Liesel Cooper's 29-year journey to becoming Century Communities' executive vice president didn't begin in Business 101. In fact, Cooper didn't complete her college degree. Instead, her career began after attending a career night for the mortgage company Kaufman & Broad in Los Angeles in 1986. She met Chad Dreier—former CEO of Ryland Group—and landed an entry-level job.
"Mom and dad said that if I wasn't going to college I had to get a job, so that's what I did," she says, noting that she insured and guaranteed FHA and VA loans. "Soon after, I was approached by the home building division to join its team."
Cooper joined KB Home's sales and marketing team. There, she found a culture that encouraged risk-taking and a spirit of entrepreneurship. Cooper is quick to credit her early years at KB Home—fondly referred to as KB University—for giving her the confidence and the home building crash course she needed to propel her career forward.
"I talk about not getting a college degree because it always fueled me," she says. "I felt I had to push hard and work harder than everyone else."
That hard work paid off. In 1996, KB named her vice president of sales and marketing. Despite this being her dream, she did not stay in the role for very long. "Growing up at KB Home all I ever wanted to be was a VP of sales and marketing," she says. "I had capped myself. The funny thing is, KB made me a VP of sales and marketing and three months later I left."