Working with Purpose
Minneapolis St. Paul Commercial Roofing: faith-led roofing company sees adversity as a blessing
James Mattson grew up with modest means as a child from the north side of Minneapolis. Raised by a single mother, and with three sisters and four brothers, money was often scarce. He remembers long afternoons waiting in the bakery line for free day-old bread.
As he grew older, James found joy in creative passions. For 18 years, he ran a small sign and screen-painting business—all while raising two young girls as a single father. Life surely had its challenges, but he seeded art and creative activity in all aspects of his daughters’ lives, and they were a tightknit family of three who enjoyed each day together as it came.
James’ peaceful family life was tragically altered in 2013, when he received the painful news that his oldest brother, Lyle Fisk, had passed away. In a recording left by his brother ahead of his passing, he implored James to think seriously about his daughters’ futures. His brother Lyle knew that there was money to be made in the roofing business. He wanted James to provide the type of financial security that they weren’t afforded as young children. In his final words, Lyle gave him a firm instruction—start your own roofing business to secure your family’s future.
James wasted little time internally debating how to act; instead, he took his big brother’s words as gospel. That night, he went to bed with a heavy heart, grieving the loss of his brother. The next day he woke up at 8 a.m. with his decision made. By midmorning, he had settled on a company name, Minneapolis St. Paul Commercial Roofing, and was on the telephone securing insurance for his new business.
No Stranger to Adversity
James’ life had many times before been punctuated by deep loss. Both his mother and his other older brother passed away in 2001, sad events that unraveled a once-close family who were hurt by the intensity of the grief. Two years later, James learned that his wife had left him and their children—2-year-old and 4-year-old girls. It was these children who gave him a reason to go on and who were the impetus for him to live his life with meaning.
“They’re amazing young ladies,” says James of his now 19- and 21-year-old daughters. His oldest daughter, Courtney, is in college to become an art teacher; she just received her associate degree and has two more years to gain her bachelor’s degree. His younger daughter, Carmen, is a high school graduate and working full time at Starbucks. She has been inspired by her father to start her own business as well, and currently she has online stores for secondhand clothing and custom-painted acrylic nails.
“In 2013, I made a promise to Courtney,” James says. “If you get through high school and you’re a leader, not a follower, Dad will pay for college. I’m proud to say that in two years when she graduates, she’ll come out not owing a nickel.” James recently rewarded her achievements by surprising her with a new car.
Through the adversity that he has faced, James now tries to lead by example, working to shed light for other people who are facing dark times. He’s chosen to honor his brother’s life by using the success he’s found through his roofing company to support and bring light into both his daughters’ lives and into the lives of his wider community.
Everything Runs Downhill
“At the end of the day, every building is only as good as the roof you put on it,” James says. He takes a lot of pride in his work; and with every roof he installs, he offers a 20-year warranty. “I think of each building as my own,” he says.
James is on-site every day from sunup to sundown with his loyal crew of 12. Each job where he has his team’s boots on the ground takes his full focus and attention, ensuring the quality and durability of every installation.
This care and attention extends past the physical work of his labor to the relationships he forms with his clients and team. Compassion is at the center of each of these interactions.
“I think of each roof I install as someone’s livelihood. As a result, my customers become like my friends. We find ourselves talking about business, getting an understanding of their business, sure, but also talk about life,” he says.
Each year in the fall, James completes a maintenance inspection of each of the roofs he’s installed to ensure that there are no drain blockages and to make sure that there is no risk of leaks. This annual visit to each project site means that he has the chance to catch up with each of his customers for years after a project is installed.
“I’m helping them out, but they’re helping me out. They’re giving me a sale to continue to grow my business and to continue to support my crewmen and my family,” James says. “I owe it to them to do the best job I can possibly do.”
One client, Paul Wo, Owner of Far East Management, a property management company, became a particularly close friend. Paul had once paid $50,000 to a roofing contractor, only to find that his new roof leaked in several places. The experience left him feeling unwilling to invest in commercial properties with flat roofs for fear of the same situation happening again. He lost income, investment opportunity and sleep over the failed project.
On the day that Paul invited James to inspect the faulty roof, James decided to start repairing it on the spot before he had even been awarded the contract.
“I said to him, even if you can’t hire me, there’s no way I could leave your roof like this,” he recalls. Paul ultimately did hire James to do the work, and before long, the pair became close friends. These days, their conversations take place off the job site. They enjoy taking their electric bikes out for rides together on the weekends.
The Meaning of Family
James has never forgotten the times when he was growing up that he and his siblings went hungry. With the financial success of his commercial roofing business, he’s found ways to help other families who struggle to put food on the table. Each year, with the help of his daughters, he purchases and distributes 50 full-course Thanksgiving meals to 50 families in need.
“You can tell they really need it, and there’s nothing better than being able to give them that,” he says.
James’ team often travels together for jobs; Minneapolis St. Paul Commercial Roofing takes on major projects in neighboring states, from Wisconsin to Illinois. Projects can stretch for two-week periods at a time. During these long trips, his crew members work together, stay together, eat their meals together and get to know each other’s stories and struggles.
“They’re great at their jobs, but its more than that,” he says. “I care about them each as people. They are just like my extended family.”
At the end of those long trips, Mattson ensures that both he and his crew enjoy at least a few dedicated days of rest at home with their families. Mattson enjoys his free time by spending it with his daughters, cleaning their cars, doing some artwork and watching movies together. Most recently, they chose to create a Star Wars-themed weekend.
Family, friends and faith rest firmly at the core of James’ values and, as a result, he finds joy in the journey of life.