This article first appeared in the December issue of Nevada Woman magazine and is reprinted here with permission in adapted form.
With more than 20 years' experience in the home building industry, Leah Bryant is considered somewhat of a pioneer. An enormously successful woman in what many consider a man's industry, Bryant has taken the field to new levels of professionalism.
"It would be difficult to find a better role model than Leah Bryant," says longtime Las Vegas real estate columnist Carmel Hopkins. "She is the quintessential leader and mentor. Anyone looking to be successful in any industry would do well to follow her lead."
Bryant was recently made regional general manager of KB Home's Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson, Ariz., divisions. Still headquartered in Las Vegas, Bryant travels the Southwest, overseeing the region's growth.
Prior to her promotion to regional general manager, Bryant was president of the KB Home Las Vegas division. From 1999 to 2003, Leah supervised the division's operations, as KB Home became the No. 1 home builder in Southern Nevada, delivering an estimated 3,000 homes in 2003.
With a long and impressive list of achievements, Bryant is not only recognized as a role model for women in business but also for anyone in a high-power management position. She oversees more than 700 employees in her region.
"In KB Home's commitment to building excellence, our most valuable resource is our employees," says Bryant. "Our teams work together to offer home buyers the highest-quality home at an affordable price."
Bryant started her career in the industry when she joined Lewis Homes in 1978 in the sales and marketing department. In 1989, she was named regional president for the company. When Lewis Homes was acquired by KB Home (then Kaufman and Broad) in January 1999, Bryant was named Las Vegas division president, and in August 2003 she became regional general manager.
Bryant's focus on serving each individual buyer helps keep the company on top. "KB Home's commitment to customer satisfaction is at the heart of everything we do," says Bryant.
KB Home ranks in the top three for customer satisfaction with home buyers in Las Vegas, according to a 2003 study by J.D. Power and Associates. Factors used to determine customer satisfaction included customer service, home readiness, price/value, and location. The study is based on responses from 71,312 new-home buyers in 21 U.S. home building markets who have lived in their homes from four to 18 months.
"As the valley continues to grow, KB Home will continue to meet the needs and demands of the market," says Bryant. "KB Home is flexible and innovative. We're a true leader in the industry."
And so is Leah Bryant.
"I have the best job," says Liesel Williams, who five years ago, at the age of 33, achieved her goal of becoming a division president for Richmond American Homes, one of the country's biggest home builders. Williams proudly admits that she has achieved success without a college degree and instead points to her determination, focus, and commitment. Equally important are the outstanding mentors who have appreciated her vivacious, down-to-earth, animated, and outspoken personality and the talented individuals who support her in the divisions she oversees. "I'm the type of person who speaks up, and fortunately, I've had people above me and behind me who have allowed me to be myself," says Williams.
As division president of Richmond American Homes in Las Vegas, Williams oversees 137 employees and is involved in all aspects of the division, including land acquisition and development, and sales and marketing for 14 subdivisions. "The growth in Las Vegas has been tremendous, and our goal is to close more than 2,100 homes this year", says Williams. "Finding enough land to keep our pipeline full is a challenge, and we are always looking for a promising venture."
Williams genuinely loves seeing her employees do well and grow with the division. She says, "I tell them that the most important thing we can do is keep our word, whether to our corporate office or to our customers, and then have fun doing it!"
Williams began her career in the mortgage department at Kaufman & Broad (now KB Home), a home builder in California. During her 11 years there, Williams climbed the corporate ladder to become vice president of sales and marketing in Newport Beach, Calif., in 1996.
The following year, Williams was offered the position of executive vice president of sales and marketing with Richmond American Homes at its Denver headquarters, an offer that was too good to turn down. "It was a tough decision to leave Kaufman & Broad," says Williams. "It was where I cut my teeth and gained a vast amount of knowledge." Ultimately, it was Williams' respect for Richmond American's senior management team that excited her and influenced her decision to make the move.
After several years of fast-paced travel and a desire for a "normal person" life, Williams jumped at the chance to become division president of the company's operations in Las Vegas.
Williams is proud of her division's success. She's also pleased that Richmond American has found a way to give back to the community, by adopting the students of Madison Elementary School. Employees actively support the school, with donations of school supplies throughout the year, and typically host a visit from Santa Claus in December, with gifts for the students and their families.
"I enjoy the diversity and the challenge," Williams says. "I guess the secret is to do what you love."
Desert Wind Homes strives to develop high-quality, affordable homes for current and future Southern Nevada residents. That is the philosophy around which the company was built.
Patti Shaw, co-owner of Desert Wind Homes, came to the business of home building through a somewhat surreptitious route. Her course led her from college to American Airlines to 25 years as a director of tennis at two suburban Washington country clubs.
Her real adventure began in 1989 when, while visiting developer friends in Las Vegas, she was introduced to Michael "Mick" Galatio, who was working as a project manager at the time.
