George and John Cook are the founders of CEI Michigan, LLC. Their father Cecil Cook also worked in the roofing industry for most of his adult life. CEI slowly developed from a “weekend warrior” side job business into a staple in the commercial roofing and architectural sheet metal industry. This year, CEI is celebrating the 50th year in business.
After Cecil’s retirement from the roofing industry, he started to pick up small cash projects on the weekends. With the help of George and his wife Barbra, they coordinated crews and materials for both residential and small commercial projects. Over the years, these side jobs began to grow into a small business, which ultimately became the CEI we have today. In 1969, George set out to incorporate the company – making Cook Roofing, Inc. official in May of that year. Cook Roofing continued to run as a part-time operation out of the basement of the Cook home while George worked as a salesman during the week. However, after being incorporated, the business grew even faster, and it began to take up more and more time.
In 1972, John Cook moved home from Germany after being stationed there as an army officer. Upon his return, he joined in the Cook Roofing as its first full-time employee. As the business grew and took up more time, George began to focus his more of his efforts on the CEI; eventually leading to him losing his sales position. After that, Cook Roofing became a full-time job for the brothers. That same year, Cook Roofing established a relationship with Clark Construction. They worked on the State Hospital in Howell – a re-roof and new addition project. This building was one of the first large projects that Cook Roofing accomplished in its early years. Following that in 1974, the brothers decided to eliminate residential work from their specialties. “We had a lot of trouble getting payment from residential customers. We could spend more time bidding and less time collecting if we got rid of it,” says George. Since then CEI has remained focused on commercial projects.
In 1978, Cook Roofing out grew the basement, and the company purchased its first office located on Industrial Road in Howell, MI. Cook Roofing also began to explore different types of roofing systems. The search for innovation brought them to Trocal, now known as Sika-Trocal. Trocal developed the first ever single-ply roofing system. After speaking with Trocal, George and John tested the product for themselves by installing the new system on their office roof. Then Cook Roofing started offering this system to its customers as a way to cut costs and time spent on the job. Customers started to prefer the product, and Cook Roofing became pioneers in the single-ply market. Over the next couple of years, Cook Roofing was deployed by Trocal to install their product all over the country.
Beginning in Colorado, Cook Roofing bid a group of K-12 schools that were looking for a Trocal installer. After being awarded the job, Cook Roofing established relationships in the Denver area and started expanding across the country. At this time, Cook Roofing changed their name to Cook Enterprises Incorporated, eventually becoming simply CEI. From there CEI opened branches across the country. CEI West Roofing Company, Inc was started in Denver in 1977. CEI Southwest including the Texas and Arizona offices was launched in 1981. Last, in 1982, CEI developed CEI Florida, Inc., which included two offices in Florida. The Cook brothers remained actively involved in the company, but each office had their own partner and manager who ran the branch.
Throughout the ’80s Trocal became the preferred system by all general contractors. Being experienced in the system, CEI was able to create partnerships with more prominent companies such as GM. These partnerships helped CEI to become widely known for their high profile and intricate work and made all of the offices strong. Along with the expansion into multiple offices across the country. In the early 90’s CEI began adopting other modern roofing systems, including EPDM systems. Also in the early 90’s CEI went through a reconsolidation period closing offices that had been in Iowa and Illinois as well as the Michigan operation which was reopened as a part of the Texas Company called CEI Southwest.
As the ’90s came to a close, many construction companies were participating in roll-ups. As roll-ups grew in popularity, the roofing industry began to adopt the model. By 1999, CEI was made up of three companies with six offices located in Florida (Debary and Jacksonville, FL), Texas (Dallas, TX and Howell, MI) and Colorado (Denver, CO and Sacramento, CA). These three companies were sold in a stock sale to generalRoofing (yes, spelled just like that). generalRoofing was one of the roofing roll-up companies that were buying up commercial roofing companies across the nation. CEI was a part of the company until 2005.
In 2005, Tecta America purchased generalRoofing’s assets. Tecta America, another large roll-up was uninterested in the union companies, leaving out CEI and other Michigan offices. In that same year, CEI bought back the assets of the operation in Michigan via CEI Group, LLC. The buyback formed the partnership of George, John, Eric, Rob, and Kristine. They continued operations and grew the business. CEI has since strengthened its sheet metal department and service department to complement its commercial roofing work on large and complex projects. Unfortunately, John developed health problems that lead to his retirement in the fall of 2014. Since then the partnership of George, Eric, Rob, and Kristine remains strong and has continued to be able to grow the business and the long list of high profile customers that CEI works for.
CEI had long ago outgrown its original building in Howell, MI. The search for a new headquarters started in late 2013. In 2014 CEI found an office space with a large pole barn that it could renovate to meet its needs. CEI’s operations moved to the Whitmore Lake/Hamburg area and hosted the official open house on August 28th, 2015. Since the purchase of this building, CEI has continued to expand the yard. In 2016 a cold storage building on the far end of the property was added. And in late 2018 CEI started an addition to the warehouse to create additional space for the sheet metal shop.
CEI continues to innovate and grow the company, focusing efforts on complex projects and developing entire building envelope expertise.