2009 Metal Roofing Hall of Fame: Red McConnohie

My sincere “Thank you” to Metal Roofing Magazine and those who considered my credentials sufficient for an invitation into the company of such well-known leaders in our industry who are members of the Metal Roofing Hall of Fame.

Indeed, they carry much of the blame — and responsibility — for the exciting, rewarding career so very much enjoyed by myself, my family and a host of great friends, customers, associates and fellow employees over my 50 years — and still counting.

What are you doing now?
After a couple of medical enforced retirement episodes, it is my opinion life is to stay connected with what and whom has really made one’s life an enjoyable and perhaps enviable experience. I shall never “retire by intent.”

Therefore, at 86, I still harass my partner, Dale Nelson, customers, family and friends, to prove I’m still here.

How did you first get involved in the metal roofing industry?
After returning from World War II, I was the recipient of what I consider the finest gift our country ever gave its returning vets, the GI Bill. Now I could go the college of my choice. Human and industrial engineering were my choice. A sales job for a few years after school, traveling in snow, ice, cold of our Michigan winters, we moved to Miami for a new start.

One of my first jobs was to solicit bids for construction of a new warehouse for our steel inventory. One of the bidders was a Butler Buildings contractor, mostly known as tin buildings back them. He proposed a new concept, a rigid frame steel structure, 120-day completion, costing 30 percent less than conventional joists on block.

After checking further and conversing with other clients, we bought from Butler and moved in 110 days later. That’s when I saw my future career, as a general contractor company with a pre-engineered building franchise. A huge new industry was under way and I wanted to be a part of it.

My opportunity came in 1959. A start-up company advertised for a district manager for Florida, to sell pre-fab steel structures. I was hired and based in Tampa.

The four newly hired district managers met at the Columbus, Ga., headquarters, only to find the first item of business was to vote for a name for the new company. Thus was born American Buildings Company, whose identity was to become a major factor in the industry over the following 30 years, continuing today. Within months of opening a new factory at Eufala, Ala., my duties escalated to the development and training of district and regional managers in the Midwest, East and Caribbean.

I recruited contractor dealers in the islands and sold American Buildings structures in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Caymans. We could sell those new pre-fab steel buildings wherever we went. I began perusing government international bid requests, which resulted in selling structures in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Nigeria and best of all, 100 single-room school buildings to Sierra Leone.

1965 saw the introduction of the computer design programs, so we were no longer limited to cookie cutter standards. Suddenly the entire commercial “design-build” construction market was laid, open to our new industry. The real fun was about to begin and my decision to start my own design-build company was made. I reluctantly resigned from American in 1965. Customer Structures of Tampa was born and Custom Industrial Parks was added in 1969.

We chose Varco Buildings of Pine Bluff, Ark., as our building supplier because we were privy to their imminent conversion to “all computer design custom buildings” a year or two ahead of the industry. We hit the Florida market just as the population expansion was under way and buildings of all kinds were in demand.

What contributions have you made to the metal roofing industry?
Besides the selling and construction of several millions of square feet of metal buildings and spreading the fame and desirability of pre-engineered steel structures, my invention of the Roof Hugger miniature Z in 1991 for the retrofit re-roofing of existing metal roofs of any profile was certainly the premiere event of my contribution.

Roof Huggers now support some 60 million square feet of new retrofit roof-overs, thus saving considerable costs, time and possible liabilities over the old tear-off method, opening up buildings to weather and debris contingencies.

What do you see for the future of the metal roofing industry?
The “innovative rush” has established our industry to maintain our 60 to 70 percent of the commercial construction market for the foreseeable future and a high growth of metal roofing into the residential market will be a boon for the suppliers and roofers at the community levels.

I’ve worked with great associates, partners, son-in-law and grandsons, all of whom were essential in our early years, and especially to our Dale Nelson, now partner and president of Roof Hugger. Dale joined us in 1973, fresh out of college and grew into estimating, sales, vice president in charge of business park development construction and leasing and sales. His knowledge, energy and personality have carried our company and reputation to the top of the charts!”

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