Live and Learn
Former professor Sarah Lechowich turned a pastime into a profession—and in the process became a business owner, a mentor, and the personification of values-driven success with True North Roofing.
Disillusioned by her experience in the academic world, Sarah decided to make a change for the better. “I do believe in higher education,” she states, “but there are other pathways. I ended up taking a position promoting apprenticeship.”
With a family background in trades, her decision was an easy one. “It was just a no-brainer for me. I felt very comfortable there, helping youth and unemployed and underemployed and women and people of color find their pathway into the trades through apprenticeship. That was really rewarding. And I loved it.”
Sarah took delight in a particular—and recurring—moment: that instant when a student would connect with the tools of a trade. “Their eyes would light up. They’d spark, and any time you see a student spark, that’s magic, you know?”
The experience sparked Sarah as well.
“I had the opportunity to become co-owner with another woman in a roofing company and I jumped on it. Partnerships sometimes work, sometimes don’t. That one didn’t after two years.” But she was undeterred. “I ended up owning my own roofing company. The funny part was, I was gonna open this roofing company and just do it as a hobby—planning ten roofs a year. And in my first year I did $1.2 million.”
Rewards and Challenges
For Sarah the true rewards are something else entirely.
“I had this hobby and now I’m an employer. I have three main roofing crews, two siding crews, a gutter crew, three service techs. I have trucks. Two on my office team. One marketing intern and five sales reps. People have health benefits. People are buying cars and houses because of my hobby and there’s not a word I’ve found yet to describe how that feels. It just feels really good. My hobby created these pathways for other people to have a really good life and that’s kind of cool.”
Success brings with it responsibilities, and Sarah uses practical advice to meet them.
“Just keep swimming! It’s an incredible honor and privilege to have this entity that I’ve created and then see other people blossom and develop and grow within their own personal and professional capacity. I bring in folks who are a little green, give them big responsibility, and then watch them excel and that is the most amazing thing in the world.”
As if a pandemic were not enough, Sarah’s new business faced other challenges from the get-go.
“The biggest challenge was finding that respect. It’s the middle of COVID and everybody kept asking ‘are all the decision makers present?’ Like when I’m interviewing to find my CRM and they kept asking ‘where is your husband?’ I’m like ‘there’s no husband, and if I was married, it would be a wife.’”
“I ran into—and still run into– that misogynistic viewpoint: I must be just the face for a man that’s behind the scenes. It didn’t affect me or push me away. It just told me who I was going to partner with and who I wasn’t. It’s not just men, but anybody who second-guessed my ability as a woman I was just ‘OK, that person is not ready to work with me I’m going to find somebody whose door is open.”
“I should note, more doors are open than closed,” Sarah stated.
Even as Sarah encountered less-open minds, she also discovered other roofing businesswomen who shared her experiences—and offered her invaluable support.
“When I opened my company, at the same time a woman named Kristina Hill had started the Harness & Heels Facebook page for women in roofing. Now, there are different Facebook groups that are roofer-focused and contractor-focused. When women go in to those and ask questions, a lot of the time—not always—but a lot of the time they just get ripped to shreds and stomped on.”
Enough was enough.
“Kristina was fed up with that and she started her own woman-focused roofing group. I leaned super heavily on that group. And other women in the industry from across the United States and Canada could ask questions and lean on each other. I could ask them questions on code and working with insurance or how do you balance motherhood? Even just basic questions like how did you go from 1099s to W-2s? And everybody would answer without the keyboard warrior troll action happening. She fostered an environment where that could take place.”
In addition to her online associates, Sarah attended live industry events to strengthen her network.
“Between Harness & Heels, and the women that I met at National Women in Roofing Day, I made all these connections. I got to meet people in person that I had been talking to in these groups and we still talk to each other to this day. I have a group of women in roofing that are like my best friends, but we live in Washington and Colorado and Nebraska and New Jersey and Minnesota. And it’s just a wonderful network that you can call and text at any time. It’s very supportive.”
Sarah pays that support forward, as well.
“There are two women that I’ve been in contact with almost weekly, who have opened up their companies within the last 12 months, and I’m helping them so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Values in Action
Each step along her pathway—even when the destination wasn’t always clear—brought Sarah to where she is today. The terrain is new but also familiar.
“I wanted to do something different and strived really hard to go a whole other path and then I find myself later in life sparking about the trades. I decided to call my company True North because true north is finding your internal compass—you spend your life kind of taking these different paths until you finally find where your calling is. True North. When I decided that, it just felt right.”
Sarah works every day to create the kind of company that demonstrates and communicates respect—to employees and customers alike.
“My number one company value is a Paul Wellstone quote: we do better when we all do better. I try to live that—this idea that everyone deserves to feel seen, valued, and heard. It’s not specifically calling out what gender are you? Where is your birth certificate created? Are you an introvert or extrovert? You know, all those different things that people slice and dice by. For me it’s are you feeling seen, valued, and heard?”
“How can we show up in a way—whether you’re an employee or a vendor or a homeowner—that can meet those three lessons. If the employee is feeling seen, valued, and heard, it’s a lot easier for them to reciprocate that to vendors and homeowners. There have been have times when we didn’t make that homeowner feel valued because our communication wasn’t where it needed to be. We’re not perfect. But that becomes a learning opportunity.”
Today and Beyond
“Safety is important to me. I just hired a company to help make sure that I’m meeting all of OSHA standards, and have a good safety plan in place, including training. Because of my former time as a professor, I actually have True North University: we have guest speakers and training that helps make the sales reps and the service techs and the crew more knowledgeable about what’s happening. I do try to offer eco-friendly products. I think that’s important. I’m always researching and trying to figure out new green technologies and what is accessible and affordable for a homeowner.”
Former professor Sarah Lechowich embodies the essence of a learning opportunity: assessing where you are, identifying what needs to change, and taking action to realize improvement, whether personal or professional. “I just like to like to show other women that it can be done, and it can be done well. So that is the impact that’s important: show other women that it can be done, and show, too, that we deserve respect.”
Her advice for women looking to get into the world of roofing—or any new enterprise: “Go with the flow. Follow your intuition and don’t let anybody else talk you out of what you already know.”
American Business Women’s Day (September 22) honors the contributions of more than 68 million working women and 7.7 million women business owners.