How Roofer Sandra McGlothlin Stays on Top

The co-founder of Empire Roofing shares how her company’s overcome adversity.

by Jason Forrest

Sept. 30, 2011, presented Sandra Sedillo-McGlothlin with a run-toward-the-roar moment she will never forget.

The co-founder of Empire Roofing had been an integral part in building the Fort Worth-based company into one of the biggest and most profitable of its kind in the country. Since its foundation in 1982, when Sedillo-McGlothlin and her husband, Ronnie McGlothlin, founded the company from their kitchen table (the McGlothlins divorced 10 years ago but still run the company together), Empire Roofing grew to a $160 million company today with 700 employees spread across five states from $150,000.

All that resolve she’d helped build over three decades was tested on that dark day in September when Sedillo-McGlothlin was delivered the worst news of her career. A van carrying 11 Empire Roofing employees from a job site in Memphis slammed into an abandoned sweeper truck. Three died on-site, and a fourth died in the hospital a month later. Everyone in the van was injured.

Suddenly they were planning funerals and comforting bereaved loved ones, a reality they couldn’t have imagined even a day earlier.

“It took years and years for me to not cry about it every single time I thought about it,” Sedillo-McGlothlin says.

Knowing that the entire company was looking toward Empire’s leadership to see how they’d handle the situation, they opted to run toward it as opposed to running away from it. Empire Roofing went so far as to insist that two of the families sue the company to recoup their losses when their insurance companies denied their claims.

By running toward the roar of that moment, Sedillo-McGlothlin and her leadership team were able to rally the company and come out the other side stronger than they’d ever been. They took care of the families and their employees and turned that disaster into a moment of growth.

“They are our family,” Sedillo-McGlothlin says. “They are such a big part of us. Without them, we wouldn’t have our company. They had given a lot to us, and we just owed it to them to give back.”

Sometimes the safest place to be is the one that feels the scariest. Lions — with their intimidating teeth and deafening roars — are designed to provoke fear. But the real danger lies with the smaller, quieter lionesses. In the animal kingdom, the lion’s job is to roar and send prey scattering away from the startling noise — right into the path of the waiting lionesses, the true hunters. If gazelles knew to run toward the frightening sound, they would have a better chance of survival. The roar doesn’t represent the real danger.

Likewise, humans sometimes have an instinctive desire to shy away from pursuits that look and sound scary. But often, running toward those challenges and conflicts is the best (or only) way to grow and meet our goals. In business, those who run from the deafening noise never reach their full potential, while those who turn and face the fear thrive.

That moment in 2011 wasn’t Sedillo-McGlothlin’s only run-toward-the-roar moment. Like any entrepreneur, she’s encountered them at nearly every step of her company’s meteoric growth.

For the first 15 years of the company’s lifespan, Sedillo-McGlothlin and her husband lived on about $1,000 per week for their entire household income when they could’ve drawn much more into their paycheck. Living on thinner margins allowed them to inject that money back into their company so they could continue growing it from the bottom up, even if it had its struggles at the time. It also allowed them to navigate the tough, uncertain early years when they’d sometimes go six months at a time without getting paid for a job.

That allowed them to go from eight employees often making decisions crowded around a single table to the 700 they have now scattered across the country. Such is the speed of the growth that Empire Roofing also plans to open up locations in two additional states by the end of this year.

Another moment was her divorce after 25 years in the business together.

“That was hard for our children and for our whole business, wondering, what’s going to happen? What’s going to happen to me?” Sedillo-McGlothlin said. “Is the business going to stay? Are both of them going to stay here and work and take care of it like they’ve always taken care of it?”

They took the process slowly, made sure their employees and clients were comfortable and then made the decision public. Today, the two are still part of a three-team executive group that also includes director of sales Matthew Kelley, and she says their leadership group is as strong as ever.

“It worked out just fine,” Sedillo-McGlothlin said. “And we’ve been working together for another 10 years.”

As Empire Roofing continues to grow, there will no doubt be more run-toward-the-roar moments in its future. Judging by her past, that’s just fine with Sedillo-McGlothlin.

Jason Forrest is CEO of Forrest Performance Group, a global leader and designer of sales, management and corporate training programs. The company has made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing U.S. companies two years in a row. Forrest grew up under the influence of his father, a business owner and professional salesman, and mother, a persuasive speaking professor. He writes this column for each issue of Fort Worth INC.