An Energizing Chat with Leo Ibarra, the Next WSRCA President
by Marc Dodson, editor
Leo Ibarra is about to become the 45th president of the Western States Roofing Contractors Association (WSRCA), and he has a laser-focused plan for the organization. He’s been impressed with the way the association has maintained a healthy membership and grown the Western Roofing Expo into the premier roofing event in the industry, but he thinks it can go even farther. This past year he’s served as the WSRCA’s senior vice president and treasurer, and he’s been an integral part of the association’s recent success. At this year’s Western Roofing Expo, he’ll take over from current president Tom Asbury and continue to drive membership, advocate for education, and strengthen industry alliances.
Ibarra’s understanding of the trade is a reflection of his long and accomplished history as a roofing professional. He wasted no time after high school before jumping into the roofing industry. He spent three years at Saddleback Roofing in Orange, California, before transitioning to Blue’s Roofing, Milpitas, California, where he’s spent the last 27 years and is the current vice president of operations. He has maintained a long and impressive history at Blue’s, which includes rising from apprentice to journeyman to project manager and now part-owner. “There are a few of us in the office who have risen up the ranks,” he explained. “It says a lot about the company, that it can retain people for that many years. The philosophy of Blue’s Roofing, and how we treat people, plays a large role in our success.”
Blue’s Roofing sticks strictly to commercial projects, with waterproofing making up 70% of their volume and roofing making up the other 30%. They have a diverse portfolio, which includes tile, single-ply, hot rubber, coatings, and below-grade waterproofing. In fact, this diversity is what Ibarra believes makes Blue’s a novelty in the industry. “It can be easier to take somebody with a built-up roofing background and teach them waterproofing,” he explained. “It’s hard to go the other way because of the types of skills needed to run the equipment on the roof. You need time and experience to develop these skills.” While Ibarra affirms there are plenty of dos and don’ts when it comes to waterproofing, he believes that it is easier for him to teach the basics of waterproofing to someone with a built-up roofing background.
Northern California’s growth has allowed Blue’s Roofing to stay within their area. “There’s so much work in Northern California,” said Ibarra. “Silicon Valley is keeping us very busy, but that also means we’re sticking close to home.” Some of these Silicon Valley projects include below-grade waterproofing and single-ply roofing for a building on the Apple® campus, as well as a Google® project.
Blue’s Roofing has about 70 field employees and 19 in the office, which includes mechanics, project managers, estimators, and accounting personnel. “There’s a lot of history at Blue’s and it’s been very fun being a part of it,” said Ibarra. “Gaylord Blue, our founder, was well-known in the industry and I hear stories about him when I attend industry meetings and conferences.” It’s because of their legendary founder that Blue’s Roofing still believes the more you can educate the roofing industry, the better you can make it in the long run. Ibarra has seen how the roofing industry has changed over the years. With this first-hand knowledge and up-close experience, he’s more than prepared to take over the WSRCA and keep it on a path towards success and growth.
Western Roofing (WR): What are the main problems on the job that you encounter regularly?
Ibarra: This past year we had an issue with contractors not giving us enough work to fill up the day. At Blue’s Roofing, we are there to help assist in whatever way we can, including scheduling. It can be a real issue when a contractor tries to have us only perform part of a job. They want us to come in and do 30’ of work per day, but that’s not how it works and that’s not how jobs are bid. We’re meant to come in and finish a project. This happened to us on several recent jobs, which is unusual. Communication is key, so when a job gets pushed back and we aren’t told, we run into a big issue because we have other jobs on the books. We had a project that was supposed to begin in July but it was pushed back to October, and by that point we didn’t have the manpower needed to get the job done according to the superintendent’s original plan. Thankfully, it was a contractor we work with regularly, so we were able to work it out with them without issue.
WR: What are your plans for the future?
Ibarra: I’m absolutely going to stay with Blue’s Roofing. As for the company, we’re going to continue to do what we’re good at, which means we don’t have a large desire to grow at this time. We have a few older shareholders who are close to retiring, so that might impact how we evaluate our goals in the future, but we’ll have to wait and see.
WR: Is your family involved in the industry?
Ibarra: My wife, Helen, is very supportive of what I do, and she comes along to a lot of WSRCA functions with me. It’s very seldom that she’s not at an event with me and while she’s gotten to know a lot of people, she’s not employed in the roofing industry. However, I talk to her so much about roofing that I’m confident she could hold her own in a conversation with another roofing professional. We’ve been married for 29 years and we have three daughters, a son-in-law, and a granddaughter.
WR: Do you have any hobbies or activities?
Ibarra: I love doing anything outside, including camping and snowboarding. My wife and I also enjoy wine tasting and trying out local craft breweries.
WR: What makes the WSRCA unique?
Ibarra: Throughout my time with the WSRCA, I’ve realized that people really do things differently in the West than other places. Earthquakes, for example, play a large role in the way we do things in the WSRCA. Western buildings, particularly in California, can have issues with foundation cracks or leaks in below-grade waterproofing, and the WSRCA helps members address those unique concerns.
WR: Does the WSRCA have any special projects going on at this time?
