Josh Thull knew what he wanted to do all along — and took his father’s example along the path to success

By KEN MERRILL - Daily News

July 21, 2017

Josh Thull poses for a portrait with his german shepherd, Soldier,
in his back yard in the town of Trenton.
John Ehlke/Daily News

Like father, like son.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

A chip off the old block.

No matter how you put it, there’s no denying the steadying influence Josh Thull’s dad has been in his life — and his business.

Thull, 30, owns JRT Top Notch Roofs in Saukville. The West Bend native freely admits the business “was born into me.”

His father, Jerry Thull, established JT Roofing in 1982 as a oneman, one-truck operation. Josh related that in elementary school his nickname was “JT,” owing to his strong resemblance to his dad, and that he and his buddies would kick balls up to the roofs where his dad’s crews worked to have them toss the balls back down.

“I had to pay a couple timeout consequences at recess for that but it was still worth it,” he said.

It wasn’t long before Josh was tagging along as “dad’s helper” to roofing jobs. When conditions were safe, he was allowed up on a roof to learn the trade first hand, and he gained further experience through a co-op program in high school, learning and working alongside roofing crews.

“I knew that it was what I wanted to do,” Josh said.

After graduating from West Bend East High School — where he was a four-sport athlete, excelling in football, wrestling, track and baseball — he joined an ABC of Wisconsin Apprenticeship for Roofing and Waterproofing program, finishing a year early at the top of his class. He earned an associate degree and business certificate at the University of Wisconsin-Washington County in 2008 and was set to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business management when fate intervened.

As Josh tells it, his dad was planning “his next dream” and was ready to turn the business over to his sons, Josh and Jonas, in 2011.

“When he was making the transition it was a great opportunity to turn things over into our hands” Josh said. “Jonas was going into law enforcement but he switched over and we kind of went into it at the same time.”

Josh established JRT Top Notch Roofs, handling commercial and residential roofing projects, while Jonas started JT Rams, which focuses on extending the life and durability of existing roofing systems.

“JRT Top Notch Roofs generally tears off and installs new roofs whereas JT Rams — Roofing Asset Management Systems — corrects existing roof deficiencies so you do not necessarily need to install a new roof right away,” Josh said.

There’s no denying that roofing is hard work. It’s hotter up there, with the sun beating down and heat radiating back from the roof, and it’s windier, too.

“Everyone understands that in construction, it's hard to bring people in because they don't want to sweat,” Josh said. “They'd rather have a desk job or something in technology where you're in an air-conditioned environment.”

So there are limits to the company’s growth, based mostly on manpower.

“The jobs are there, Josh said. “It's a matter of getting the manpower to go and do them.

“Have we grown? Yes. At the same time, retaining (workers) is the other hard thing. You've got to do on-the-job training and that's something we've done, something my dad did in the past.”

Another lesson from Dad.

“My father plays a big role in my life as my mentor,” Josh said. “He’s made me the determined individual I am today.

“I'm motivated to complete the goals I set in my head every morning,” he said. “If I don't complete them, I'm not going to bed. I won't close my eyes.”

It hasn’t been all rainbows and ice cream, either. Josh cites the “building blocks” of his company as safety, attitude, workmanship and attendance. It’s a tough, demanding business, Josh said, and “you've got to get bruised up to learn.”

Bruised up? Like getting punched in the nose a couple of times?

“I did,” Josh said with a laugh, “ by my brother.

“You've got to fail to learn,” he said. “You've got to get back on your horse and keep doing it.”

So what does the future hold? With retirement too far off to even consider — “Who can retire any more? What are you gonna do? I guess I could go fishing,” Josh said — he hints at his next challenge. A personal one.

“I'd like to hand the business down to a third generation,” he said, adding, with a laugh, “when I find a woman someday.”