“I never expected that I would have a thirty-year career in the roofing industry” is a common phrase that resonates across the nation for women in roofing. It’s important to understand how women land in our industry and why both feet stick. For some of us, it was an unexpected opportunity. For others, it was a family business. For most of us, the roofing industry was a blessing we received at exactly the right time.
“I never expected that I would have a thirty-year career in the roofing industry,” was the first sentence spoken by Tina Cordova when she and I talked. Tina is the President and CEO of Queston Roofing and Construction in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Established in 1990, Queston Roofing and Construction has soared in their market and risen to the Top Women in Business list, published by Business First. So how did Tina Cordova land in roofing?
Her aspirations began early as she was driven to become a Family Practice Physician to care for her home village of Tularosa, New Mexico. Tina attended New Mexico Highlands University directly after high school. As a teen mom, Tina put in the hard work and achieved a Bachelors in Science with a major in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. She immediately applied to medical school. Since her chosen school was highly competitive, she was not accepted her first year. She was, however, recruited by her Alma Mater for a two-year Master’s Program studying the toxic effects of aluminum on rainbow trout in conjunction with the National Institute of Health. After graduating, she applied to medical school again and was accepted to The University of New Mexico. Completing two years, Tina was then faced with a divorce and single motherhood. These events forced a leave of absence from the program with an intention of returning.
As Tina focused on making a living to support herself and her son, the recession of the late 80s proved difficult for finding employment. Tina took an opportunity waiting tables for a small local restaurant to ensure her family was provided for. During this time, the restaurant chain was purchased by a man from California. It was when he sat in her section that Tina’s life began traveling on a different path. After introductions, Tina explained that this was an interim position until she could find something else and began her pitch for something better. She relied on her background in retail from her family’s grocery chain to prove her ability to help him run his restaurants. He told her to give him some time to think about it and returned a week later to offer her a position as his administrative assistant.
Tina’s first day began with two boxes filled with invoices, statements, check stubs, and other business documentation. Her new employer said “have at it” as she began her newest venture. During the process of sorting through the two boxes, Tina implemented every process and tracking system needed to keep track of his businesses. Within a short amount of time, Tina had brought in computers and employees to manage his business at a fraction of the cost. “I realized I had this business sense about me that I’d never explored,” Tina said.
As Tina’s life continued and her business role grew, her partner, Russ Steward, approached her with the idea of beginning a small construction business. With Steward’s background in construction and Tina’s newfound success in a business setting, Tina took her savings and left her secure position to set out on her newest business venture, as an entrepreneur.
Tina began working with real estate agents and quickly gained a reputation and name for her company that propelled into larger amounts of work. Tina worked along side the men day in and day out with Russ’s help on nights and weekends. She learned the ins and outs of the trades, estimation, installation, and running and marketing a construction company. Within two years, she was approached with the opportunity to purchase a roofing company along with the advertisements and all equipment. Her quick success had allowed her to pay cash for the acquisition of the new business.
“This has to work,” she said, which should sound familiar to most women in the industry. To her surprise, the phones began ringing immediately. For six to eight months, Russ and Tina divided and conquered the business by owning certain responsibilities. Tina was responsible for the business and financials, estimating, and tear off crews. It took only six to eight months for Queston Roofing and Construction to really take off. At this time, Russ and Tina hired field employees and focused on growth. Estimating an average of four residential roofs per day, Tina began seeing the possibilities and fell in love with her job and the industry. Within 2 years, Tina was able to obtain her own Contractors License. “During test taking, I was the only woman there and there were probably about 130 men in the room. About half of them were probably glad to see me and the other half thought I was imposing on the last male dominated career,” she said.
Queston Roofing and Construction has now worked on everything from small residential homes to large commercial projects. She stated “You can’t drive more than a couple of miles without seeing something we’ve been a part of.” With her licensure and growing business, Queston has completed projects for every state and federal agency within New Mexico. Tina has also previously served as the President and currently sits as Vice President on the board of New Mexico Roofing Contractors Association.
It appears Tina fell into the industry by grasping an opportunity at the perfect time. But how did she land in the industry and stick her feet to the ground? While listening to her story, I picked up on many interesting things she stated about her time as a woman in roofing. Her story can serve all of us in our endeavors as we face being the only “Tina” in the room.
“What that means is you need to know as much as anybody else, sometimes more than anybody else. Know how to not be too aggressive, but not be not aggressive enough. Make it a point to know the industry and not be an absent owner. Know that when you begin a business like this that you are the last to get paid and the last to take a vacation. You know that the buck stops on your desk if there is a problem. Most of all, know that you are committed to the industry and the life before deciding that it is for you,” Tina stated. She has heard comments like, “If you danced on my desk in a bikini, I wouldn’t buy a roof from you,” and “Well, I’m used to working with men.” Her approach has always been one of strength, boundaries, and composure. She said, “If you know your business, the guys will get it. I’m not one of the guys. I don’t go out and drink with the guys. I don’t want to be one of the guys. There are lines, and I ensure they aren’t crossed.”
As we move into tomorrow, let us give thanks for Tina and those like her in our industry. Let us congratulate her success and honor her dedication. Let’s strive for knowledge and set our boundaries to pave the way for the generations behind us. Let us all have the strength of Tina within us to provide for our industry and communities. Lastly, let us learn from those before us and be examples for the future women in the best industry in the world.