Bringing Unique Expertise to the Entire Building Envelope

CEI Group

CEI Group, LLC, is a family business providing roofing, wall paneling, and architectural sheet-metal services in the U.S. and internationally. CEI will assemble the complete building envelope, providing a single point of contact to clients.

CEI offers all types of roofing, including steep slope, low slope, flat, single ply, built-up roofing, slate and tile, shingles, and standing-seam metal roofing. It is a company that revels in complicated construction projects and for this reason, often works on historic restorations and universities that require great attention to detail.

The company has its own metal shop and is highly experienced in producing ornamental sheet metal and also in the use of more decorative metals such as copper.

CEI is celebrating its 50th anniversary in business this year. George Cook founded the company in 1969 and his brother, John Cook, joined as partner in 1973. Together they built the business into a national company operating from headquarters in Michigan. CEI also has experience internationally, roofing embassies around the world for the U.S. Department of State.

The family-managed business has 120 employees, and does business in a manner that values and encourages all contributions. “Our management style, I would say, is a team-style operation where we meet weekly with all of our different managers and our field superintendents, and we discuss problems and solve problems,” says George Cook, Senior Manager at CEI Group.

Lasting loyalty
The result is a stable and loyal workforce with at least five employees with a tenure of over 30 years who remain as dedicated as the day they were hired at the tender age of 18. The majority of its administrative staff have been with the team over ten years. Altogether, CEI has over 150 years of cumulative experience to rely on.

This long-term loyalty is certainly also due to the pervading family atmosphere, with the staff being treated as part of an extended family. There are also a number of other ‘families’ within the company in the form of siblings and father-son pairs.

CEI handles projects of any scope, size, and complexity, with the exception of regular residential homes. Hospitals, schools, manufacturing facilities, and shopping centers are common project types for the company, and the rare occasion that CEI takes on a residential project is when a particularly large home is in need of custom, decorative, sheet metal roofing. CEI particularly enjoys challenging, complex projects with difficult-to-access job sites, tight deadlines, and complex logistical obstacles.

New applications
Is that the way to growth? “The way I’d describe our growth is incremental and planned,” says Kristine Cook Lindsey, vice president of finance at CEI Group. “There’s a lot of work that’s available right now and sometimes, just like you can at Thanksgiving dinner, you can overeat and hurt yourself. We’re pretty conscientious about not overeating, about expanding or growing our business by becoming proficient and expert in new applications.”

The company has been making wall panels as part of the building envelope since the late 90s, gaining valuable experience as this technique becomes more popular in today’s market and clients increasingly opt for exterior metal wall-panel façades on their buildings.

What about market conditions of today? CEI’s attitude is that, although there is plenty of available work, the company walks a cautious path to ensure that it does not get ahead of itself, especially with the current labor shortage in construction across the U.S. The company looks for innovative ways to grow and diversify rather than just chase steeply increasing revenues.

Looking to labor
Returning to labor matters – from job fairs to advertisements, many different methods have been used by CEI to attract qualified individuals to replace the retiring generation. As a union-contracted company, any employee it recruits must be a union member. CEI aims to leverage the advantages that come with the union to encourage more people to join.

The union provides great benefits and quality training opportunities. Rather than accumulate massive debt at a college or university to which they may be unsuited, students can be guided to learn a skilled trade straight from school.

CEI is encouraged by the growing educational movement in Fulton, Michigan – and across the U.S. – that is beginning to highlight the trades as good, profitable careers for those less dedicated to the classroom. “We’re just going to keep on trying to be creative; to reach out to the people in our area and let them know we’re here and what the options are for making a career at CEI,” says Kristine.

Green knowledge
Another area where CEI has great experience and knowledge is green roofing, a bit of a niche market in the construction industry. Green roofing can be anything from a white roof membrane to installing actual vegetative roofing on top of that membrane system. The market grew vigorously for some time, but has slowed, particularly in Michigan where the climate is not always conducive.

Today, there are plenty of other environmentally-friendly construction options available. “Most of the green-roofing initiatives these days are based around LEED credit, sustainable lumber and white roofing, and shipping products from within a certain radius of the job so that the project gets a LEED rating,” says Rob Cook, Vice President of Sales at CEI Group. (White roofing is the process of painting the roof with a white, reflective coating that reflects 90 percent of the sunlight.)

The University of Michigan’s Biological Science Building in Ann Arbor, MI, is one of CEI’s notable and unique projects. The roofing and sheet metal project was completed in 2018, consisting of a 300,000 square foot building that holds classrooms, research laboratories, vivarium services, and multiple museums.

“This University project was the holy grail of complex and multi-roof and wall-panel system projects. The project included new construction of a hot rubber roof that served as waterproofing under the vegetative green roof as well as a low slope EPDM roof,” explains Joaynna Cook, Marketing Associate at CEI Group. The complex project also included a handcrafted, gold, stainless steel, sheet-metal dome, and composite wall panels.

University projects
The Oakland University Hillcrest student-housing building in Rochester, Michigan, was completed by CEI in the summer of last year. It is the newest residence hall on campus and the project featured the company’s composite-panel work.

“CEI has a large portfolio with the University of Michigan. University work often includes many of the complex and interesting [examples of] craftsmanship that CEI has expertise in,” explains Joaynna. CEI also completed the University of Michigan South Hall and Law Library Complex project in 2011.

“This Gothic-style building included a steep-slope slate roof. CEI hand sorted and laid the slate to have a beautiful mix of colors that looks natural yet also is incredibly eye catching.” The South Hall building has become a landmark of the U of M campus.

In Mount Pleasant, Michigan, CEI completed another high-profile roofing project for the Soaring Eagle Casino and Hotel, which is a well-known entertainment venue. The shingles on the roof were approximately 19-years old at the time and were becoming problematic. CEI replaced the previous roof with a new standing-seam metal roof.

The rewards of safety
Safety is a major priority for roofers and CEI focuses strongly on the safety of its own. It holds six in-house meetings a year with all its field employees – more than the mandated requirement. The company is always looking for more advanced and better safety products that help to eliminate risk and increase the efficiency of the installation.

CEI’s designated Safety Director works with a Safety Manager to evaluate all projects weekly. As part of a captive insurance group, these evaluations must be reported for insurance purposes. With even the most impressive safety record, companies still have to beware complacency about safety. There is always room for improvement and CEI never stops striving to improve safety procedures. All its foremen are 30-Hour OSHA certified.

In both 2016 and 2017, CEI was a recipient of a safety award from its captive insurance group, which is worth noting because the entire group has a very effective and proactive culture of safety. A couple of years earlier, CNA Insurance recognized CEI’s impressive safety record with its own award.

CEI has experienced a gratifying run of good years recently and its aim is to continue this trend into the future. By creating relationships with its customers and developing trust, the company has become a leader in providing value-added roofing services.

After 50 years of success, CEI is looking ahead to its next 50 years of planned, incremental growth.

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 16, 2019, 4:03 PM EST