem we're supposed to eradicate? And that's the stuff that I think translates into where whatever you're doing, you know, it's like, here's a problem. Here's how this person chose to attack that problem. And that I think is useful in every game.
Umar Hameed 21:01
Absolutely. Gentlemen, that book Freakonomics Mm hmm. Through that was very much applying economic principles to social issues. And amazing one last question. You're a member of accelerant? Yes, there's fellow members. Don't name names. But what I'm interested in is some people thrive in accelerant. And other people struggle a little bit. So what's the difference between because the model is you can't sell? So it's very much building relationships. Who does it really well? Like? What are the traits? And who the people that struggle? And why do you think that is?
Billy Cole 21:36
So fundamentally, though, there's the one part that I still don't believe everyone quite understands is that the goal isn't for the members to go in a room and figure out how to do business together. It's just not what the model is. And I explain to people all the time, I can only buy from one insurance broker from one attorney from one accountant. So me as a potential client, I bring minimal value, my network, the number of people that I can introduce that accountant to is huge, wildly more useful, and can be lucrative and be way more customers than just my business. So understanding that perspective, and then walking into the door, with a not keeping score mentality of just enjoying making introduction, that that is fruitful for someone else. Like if you find yourself in conversations, being the guy who I've got a guy Yeah, right. Like if you'd like that, then inherently, you're going to do well. But even for those who, maybe that's not exactly it, it still is the concept of of getting your business in a place and trusting that if I make introductions, whether you want to call it karma, or whatever, however, you describe the way the world works, at freely, giving to me just seems to be the best path to success.
Umar Hameed 23:08
I think that's a good philosophy for life, I believe. Thanks so much for sitting down with me.
Billy Cole 23:12
Yeah, no, I enjoyed it. Thanks so much.
Umar Hameed 23:19
If you enjoyed this episode, please go to iTunes and leave a five star rating. And if you're looking for more tools, go to my website at no limit selling calm. I've got a free mind training course there that's going to teach you some insights from the world of neuro linguistic programming and that is the fastest way to get better results.