In 1994 Galatio decided it was time to satisfy his entrepreneurial spirit and venture out on his own. It was from his dream that Desert Wind Homes was born.
Two years later, Shaw moved to Las Vegas, married Mick, and became, after a baptism by fire, a partner in Desert Wind Homes. "I thought I knew what I was getting into, having owned a small retail business back East, but I discovered that the building industry is for true thrill seekers. Mick has a real passion for the business and it's contagious!" says Shaw.
Galatio and Shaw see the company's success as a collaborative effort involving the whole organization, as well as the support of family and friends.
"Mick has a genuine respect for the opinions of women, so I have informed him that, as a result, he's destined to be surrounded by them," says Shaw.
This is evidenced by the fact that the CFO, operations manager, and sales and marketing directors are all positions held by women.
Wendy Walker, CFO, has been with the company since its inception. She is a single mother of two teenagers, who manages to balance her job, motherhood, church leadership, and her latest endeavor--the University of Las Vegas Law School. Susan Carroll, operations manager, is an Illinois transplant. She has an extensive background as an administrator for the construction industry in the valley.
Carolyn Dahan, owner of Dahan Marketing, and Patricia Cunningham, owner of Tailored Marketing, work closely with the Desert Wind Homes team to develop sales and marketing strategies, advertising, and market research. "We are proud, as well, to have a woman CPA, Jill Langerman of Fair, Anderson and Langerman, who specializes in the construction industry," says Shaw.
"We are all very excited about what our future holds. We're moving from closing 73 homes this year to an anticipated 200 homes in 2004." Shaw adds. "The current slogan in the company is 'Buckle your seatbelts 'cause we're ramping up.' There is a real air of anticipation and guarded excitement. We believe there is still room for the small--or as Mick refers to it, the 'specialized'--builder in Las Vegas and look forward to continuing building here."
During August, when temperatures soar above 110 F, tempers can rise on a jobsite. A foreman yells at a worker; a job superintendent confronts a foreman. What you might not expect, however, is a woman in the middle of it all, going toe-to-toe with a contractor or subcontractor--and winning the battle.
On a Rhodes Homes' jobsite, though, this wouldn't be unusual; throughout the company, women occupy executive and supervisory positions and are charged with quality control from initial plans through finished construction.
"We are totally focused on customer satisfaction," observes Glynda Jenkins, director of customer care. "And quality begins at the jobsite. If I can take care of a problem there, then the customer is going to be more pleased with the final product."
Jenkins tours jobsites regularly to ensure that quality controls are firmly in place.
"Most people think that construction sites are a man's province," Jenkins says. "However, when it comes to buying a home, many of the decisions are made by women, and they are the ones who are concerned with the little details that may escape a man's attention. ... we care about the details."
Attention to details has been part of Jim Rhodes' home building philosophy from the start. "When my parents bought a new house, it was my Mom who criticized colors and design, who complained about kitchen counters being too small, and who spotted inadequate closet or storage space," Rhodes says. "I figured that I needed a woman's perspective in every phase of home development ... because I always ask, 'What would Mom think?'"
Donna Escoto, director of purchasing, takes the same approach. "As a woman, I pick the plans apart to reflect what I know is important to families," Escoto says. "This could be something major, like the physical arrangement of kitchen space, or a small detail, like using fiberglass and cultured marble instead of tile."
Another woman on the executive team is Trea Battisti, coordinator of land development. She hires subcontractors and controls administration of concrete repairs, asphalt repairs, and all items required for city and county inspections.
"I'm a stickler for details," Battisti says. "I know what the inspectors are looking for, and I want to make sure that we exceed their requirements."
Battisti knows that she will sometimes be at odds with the construction crew, and in her three years with Rhodes Homes, she has heard every excuse in the book. However, she has earned a reputation as a smart and tough taskmaster. "I know when the soft approach works, and I'll beg and plead if that will get the job done," Battisti said. "But I'll get tough if necessary. Contractors know to take me seriously."
Nadine Giudicessi, controller, knows all about keeping contractors and subcontractors motivated. Her job is to track cash flow and keep projects rolling. "When contractors are paid on time, they work harder and they perform better," Giudicessi says.
Tawnya Rosenthal, director of marketing, believes a woman's point of view is crucial from both the construction and the sales sides. "All of our buyer research proves that female buyers are more picky about what they want in a home," Rosenthal says. She adds that female buyers want home models that fit their vision of aesthetics and usefulness.
Lori Harris, escrow manager, agrees. "I can't tell you how many times I've heard buyers say that a woman must have been involved in the design--they can't wait to close on their home," Harris says.
As manager of the customer care department, Treasa Winkler has seen the impact their input has had on the company's product line. "Our best marketing tool is a happy homeowner, and our client satisfaction rate is through the ceiling," Winkler proudly reports.
"Have the women on our staff made a difference?" Jim Rhodes asks. "You better believe it."