CEO to CEO Podcast: Candace Klein

The CEO to CEO podcast is hosted by Kevin Campbell, CEO of Syniti. 

 

This week's guest, Candace Klein is an accomplished national business and civic leader based in Atlanta, Georgia. She is president of Klein Contracting Corporation and co-founder and CEO of Meta Team LLC. A national women owned a commercial roofing company with proven successes one of only a few certified women owned commercial roofing contracting companies in the US. She has developed and implemented strategic plans to ensure profitability in volatile markets.

 

 

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Kevin Campbell (01:17):

Welcome to today's CEO to CEO podcast. Today I'm delighted to have a friend and colleague on. Candace Klein, who's CEO of Klein Contracting, president and CEO of Klein Contracting. And also the co-founder of Meta group. And we'll talk a little bit more about that in a few minutes. Candace, welcome.

 

Candace Klein (01:41):

Thank you. It's delightful to be with you and I'm very happy to see you today.

 

Kevin Campbell (01:44):

Yeah. How about, would you start with telling us about how did you get into the roofing business?

 

Candace Klein (01:52):

Well, as you know, the smell of asphalt is so appealing that I don't understand why everyone doesn't want to be a roofer. Right? So years ago I was actually in IT. And I was noticing that I was working so many hours, that I had more dogs than friends. And I realized that if I continued to lean in to this career, I was going to have to give up a lot of personal things that I enjoyed. I wanted to enjoy travel, and it would impact my ability to have a family I thought. And I thought, well, it may be time to do something different. Meanwhile, my father bought out his partner in there then asbestosis abatement company, because roofing isn't sexy enough. And I went back to school and studied accounting. And then I decided, we're growing market share here at this company in a diminishing market, which was abatement at that time. And we had a good customer base that also needed roofs. So we quickly migrated into roofing and thus I am a roofer.

 

Kevin Campbell (02:53):

Excellent. And so tell me a little bit about the growth of Klein Contracting and kind of where you were and where you are today.

 

Candace Klein (03:01):

Sure. So Klein Contracting has been doing roofing for quite a long time now. And we're... At first, you were doing smaller projects and they were easier projects. So what I would like to think Klein Contracting's forte is we grew into the complicated, difficult owner occupied facilities with long-term owners. So you've got somebody who may own 60 buildings across the country, and many of them may be high rises in urban environments. We grew from doing small roofs, little warehouses into growth of complicated, difficult, wonderful projects. I like to think. So we grew in sophistication and in size. But mostly I want to say our focus was really leaning into a very niche part of the market.

 

Kevin Campbell (03:55):

And I know from spending time on your website and by the way, why don't you let everybody know what your website is?

 

Candace Klein (04:03):

It's Kleincontracting.com.

 

Kevin Campbell (04:05):

Great. And if you go out there, there's some pictures of some gorgeous buildings that you've done. And I think when most of us think about roofing, we think about our houses and you taught me early on, no, you won't do my house for me. But yours is all commercial and some pretty special buildings too.

 

Candace Klein (04:23):

I've been very blessed that our client base has trusted us with some very sophisticated properties. And one of the benefits of course, of being a roofer is you get the best views of any skyline you could ever imagine. So it comes with some added perks. And most people don't think about roofing and don't want to think about roofing, right? If you have a great roof, you shouldn't have to think about it for 20 years other than some seasonal maintenance. So hopefully a lot of the people who are listening today don't ever need to call me per se. But if anyone ever has any questions, I'm happy to answer them.

 

Kevin Campbell (05:00):

And one of the things that your known for is that you hire people and hire your team as opposed to using contractors.

 

Candace Klein (05:09):

Yes.

 

Kevin Campbell (05:09):

Which a lot of roofers do. Tell me about that and how did you develop that philosophy?

 

Candace Klein (05:15):

Certainly. So 2008 was a critical point in so many people's market, right? And what I saw in the sub-trades, I'm considered a sub trade in construction, was that everyone let go of all of their employees to reduce their overhead in order to stay in business. And they never brought them back. We never let go of those employees because again, our goal at the time was to grow into a market. It was very complicated roofing, very unique circumstances. And I never believed that I would sacrifice the value of people. People are it for us. It is our employees. It is our clients. It's about safety. So although my profit margins may be a little bit tighter than my competitors, I feel strongly that the people who are going to do the roofing, not only know what they're doing, but they know to look out for the wellbeing of everyone. Both in the building, around the building, and on that job site. And I just... 2008 secured that value deeply for us. And I just don't feel the need or desire to ever change that. That's fundamental to who we are.

 

Kevin Campbell (06:31):

And what are the other differentiators that you might list when you're competing against people for projects relative to Klein Contracting?

