D.V. “Red” McConnohie: Pioneer of the metal retrofit market

2015 Metal Construction Hall of Fame

By Marcy Marro


A consummate salesman, D.V. “Red” McConnohie spent 46 years in the metal construction industry. He started out in the pre-fabricated metal building industry early on, joining the original sales team for a new company after answering an ad to be a district manager for the state of Florida. He was also part of the group that voted on the new company’s name: American Buildings Co.

McConnohie found his niche selling metal buildings and became the top sales producer before becoming national sales manger. Over the years, he recruited contractor-dealers in all 48 states and the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Cayman Islands and Virgin Islands.

Don Highnote met McConnohie in 1965, when he was assigned to work under him as the Florida district manager for American Buildings. “We really got along well because we both thought there was nothing we couldn’t do,” Highnote says.

In 1966, McConnohie and Highnote formed their own company, Custom Structures Inc., to sell pre-engineered steel buildings and other related items for construction. “We entered into an agreement with Varco Steel, located in Pine Bluff, Ark., for a building supplier because at that time they were the only company that would supply custom-sized buildings,” Highnote explains.

Breaking Records

After Highnote left the company to join Varco Pruden Buildings as as a district manager, McConnohie continued to set records in design-building at Custom Structures, becoming one of Varco Pruden’s largest customers. Between 1972 and 1985, McConnohie developed three industrial parks, one residential subdivision, a 42,000-square-foot office center, and hundreds of thousands of square feet of buildings throughout Florida, other states and the Caribbean.

In 1973, McConnohie hired Dale Nelson straight out of college with no construction experience as an assistant estimator. Shortly after starting at Custom Structures, the chief estimator quit, leaving Nelson to take over with just six weeks of experience. “I was immediately dropped into the fire,” Nelson recalls. “From the frying pan to the fire. That’s how my career stayed for the next 38 years. From one high-speed event to the next.”

“Red always spoke with heartfelt appreciation for his customers, family and friends. He found a career in the metal construction industry and valued it for its opportunity and innovation. He particularly enjoyed the overseas projects. No other type of construction provided as many global opportunities, challenges and fast pace.”

– Dale Nelson, friend and business partner

Retrofitting Roofs

After retiring from contracting, McConnohie came up with an idea for a more structurally correct way to re-roof existing metal buildings. Along with Nelson, they began Roof Hugger in 1992, and in 1994 McConnohie received a patent for his new product. He continued to work at selling Roof Huggers until his death on January 1, 2011 at the age of 87.

Jim Austin, managing director of Targeted Content Inc., Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., says McConnohie was a true visionary, an innovator. “The Roof Hugger provided owners of aging metal buildings a quick and efficient way to re-roof those buildings,” he explains. “A failing roof no longer required a total tear-off of the even more expensive option of constructing a new building. The fact that Roof Hugger can be engineered and installed to make the building stronger, as well as provide a space for insulation, ensures it will be a re-roofing tool that will be employed well into the future.”

“Red had a true entrepreneurial spirit,” adds Highnote. “He was a character who can never be replaced.”

A True Inspiration

Nelson says McConnohie believed in his heart and soul in the unlimited future of the up-and-coming pre-fab building industry. “His history was long and deep,” Nelson says. “And truly, if there was anyone that lived and breathed pre-engineered steel construction, it was him. He believed it in his heart, he knew it was a good investment and a good buy for the average company.”

McConnohie inspired people to be better than they were, or at least as good as they could be, says Nelson. “If you worked for him, you were the best there ever was,” he recalls, “and he would proclaim it loudly to anyone who would listen, typically our customers.”

When it came to taking on construction projects, McConnohie was absolutely fearless. “It didn’t really matter what they were, we could do it,” Nelson says. “We were experienced and we could handle it.”

Friends and Family

McConnohie married Betty Jane Pierce in 1942 and had two daughters, Tanya and DeWynn, and four grandchildren. Tanya has been married to Don Highnote for 49 years, and has two sons, D.J. and Jim, who are both involved in the metal construction industry. “Growing up with Dad, I learned a lot about the construction business just by osmosis and listening to table conversations,” she says. “My criteria for the perfect spouse-among other attributes-were that he be in construction. More specifically, he had to be in the metal construction industry!”

Chuck Howard, PE, of Metal Roof Consultants Inc., Cary, N.C., knew McConnohie for nearly 20 years, and recalled what a special person he was at the time of his passing. “Red was the special type of person that always made you feel like you were the only person in the room when he was talking to you,” he says. “He was a true friend that you knew always ‘had your back’ no matter what happened. He showed a business and personal morality by personal example, not just words. Red had an optimism that surpassed any problem, along with a ‘can-do’ spirit that made any problem solvable. He did all of this with the enthusiasm of a 20-year-old, but with the wisdom of his years.”

Austin remembers Red as a fun guy to talk to, who was always pleasant. “I don’t recall him ever complaining about anything,” Austin says. “While many people can’t wait to retire, Red kept going to the office because he truly enjoyed working, well into his 80s. He’s one of the lucky ones who spent his life doing what he was passionate about.”