Father’s shoes are a perfect fit for Rockweiler president
Renee Wilson, 42, remembers her dad, Gary Rockweiler, working hard, and working a lot, when she was young. She didn’t really understand what he did, but she knew that “insulation was itchy, and it kept houses warm.”
So it’s not surprising that following in her dad’s footsteps wasn’t at all on her radar when she was growing up. She was too busy setting her sights on becoming the first female president of the United States (in second grade), and a few years later, dreaming of becoming an actuary. “I just loved math,” she laughed, “I didn’t even know what an actuary was, but my mom told me.”
The Verona native earned a BBA in human resources and management at UW-Madison and later got an accounting degree from Upper Iowa University.
She wanted to work for a small company and didn’t even consider joining the family business until her dad approached her about the idea shortly before graduation.
They’ve worked alongside each other in the insulation business ever since.
While Gary Rockweiler, 66, vice president and CEO of Rockweiler Insulation, is trimming his hours back, Wilson is building her legacy with customers and staff as president, a role she officially accepted in 2012 but for which she trained for years.
“We’re really lucky,” Wilson says about the family business, glancing toward her dad’s office. “I learned a lot about how to deal with people just by listening to him. He’s one of the most tactful people I know, and can deal with any situation. He’s the face of the company.” She tears up with emotion.
It hasn’t always been easy, she says. “Being the boss’s daughter is a different dynamic,” she admits, and gaining respect took time. Coming through that, her greatest challenge now is matching the company’s workforce with the workload. “We’ve been through an interesting time with the downturn in the housing industry,” she said.
At the height of the recession, Rockweiler didn’t cut staff, it cut hours, and some workers left. “I take that very seriously,” Wilson says. “Our employees have their own bills, their own families. It’s my responsibility that they get a paycheck.”
Now, she says, construction is rebounding. “It always seems like we either have a workforce but don’t have the work, or we have so much work and I can’t go out and hire someone quickly and bring them up to our standards.”
The industry has undergone its own evolution. “We didn’t understand the idea of air sealing 10 years ago, or the consequences of venting things into the attic.” Consumers are also savvier now, she explains, and seek numerous bids, but that’s had a positive influence because all the trades are now working better together.
On the other hand, margins are down and the cost of employees is up. “We have a very experienced crew that costs more. I give them raises because they deserve it.”
But that’s only part of the story.
Recent federal changes have led to a 25% increase in the cost of the company’s health insurance. “Am I happy about that? No, but it’s still important to provide for our employees. It’s hard to figure out where we’ll get the money. I’m not the only business going through that. Now, we’ll pay more for less. We won’t have the type of coverage we had before.
“I understand how it works nationally, but we had a really good system in Wisconsin, and now we’re getting penalized. Once you accept that’s how things will be, you just have to move forward.”
As she looks toward the future, Wilson wants Rockweiler to add a division focused on energy assessments, and she wants to expand the company’s spray foam insulation business.
“It’s easy to be passionate in this industry,” Wilson insists. “It’s about saving people money, saving the planet, and reducing carbon footprints.”
And while she probably won’t ever be president of the United States, she’s perfectly happy being president of Rockweiler Insulation in Verona, Wis., while training for her very first marathon (June 21), golfing, and sharing life at home with husband Rich and their two huskies.
Her dad, who still owns the company with his wife, couldn’t be happier with his succession plan: “Renee and I communicate well and there’s no fighting for territory. Her intelligence and leadership always show through and make me very proud.”
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