Northwest Business Magazine

Olsson Roofing Company Celebrates 100 Years

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Started by a tradesman with a dream, this company has grown up to take on some of northern Illinois’ toughest roofing challenges. See how this company has built a name for itself.

Olsson Roofing has served many large commercial properties, including those of manufacturers, hospitals, municipalities, and shopping malls, such as Rockford’s CherryVale Mall, pictured above.

Olsson Roofing has served many large commercial properties, including those of manufacturers, hospitals, municipalities, and shopping malls, such as Rockford’s CherryVale Mall, pictured above.

It takes plenty of hard work and a little luck for any company to reach 100 years in business. No one knows that better than Olsson Roofing Company Inc., a commercial and industrial roofing and architectural metal contractor that works with a number of public and private entities including school districts, manufacturers, distributors, hospitals, shopping malls, property management firms and municipalities.

“We got here today through consistency, quality, collaboration and a mutual trust and respect for both our teammates and customers,” says John Goers, vice president of business development. “For us, it’s not just another roof or another project, but a partnership with all involved. That attitude is prevalent throughout our entire organization.”

In 1914, tradesman Nils Olsson had a dream to start his own company. He decided to open a roofing business, which he successfully ran for more than 30 years. In the late 1940s, Olsson sold the company to one of his employees, William Glenn, who eventually turned the company over to his son, Bill Glenn.

In the 1970s, Olsson Roofing took advantage of growth in the western Chicago suburbs, focused on commercial and industrial projects, and built relationships with some of the biggest names in the roofing business including Carlisle, Firestone and Johns Manville. Olsson roofed many large schools, office buildings, retail and commercial properties throughout the Chicago area.

In 2003, Bill Glenn sold the business to four employees – Bill Lynch, Jeff Thompson, Mike Herlihy and Gil Larson – knowing they would continue the vision of the company’s founders. The new owners formed a minority employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), so that employees could share in the company’s success.

“They’re vested in the company and really care about our organization,” says Shawn Sullivan, one of seven principals of the company. “It’s helped shape the culture of the company. Our employees embrace the challenge to do things better that some companies might not do. It’s not just a job, it’s a career for the people who work here. That’s what makes it special and unique.”

Olsson, headquartered in Aurora, employs more than 250 employees who work in new construction, re-roof, service and maintenance, and architectural metal divisions. The company and its employees are licensed, certified and held in the highest regard with many major manufacturers. Olsson Roofing is one of the largest union roofing contractors in the Midwest.

“We’ve adapted to changes in the marketplace,” says Sullivan. “Several years ago, corporations were building new buildings left and right, and now they’re maintaining what they have.”

In 2004, Olsson opened an office in Rockford to serve the northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin area. “Rockford has a rich history and is known for being a respected commercial and industrial marketplace,” Goers says. “From an infrastructure and logistics viewpoint, it’s tied to the I-90/I-39/I-88 corridor, which makes it attractive to many businesses and for us to provide our services. It also made sense since a number of our customers expanded into the Rockford market.”

In 2011, Olsson Roofing further expanded with the acquisition of Metal Edge Inc., located in Chicago Heights, which diversified its business into a full-service roofing, architectural metal and composite wall panel contractor.

Among its most notable projects are CherryVale Mall, Janesville Mall, Lowe’s Distribution Center, Ingersoll, and Sherman Hospital. Over a nine-year period, Olsson Roofing replaced all of the roofs on the True Value Distribution Center in Harvard, a 4 million square-foot building. The Lowe’s Distribution Center in Rockford is 1.5 million square feet.

“Taking care of our customers is very important to us,” says Bob Blusiewicz, senior project manager. “Some of our projects like the CherryVale Mall and Janesville Mall, for example, each lasted more than five years. They were very challenging projects because of the different levels of roofs. It takes a lot of coordination in order to meet the needs of our customers, as well as the people who shop there.”

Mark Peterson, general manager of CherryVale Mall, has worked with Olsson Roofing for the past 10 years on everything from major roof projects to repairing leaks at the 1 million square-foot mall. Peterson praises the roofing company not only for its expertise but its quality and professionalism.

“The difference with Olsson Roofing is the quality of their work,” he says. “We know that we can rely on them to put on a quality roof according to specs. Personal attention is big with me. I know I can pick up the phone whenever I have an issue and they are usually one step ahead of me. This year we’ve had to replace a significant amount of wall panels. We’ve built up a trust with Olsson Roofing over the past decade. They’re a key element to our property management.”

Another key to Olsson’s success has been its ability to adapt to changes within both the economy and the industry.

“When we started, asphalt/built-up roofing was mainstream, which consists of several layers, which led to redundancy roofing,” Goers says. “As we transitioned into the 1970s and into today, architecture, design, energy codes and green/sustainable initiatives lead the way. Due to this change in market demand, we’ve diversified, and have educated the market on single-ply roofing systems. We’ve been able to quickly adapt to these changes thanks to the skill of our roofers and products that our manufacturing partners produce.”

One of the growing areas of the company is its service and maintenance department. What started as a support system for the re-roofing and new construction areas 20 years ago has become a vital entity that’s responsible for extensive renovation and rehabilitation work throughout the Chicago, Rockford and southern Wisconsin areas.

“Most other companies provide service and maintenance only when it’s convenient,” says Sullivan. “We have a dedicated staff of field employees who only perform service and maintenance year-round. Our crews go out every day installing penetrations on new roofs, providing due diligence reports and handling a lot of work for property management companies. We used to go out and only fix leaks. Now, we handle nearly 5,000 service calls a year that fall anywhere from small leaks and repairs to small new construction additions or small re-roof type projects.”

Olsson Roofing has received numerous awards for its work over the years, including Safety Contractor of the Year from the Chicago Roofing Contractors Association. Last year, Olsson Roofing received the 2014 Firestone Master Contractor, President’s Club, Inner Circle of Quality and Platinum Council Awards, four of Firestone’s most distinguished commercial roofing awards. It’s also a perennial recipient of Carlisle’s ESP and Top 100 awards. Among all award recipients, only 25 firms nationwide earned every program distinction.

It was the 21st time Olsson Roofing has earned the Firestone Master Contractor Award and the 16th time it received the Firestone President’s Club Award and Firestone Inner Circle of Quality.

“It’s nice to be recognized by our peers,” says Blusiewicz. “There’s mutual respect within our industry for the quality of work we do, and we take pride in the training of our team. The awards and kudos are humbling and satisfying.”

To celebrate its 100 years in business, Olsson Roofing held a special event for employees and families, and a community event. “This is a culmination of the hard work that started when Nils Olsson founded the company in 1914,” says Goers. “We want to honor and thank the Olsson Roofing family for their years of hard work, dedication and devotion.”

The landmark anniversary has added meaning for longtime employees like Blusiewicz, who’s worked at Olsson twice over the past 29 years. He was gone for nine years, when he left for a large Florida roofing contractor. “I was here at Olsson in 1972 when we had just 20 employees working out of a barn-like building,” he says. “We had to figure out how to compete in a tough Chicago market. We were just little guys from Aurora competing against these legends in Chicago. We went from a small ma and pa shop to become a big-time player. It’s been awesome.”

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