Ibarra: Right now we’re dabbling in everything. When our Board of Directors brings something to our attention, we try to address it. This includes new building codes, new manufacturer requirements, and safety issues. With the current silica regulations, for example, we’ve tried to educate and do what we can to keep people informed about it.
WR: How has the current economy impacted Blue’s Roofing?
Ibarra: Since the economy has been strong, labor has been a constant problem. In order to make sure we have qualified workers, we’re constantly calling the unions to try to get people. This is particularly true for larger projects, such as Levi’s® Stadium, home of the NFL’s 49ers.
WR: How is the current construction economy affecting the contractor in general?
Ibarra: We’re still running into a lot of the same contractors that we’ve always come into contact with, and we chase a lot of the same type of work. We don’t see a lot of the smaller contractors, who may have recently started their own companies, because of the size of jobs that we do. We don’t typically go after any public work, either. In 2018, 95% of our jobs were for repeat customers.
WR: How is the current economy affecting the WSRCA?
Ibarra: When the economy is good, companies are not going to think twice about sending people to shows. So, the strong economy is definitely a benefit to the WSRCA and the Western Roofing Expo right now.
WR: What do you expect for the future?
Ibarra: Just like every WSRCA president, my goal is to continue to grow membership and build on the great job that the past presidents and staff have done. The association has been growing, from one aspect to another, year after year. I want the WSRCA to continue to grow while maintaining our current membership.
WR: What is the toughest problem for the WSRCA as an association?
Ibarra: It can be challenging to collaborate with other organizations and associations, but it’s something that I’ve recently seen happening that I like. We can help each other improve, and it’s better for the industry as a whole. When we stand together as one, even though we don’t always agree, we support each other and make the industry better.
WR: What are some problems for the roofing contractor in general?
Ibarra: The problem with the labor shortage is happening with every trade, not just roofing contractors. When I go to jobsite meetings, the HVAC professionals and electricians are all saying the same thing. Finding good, quality employees has been the biggest challenge. Because the economy is so good right now, everyone is already employed.
WR: Are you having any issues with government regulations right now?
Ibarra: We’ve seen a lot more government regulations recently. The one that we’re running into now in California is in regards to using our big, diesel trucks. Due to the age of our trucks that are over 26,000 GVW, California is now enforcing a regulation that we can only use our crane for a certain set of time/mileage per year. So, our crane is essentially inoperable for a portion of the year once we reach that limit.
WR: What kinds of programs are the WSRCA offering?
Ibarra: We are trying to educate members on safety and technical issues. We’re giving them information as to where they should look to educate themselves and their teams, including manuals and guidelines for waterproofing, too. Education, both safety and technical, has always been something we’re focused on. The WSRCA’s safety information has been put together in such a clear format, and many members don’t realize that yet.
WR: What can the WSRCA do to help the roofing contractor improve their business?
Ibarra: It goes back to providing members with information that is needed, both safety and technical understanding. We have a technical advisor and legal advisor that members can reach out to. You cannot tell me that being a member is not a savings opportunity. If you can prevent installing something incorrectly or encountering a legal issue, that is your cost savings. We have every avenue of people to help you, whether it be legal, technical, or safety. We have all of the bases covered.
WR: What does the WSRCA offer that other local, regional, and national associations can’t?
Ibarra: We get information out to our members more quickly. We try to inform our members by sending out email blasts or bulletins just to give them some quick information. While other associations have their strong points, the WSRCA is good at getting stuff done and communicating with our members. On that note, we need to work better at guiding members through the website so they can find the information they need.
WR: How long has Blue’s Roofing been a member of the WSRCA?
Ibarra: We’ve been with the WSRCA since day one.
WR: As the new president, what are your immediate goals?
Ibarra: My immediate goals are to continue to work together with other associations, both local and national, and help continue to close any gaps and make the relationships stronger. Like Asbury has stated, women in the industry are valuable and there’d be nothing better than having strong women be a part of the Board of Directors. We have some wonderful women involved in the industry now, and it’s great to see them grow. I’d like to help that trend continue.
WR: How is the 2019 convention shaping up?
Ibarra: It’s going great. We’re sold out and I’m expecting this to be the largest attendance yet, even breaking the record last year of 4,400. This year we have more seminars, but there’s also a safety booth by the registration table to promote that aspect of our association. We have ten Davis Memorial Scholarships available this year, too. While we’re all in agreement that we’d like to provide even more, the fact that we have ten is remarkable.
WR: A year from now, what do you want people to say about your term in office?
Ibarra: I’m hoping that people will say that I did exactly what they were expecting of me, including maintaining membership and helping the association grow in the right direction. We have a great staff and I’m really going to rely on them to assist me in making my presidency successful.
WR: Any other comments?
Ibarra: I’m really excited about this journey I’m about to embark on. I was on the fence initially, but past president Dennis Ryan gave me some great advice. “If you do it and you don’t enjoy it, you’ll be kicking yourself for a year,” he said. “If you don’t do it, you’ll be kicking yourself for the rest of your life.” So, he’s on my speed dial now because that was great advice.