Leticia Elias, president of Aztec Roofing Sheetmetal Corp., is helping young contractors obtain credit to improve the Hispanic community she services.
The Inner City 100
Maybe it's because her father was a roofer for 20 years. Maybe it's because rooftops provide great views, and great views are worth a premium to Leticia Elias, who is only five feet one. Whatever the reason, the president of Aztec Roofing & Sheetmetal Corp. (#58) is passionate about her industry. "Some people consider it a hot and dirty business," says Elias. "I love it."
Rather than discouraging competition, Elias wants to see other small roofing companies -- particularly those that are Hispanic owned -- prosper in her poor Houston neighborhood. But she fears that the tight credit terms demanded by most suppliers will prevent it. Even though she and her brother Hector have been in business for a decade and their father ran the company before that, "every day is a struggle to have these supply houses provide us with the credit we need to take on larger projects," she says. "I don't think the supply houses in town understand the needs of the Hispanic community. And if our company has these problems, then somebody coming up behind us is probably having more."
So Elias hopes to create a roofing-supply business that would offer flexible terms to young contractors. The idea is not to compete with her own vendors -- "I'd fail miserably at that" -- but rather to help those who for various reasons have difficulty working with traditional suppliers. (Elias says, for example, that many Hispanic roofers rely on cash because they don't trust banks, a practice that may limit their business opportunities.) Elias is also trying to launch a school for neighborhood youth who are interested in acquiring roofing skills.
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan