Young Contractor Shoots For The Rooftops

Story by Mike Larson, Editor | September 28, 2010

At the Oak Creek power plant, Penebaker installers spray cold process adhesive and roll out waterproofing underlayment. The finishing layer will be laid over the top later. Penebaker is skilled in applying almost any type of commercial and residential roofing system.

The Penebaker Enterprises, LLC is an energetic young roofing and sheet-metal contractor that holds itself to high standards and aims for the high peaks of success.

Founded in 2002 by entrepreneur and owner Khary (pronounced "Cur-ee") Penebaker and four young colleagues, Penebaker Enterprises has grown into a commercial and residential roofing and sheet metal contractor with a core of 30 employees, augmented by several more during peak season.

Company Serves Southeastern Wisconsin, And Beyond

Penebaker Enterprises' headquarters is a 54,000-square-foot former dairy on North 30th Street in Milwaukee. Says Penebaker, "We wanted to be in the city of Milwaukee and needed space not only for offices, but also for storing the materials and vehicles we use in our work. This building gives us plenty of storage, as well as room for our sheet-metal operation."

Up to now, the company has primarily served southeastern Wisconsin, ranging from Green Bay south to the Illinois border, and from Madison, east to Lake Michigan.

But it will also send crews wherever else a profitable project beckons. So far, the furthest out-of-state jobs have been in Illinois.

Penebaker expects that its working area will expand as the company continues to grow. "We are a manufacturer-certified installer for Tremco roofing systems. Relatively few companies have earned that distinction. I believe that we will become ever more attractive to customers who would like their Tremco roofing systems installed by a manufacturer-certified contractor. As our work builds a reputation in other areas, I'd expect the area we serve to grow larger. In addition to being a certified Tremco applicator, we are also certified by GAF (as a Master Elite Contractor for both low and steep roofing), Carlisle (low sloped and green roofing), Certainteed (low and steep slope roofing), Dow Roofing (low slope roofing), and Firestone (low slope roofing)."

Several High-Profile Successes Already Under Belt

Although relatively new, Penebaker Enterprises has already completed a number of high-profile commercial roofing projects. Just a few are the We Energies service centers in Milwaukee; the Linwood water-treatment facility whose roof combines Ludowici Spanish tile and a Tremco built-up flat roof; Flatiron Condos on Water Street in Milwaukee; Milwaukee's North End project; and Teutonia Gardens, a mixed-use building in Milwaukee.

The company's highest-profile job has definitely been installing the new slate roof on the Milwaukee City Hall restoration project, right in the heart of downtown. It is a steep roof on a prominent building in downtown Milwaukee.

To prepare for the project, Penebaker employees studied for weeks with the Roofer's Local 65 union. In addition to that, a number of Penebaker's key employees spent several years training and working with one of Wisconsin's premier slate installers. As a result, the City Hall roof installation, nine stories above street level, was completed professionally and on time.

Says Khary Penebaker, "The City Hall project was a difficult because of the height and because of the overall magnitude. Due to the hard work and determination of our field installers, as well as the outstanding efforts of our office staff, we were able to out-perform the expectations of others. We were able to successfully complete the project with a high level of quality and were able to finish our scope of work in a timely fashion. Completing this project gives me an immense amount of pride in knowing that we did perform very well, but also knowing that this is one of the most important roofs in the city and it has the Penebaker name on it!"

Currently Roofing Oak Creek Power Plant

One of the company's larger recent projects was re-roofing We Energies' power plant in Oak Creek.

The project involved replacing 34,000 square feet of flat roofing 165 feet up, atop the boiler houses.

Penebaker's crew of eight first had to remove existing built-up roof, then replace it with a Tremco cold process built-up roof.

The project began in November and will continue through February.

Said Penebaker, "In some applications like this one, we can work nearly all winter long, with the exception of a few of the coldest days."

All-Union Operation

Penebaker Enterprises' installers are 100-percent unionized. The sheet metal workers belong to Local 18, and the roofers belong to Local 65. Khary Penebaker says he believes in the union training and encourages his installers to move from apprenticeships to journeyman status.

"It's better for the company and the installers to have all the installers take full advantage of the available union-sponsored training," says Penebaker. "The union training opportunities have been good for us. In fact, one of our employees, Ryan Woelfel, was the 2008 roofing apprentice of the year in Local 65."

Training And Safety Important

In addition to union training, continued technical and safety training are important in Penebaker Enterprises' business plan. The company has arranged several installer training sessions with roofing manufacturers. It conducts its own ongoing safety training, and has not had a single lost-time accident in its seven-year history.

Leading by example, President Khary Penebaker has himself embraced continual education. He is completing the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee's (AGC-GM) mentor-protégé program, in which experts from established contractors help minority contractors learn more about the construction industry and also provide assistance in further developing the business.

Says Penebaker, "My mentor, Larry Rocole, a vice president from J.P. Cullen & Sons, is an expert at process improvement. His advice has helped us set up systems that let us keep getting better at everything we do. Dawn Pratt, of Payne & Dolan, has provided a significant amount of help with Human Resources and with improving our inter-office efficiencies. The AGC has done a nice job with this program."

Federally Certified 8A Minority Contractor

Penebaker Enterprises sees itself as a competitive, high-quality contractor that happens to be minority owned. "We want to be hired on the quality and value of our work, not simply because we are minority owned," says Penebaker. "If a customer gets to meet a minority percentage by hiring us, that's fine, but our primary goal is to be recognized for doing good work."

The company has recently earned federal certification as an 8A qualified minority contractor; there are very few roofing companies with that distinction. Penebaker says the painstakingly thorough 10-month qualification process included full financial disclosure, providing full historical documentation, and even an FBI screening. The 8A rating qualifies the company to work on U.S. federal government projects anywhere in the world.

Thriving On Challenges And Learning

Kevin Kasper, one of Penebaker's original employees and now the company vice president, said one challenge that keeps Penebaker Enterprises motivated is the opportunity to keep expanding its capabilities and improving its performance.

"It's great to be part of a young company run by young but experienced executives," says Kasper. "We are all learning and growing together. We've made some mistakes and have learned from them, but we always deliver for our customers, regardless of circumstances."

Adds Khary Penebaker, "We are working diligently to build a reputation as a contractor who reliably delivers competitively priced, high-quality results on any kind of sheet-metal or roofing project. If we can achieve that, the sky is the limit. Our goals are to continue working hard, satisfy our customers, and build a company our employees and their families are proud to be part of."