When Laing Luxury, the high-end division of Newport Beach, Calif.-based John Laing Homes, hired Joan Marcus-Colvin in 2003 as design studio director, they liked her for her 15 years of experience with builders such as Brookfield Homes and Taylor Woodrow Homes. But the company didn't expect that the depth of her industry knowhow would transform the structure of the business.

After three years as design studio director, Marcus-Colvin takes over as vice president of sales, marketing, and design studio. Because design studio management falls under the operations silo of the company rather than sales and marketing, the promotion represents a novel combination of disciplines. “I was successful under operations, and we didn't want to change that,” she explains.

As she moves forward in the position, she says she will draw much from her strictly design center days. “[At] the design studio—especially on the high end—we spend more time with our buyers than anyone. We spend 10 to 20 appointments with home buyers during the nine-month build. That information is invaluable to me as I move into sales and marketing,” Marcus-Colvin explains.

One of the pet projects that has blossomed since she officially accepted the position in mid-February is the custom landscaping operation. From a sales and marketing standpoint, Marcus-Colvin says that this design center offering helps differentiate Laing Luxury from the competition. “We're after the ‘wow' factor [with the exterior of the home]—like when they walk into a model home,” she says.

Moreover, a home buyer's landscape selections at the design center are seamlessly integrated into the construction process so at closing, both hardscape (drives, walks, pools) and softscape (sod, trees, flowers, bushes) will be 75 percent complete. The result is the $1.5 million-plus home buyer actually gets a turnkey home. “What a difference—they are not moving in on dirt,” Marcus-Colvin says.