 

Candace Klein (06:39):

Sure. Well, we have one of the best safety records in the business. It's almost unheard of. And again, part of the reason why we self perform our work is that our training and safety is unparalleled in our market. We also are able to do those complicated... We have a long history of those complicated projects. So on our occupied facilities, facilities with switching stations. And very challenging equipment to work around in it, we have a long history there. So when you're looking for somebody who can work in a very particular environment, we have that track record. And I believe that is our major differentiator.

 

Kevin Campbell (07:18):

How has COVID been to the roofing business?

 

Candace Klein (07:22):

Fortunately, what we do is outside. But all of us have offices and office employees. And I say, all of us, because this is, I'm going to answer this question both for Klein and we'll talk about Meta Team too. So the first thing you have to think about is how can your employees safely work in this environment? And so the first six weeks, I think everyone was struggling to figure out what are best practices for people who are both outdoors and indoors. How do you get the PPE that you need both in your offices and in the fields? And what new safety precautions do you need to put in place? So COVID was like implementing a new safety procedure on steroids. We had to make that happen very quickly. We like everyone else had to pivot it. We had clients who postpone projects.

 

I couldn't get permits on certain jobs. But in the same sense, what also happened was training became virtual. So instead of having to send our people or for myself or everyone else all over the United States to get the things they needed to be better at what they do, it became infinitely more efficient. So COVID had its positives and it's had its new opportunities I think, although it was again, we're still in COVID. We still have to be very cautious. And we still have to make sure that no one gets lax, even though they may be tired of it. Right. And we still have a while to go, unfortunately.

 

Kevin Campbell (08:53):

Yeah, no, that's a great point, right? We're all seeing signs of all of us, being tired of it. Right?

 

Candace Klein (08:59):

We're all tired. Yes we are. But we all need to keep everyone safe and healthy. Because our love ones, and our family members, and our teams are too important to overlook the safety factor.

 

Kevin Campbell (09:11):

You're a woman and a very successful one. And what's traditionally been a male dominated business. How has that been for you?

 

Candace Klein (09:20):

I have been very fortunate that first of all, when I joined the business, I had worked with my father. And second of all, because we leaned into doing things that were more complicated. I've been able to spend time with technical experts in our field and learn from them. I have found the gentlemen who are on that upper echelon, I would say of knowledge in my field to be kind and respectful even when I was in learning bonehead mode. Because we all do that in our careers. They have been fantastic to me. Now that doesn't mean that it doesn't present itself with other challenges. When I show up to a job site, people do think, hey, what's going on? Frequently, have been mistaken for the supervision's secretary. So that happens too.

 

And you just know going into it, if you want to change somebody's perspective about what somebody can look like in roofing, you develop a bridge. You develop a relationship with someone. And you say, can I help you? If you don't mind, I would love to talk to you about this. And as you develop that personal relationship, you have the opportunity to change the industry's perspective. So I've been very fortunate that I've had a lot of gentlemen who've been very kind and open. And a lot of people who want to have conversations with me. So I've found it to be a very rewarding career.

 

Kevin Campbell (10:42):

Well and I happen to know from personal experience, you're quite articulate, and quite confident, and carry yourself well, which I think probably helps you quite a bit in that process. People don't have to spend more than a few minutes talking to you and they know that you can more than carry your own.

 

Candace Klein (11:00):

You're very kind. But as we all know, as we grow in our careers, we have to develop into that. That doesn't necessarily come naturally so. I like everyone else have had moments. And fortunately the people who I'm trying to influence to look at women differently have generally been very kind and accepting of those moments. And I'm grateful to be one of the women in our industry.

 

Kevin Campbell (11:26):

That's terrific. And for a dad of three daughters, I love having role models out there for them that prove to them that they can do anything. Which is awesome to be good at it. Speaking of new things, talk to me about Meta Team.

 

Candace Klein (11:46):

I would be delighted to, yes.

 

Kevin Campbell (11:50):

Tell me what's it all about? And how did you decide to go the particular way that you did as opposed to an acquisition route or a doing a traditional roofing roll up as they would call it so.

 

Candace Klein (12:03):

Yes. So when I was looking at how do I get client contracting to grow? My options were several of the things you named. I could acquire another company. I could branch out into another area, for example, residential. I could... All of my options were going to be a big investment of something that was going to be different. And I thought, there are only... The top five roofing companies in sales only make up less than 3% of our market share. So commercial roofing is comprised of all these small to medium sized businesses all across the United States. And I thought, there's something missing here. And what I was missing when I looked at that picture was the realization of how important diversity is to so many of my clients. We are a certified woman owned business. And I knew a handful of other regional roofing companies that were also certified women owned businesses.

