Joe Willis Street is in Summerlin off Alta Drive and west of Town Center Drive. It’s not a name you’d likely know, unless you were in the home building business up until 2005.
The street’s name honors the late Joe Willis, who founded Willis Roof Consulting in 1983 and grew the company into one of the largest in the western states. Many of Summerlin’s neighborhoods –– including The Willows, The Vistas, The Trails and The Arbors –– had their roofs installed by the Willis company.
How big was the company?
“When I left in 2005, Willis Roofing was on track to do about 17,000 houses that year and had 1,750 employees,” said Scott Donnelly, owner/operator of Cooper Roofing & Solar, who began working for Willis in 1990. “They were, by far, the largest roofing contractor in Southern Nevada and, I would argue, on the West Coast.”
The company installed roofs for roughly 65 percent of the Las Vegas Valley market. Willis’ company also did custom homes, although that was less than 10 percent of its clients.
“It was hard not to run into us somewhere,” Donnelly said. “In the ‘90s, there were guys who worked for home builders and broke off and started their own thing, so obviously we knew them and had a relationship with them, so (when they) built a custom home, they would hire us because they knew who we were and liked how we conducted business.”
Jennifer Lewis, vice president of Lewis Homes, recalled Willis as having a strong relationship with her family’s company.
“He was our longtime roofer who we liked quite a bit … a really nice guy,” she said. “His was a family-owned company, and we thought they were good roofers. When you’re in home building, you appreciate your partners.”
Monica Caruso, director of public affairs for the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, said the family-owned company was well-known in its circles.
“Willis Roofing, they were trendsetters. They were up on all the latest products and technologies,” Caruso said.
Donnelly agreed and called the roofer a “real forward-thinking guy, passionate about the industry. He really pushed for fall protection for roofing (crews) in Nevada. We were the first company to implement a 100 percent tie-off policy. He also implemented a quality assurance program that was cutting edge for the industry at that time. We had QA (quality assurance) inspectors that walked each roof twice, once at the point where we put the paper down, and once at completion to make sure there were no broken tiles. It was about accountability. He was a quality-driven individual.”
Having the inspectors there twice was not the industry standard, but it was Willis’ standard.
Willis had been a roofer in his younger years and knew the ins and outs of the business from various standpoints. He was on site often, making sure everything was progressing. He was easy to approach, said Donnelly, and very hands-on.
Donnelly called Willis his mentor and said he showed him by example how to run a company.
He took people under his wing, “but if you didn’t pull your weight, you were done. He was all about empowering people,” Donnelly said.
“… He wasn’t a micromanager, but he was also about accountability, which is really hard to find.”
His wife, Marie, worked for the company and headed the office. They had one son, Joe Willis Jr.
Willis held meetings with his managers every Saturday over breakfast to go over the status of different projects. He told them how he was grooming his son to take over the business one day.
He might have been grooming his son, but Willis also showed appreciation for the talent and drive he saw in his workers. Paul Schofield was Willis’ corporate attorney and remembered his client as affable, down-to-earth and highly knowledgeable. Schofield recalled how Willis installed roofs on homes built near Lone Mountain. It was a particularly vexing issue because the area’s microclimate includes a wind-tunnel effect.
“Most people would say, ‘That’s beyond our scope,’ but he just went out there and took care of it,” Schofield said.
Those who knew him said he was approachable and would share jokes with the workers. He also sat on committees with major builders such as Lewis Homes.
Donnelly said accountability was one of the messages Joe Willis Sr. passed along.
“He always said that if you made a mistake, you owned up to it, and you made it right,” Donnelly said. “He promoted from within, and that just built such a strong operation over the years. You felt that if you worked hard, you were rewarded for it.
“These days, the big thing is to, instead of looking inside the company, they go with somebody from outside, and it just kills morale of the employees because you’re busting your (butt) to improve and you shouldn’t have to leave the company to (better your circumstances).”
Joe Willis Jr. officially took over the company reins after his father died in 1995.
Willis Roofing closed its doors in 2005. The street was named posthumously.
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at email@example.com or 702-387-2949.
Naming Las Vegas
The history behind the naming of various streets, parks, schools, public facilities and other landmarks in the Las Vegas Valley will continue to be explored in a series of feature stories appearing in View editions published on the first Tuesday of every month.
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