Credit: Photo: Soren Pilman

When Peter Valdez, operations manager at Interstate Roofing, in Portland, Ore., has to find a production manager — he currently has nine — he looks no further than the ranks of his own company.

“All are employees who worked their way up the ladder,” Valdez says. “We haven't hired anyone from outside.” He calls Interstate Roofing “unique” because of its size — Valdez runs an average of 20 crews that sometimes re-roof as many as 25 houses a week. That volume has given the company the chance to develop its own production management talent, he says.

ON-THE-JOB TRAINING Individual crew chiefs get a lot of on-the-job supervisory experience. So when a production manager slot opens — which is infrequent because production managers tend to be long-term employees, Valdez says — there's plenty of qualified in-house competition for the job.

In fact, many contractors prefer to promote production managers from within rather than to take a chance on an unknown individual — no matter how careful the selection process is — for such a critical position.

“We have a production manager in each of our four departments,” explains Dale Brenke, president of Schmidt Siding & Window Co., in Mankato, Minn. “All have been with us for over 25 years and all have come from the production ranks.” These former installers have the hands-on installation skills that Brenke says are important, but additionally, “this allows us to keep good people who we know are good workers,” he adds.

KNOW A BIT ABOUT A LOT Those hands-on skills are important, agrees Ed Ladouceur, president and CEO of Storm-Tite Home Improvement, in Warwick, R.I., who also generally promotes production managers from within. But, he cautions, the best installer and the individual who will be a good production manager aren't necessarily one and the same.

“You don't have to be Leonardo da Vinci with the trim or the greatest installer of siding, but you do need to have common knowledge of a lot of the products,” Ladouceur says. “You need to know a little bit about a lot,” plus have some “altogether different” management skills.

Critical to successfully managing installation crews, Brenke says, is the ability to interact with home owners and to react to their needs.

Although many company owners look first within the ranks, it's always wise to look outside as well. For his current production manager, Ladouceur found a candidate who filled the bill in all particulars; a college graduate who had run his own home improvement business and had been an internal auditor for a Fortune 500 company. And the candidate turned out to be close at hand, married to Ladouceur's “right-hand person,” who is a 19-year StormTite Home Improvement veteran.