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Tim Dunlap Featured

9:34am EDT February 27, 2003
Tim Dunlap seems remarkably relaxed and comfortable in his role as president and COO at Centimark Corp., even though he's been at the job only a few months.

Maybe it's because he didn't simply fall into the job, even though his father, Ed Dunlap, now Centimark's chairman and CEO, is the commercial roofing company's founder.

The younger Dunlap has worked in virtually every department of the Canonsburg-based, $250 million company -- one of the largest commercial roofing contractors in North America -- since his father launched the venture in 1968. And his father, says Dunlap, never gave him a free pass on any assignment.

"That was key, and one of the things I was appreciative of my dad for," says Dunlap. "He wanted to make sure that I did everything, and that it wasn't in short stints."

Dunlap worked in the business as a youngster, doing chores around the office and warehouse. Over the next three decades, he accrued the experience that prepared him to take over the day-to-day operations.

Dunlap talked with SBN about his slow-but-sure climb to the top.

Did you have a sense early on that you wanted to work in the business?

I enjoyed it and never worked another job in my life. I didn't go to college because my thoughts were you couldn't learn roofing in college.

That's why I graduated high school and boom, right on the roofs. It is kind of odd because you'd think at some point I might have an inkling of doing something different, but I never did.

I always really envisioned myself as being my dad's right-hand man and helping him with the business.

How did you start out at Centimark?

When I was about 10 years old, I was going in on Saturdays, sweeping the floors, stacking pallets, just small, busy-type work.

I had my own filing system. On Saturdays, my dad would give me the junk mail. I'd open it and file it away. I did that for quite a long time. I also would ride with him at times on business calls, and spend the day with him. I'd sit in the car while he'd run in on the appointments.

All of that gave me continuous exposure to the business. As I got older, prior to graduating and throughout high school, I'd work summers in the warehouse, shipping, receiving, making products, just normal warehouse activities.

When I graduated high school in 1978, a week out of high school, I started on the roofing crew. That was more or less the beginning of my progression. I worked on the roofing crew, then I worked in the warehouse in Bethel Park.

Then I went into the technical aspects of the business as a technical rep, measuring roofs and putting together estimates. I went into sales, then managed a branch office, what we call a profit center. Then I managed a region, which is a group of profit centers.

Then I managed a group, a large chunk of the country, the northern group, 11 profit centers (in the United States) plus three up in Canada.

It sounds like you've had broad experience with the business.

Again, that was the culmination of 25 years of being in the business full time, working in all of those facets. So when I went into sales, that was a 12-year exposure.

When I managed a branch office, that was three years. I managed a region for three years and a group for three years.

So it wasn't just, 'Well, it's my son, let's advance him along. We'll throw him in a position for a year and then buck him up.' He really made me earn it.

He wanted to make sure with each progression that I was thoroughly ready, that I was mature enough to handle it and that I was supported by the employees.

I think once he saw those three things, he felt comfortable in making the decision (to move me up). I had to make sure I fulfilled all of the parameters and everyone felt comfortable before he would pull the trigger on the next move.

What did you like most about the business through that progression?

Probably the sales part of it. I'm a salesman at heart, and I enjoyed the ability to get out there and meet the people, and the freedom. I would say I enjoyed that most, but I like the managing side of it, too, because I like dealing with people.

I like the challenges of the management side; you don't get that from the sales side. I haven't really done anything I didn't like. I usually jump into everything feet first.

I really can't think of everything I didn't enjoy or didn't appreciate the challenge of doing.

Working on a roofing crew is hard, hot work. How did that help you develop into your present role?

It's definitely helpful. It gives you a different perspective of things when you're out there actually doing it. It's easy to sit in the office and call the shots ... but one of the advantages of working in every facet, including out on the roof crew, is that before I make a decision about anything, I can think, 'I did that.'

This decision I'm making, how will it influence what's going on out there? Is it going to affect the people? How will the trickle-down affect their work?

I think that had a huge bearing on my progression, and enabled me to be cognizant of how my decisions are going to affect the people out in the trenches. How to reach: Centimark Corp., www.centimark.com