 

I knew that my clients and other people were looking to gain the quality that we offer, as well as the opportunity to engage with a minority contractor, particularly in the area of construction. So what we did is we created a new entity and it's called the Meta Team and... Thus team. Meta means to transform. So our goal was to transform the construction experience. So when you engage in the Meta Team, what you're getting is one of the woman owned certified roofing companies that have been in business for decades. I think our youngest company is 16 and our oldest is 105 years old. All of these companies had a heck of a portfolio of business. And right now we represent 22 States. And we're looking to expand that because we're still in talks with the few other women out there who have that longevity, self-perform their work, have great safety factors as a part of their culture.

 

So we decided we were going to do roofing a little differently. So we each still own our own roofing companies. But what we can do now is we can openly collaborate without any competition. We all know where our areas and where our strengths are. So when a client comes to us and says, I have a large scale new construction project, I have the best roofer in the country who can do that. One of my partners is brilliant at that. If one of our clients comes and says, I have a 46 story building with no access whatsoever, and I need a new roof, we can do that. When I have a client that needs solar, I can bring in one of my partners. Our goal is to meet the customer's needs, where they are without them trying to engage 25 different cultures at the same time, while still being able to look at and empower diversity in construction.

 

Kevin Campbell (15:03):

That's very interesting. And are you guys doing a training together?

 

Candace Klein (15:10):

Since we're new, we have that, a new safety, and we're about to roll those kinds of pieces out as well as our own supplier diversity platform. So as our clients are acting, we expect to act the same way. So one of our companies is spectacular. She's spectacular at training. And some of her workforce is aging. And I could easily see that group winding up being the source of training for the rest of us. You already have the talent in house. Our goal now is to leverage it for everyone to use.

 

Kevin Campbell (15:45):

Now you, and through our discussions, I know that you were launching this before COVID hit.

 

Candace Klein (15:51):

Yeah.

 

Kevin Campbell (15:53):

What advice would you have for somebody wanting to launch a new business in the middle of COVID?

 

Candace Klein (15:58):

When you're launching a new business, part of it is building your customer base. And just because COVID struck doesn't mean you can't develop relationships. You just have to find another platform to do that. We have had the opportunity to meet with many, many people online, virtually, which still gives us that good Q&A time. Yes, we all miss being in person. But you're always going to have a challenge that you're going to have to overcome. So why wait?

 

Kevin Campbell (16:28):

No time like the present, right?

 

Candace Klein (16:28):

Exactly. Exactly.

 

Kevin Campbell (16:32):

Here's an opportunity to co-create or invent.

 

Candace Klein (16:36):

Right. And other people are sitting now anyway so why not let your competition sit while you go out there and continue to pursue. It's all good.

 

Kevin Campbell (16:44):

That's great. What's your vision for you and your founding partners for what Meta will be five years out?

 

Candace Klein (16:52):

I would expect in five years, we would be able to cover the entire United States. As I mentioned before, right now, we're in 22 States. I expect we'll get the entire continental US at that time. I would expect to be able to really have customers learn to demand more. I mean, frankly, that's what we're asking them to do. You certainly are looking at empowering minorities in construction. But what we're coming to the table with is we're asking you to ask for higher quality. We expect that in our industry. So my goal for Meta is not just to grow and grow each of our individual entities, but it is to change the perspective of what our clients expect of us. And change what the roofing industry sees when they think of roofers. There's no reason why you can't increase minority ownership in roofing. No reason. We need lots of brilliant people to solve these problems. I just want to change what the expectation is when somebody shows up on a project.

 

Kevin Campbell (17:50):

That's terrific. Looking back on your highly successful career, what if you look today and as you look back to yourself, what advice would you give your younger self?

 

Candace Klein (18:02):

So I think that one of the things that happens particularly with women is we have imposter syndrome. And so we doubt ourselves. And I think when I look at my younger self, I would tell myself to spend less time on anxiety and more time going for it. If you fail, that's okay, you've learned enough lessons that you will succeed. But don't get caught up in the head game of, can I do it? Is it right? Is it the right time? Just do it. After you've executed a decent plan, I'm not advocating for doing things with wild abandon, without any forethought. I'm saying that, if you feel like you've got something that's worth it, there's no reason why you shouldn't go out, collaborate with others as you need them, and create something new and special.

 

Kevin Campbell (18:54):

Candace Klein, thanks for being on CEO to CEO podcast this week. And hopefully I'm sure you've inspired others to go out and do something special. But again, thanks for being on and sharing your experience. And best of luck to you and Meta in the months and years ahead.

 

Candace Klein (19:14):

Thank you so much. Thank you for your kindness and your time. And I look forward to seeing you again soon, personally, as well as I hope that everyone stays safe.

 

Kevin Campbell (19:24):

We've all got to stay safe and take care of each other.

 

Candace Klein (19:27):

Exactly.

 

Kevin Campbell (19:29):

Thank you.

 

Candace Klein (19:29):

Thank you.

 

Kevin Campbell (19:30):

And don't forget to tune in next week for CEO to CEO here on your favorite place where you listen to podcasts.

About the Author

Kevin Campbell

CEO, Syniti

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