While it may seem odd that a business professional is receiving one of the building industry’s most prestigious design awards, it makes perfect sense when that person is Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, Newland Communities’ chief marketing officer.

Slavik-Tsuyuki is a central part of the San Diego-based company’s development team that works with local partners to create new residential communities. In fact, she advocates for the most critical element of the equation: the buyer. As a self-professed “sociologist at heart,” she relies on in-depth market research to help Newland teams around the country—including regional marketing directors, local architects, land planners, and engineers—bring projects to life in 14 states. “It’s important to include the voice of the customer in all of our development decisions,” she says.

The company, which started 45 years ago developing projects in California and Florida, now works in some of the hottest markets in home building: Phoenix, Denver, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Houston, Dallas, Austin, Tampa, Atlanta, and Raleigh, N.C. No matter the locale, Newland’s well-known commitment to design excellence resonates across all of its communities. From Cinco Ranch in Houston to Tehaleh in Washington state, the level of attention to detail, focus on local trends, and awareness of the target buyer is the same. “We call it consistent diversity,” she says.

Slavik-Tsuyuki is prized for her keen ability to zero in on a target audience, says Newland CEO Bob McLeod. “Her job is to figure out what people really want—not just a wish list but what they are willing to pay for,” he says. “Even in a city like Houston, we can have two communities five minutes apart, but because they are targeted to different customers they are as different as night and day.”

It was her ability to think like a customer that led to a game-changing idea for Newland’s sales centers. Slavik-Tsuyuki took a good look at how customers want to buy homes and found that the way most developers and builders sell homes—in a sales office, sitting behind a desk—was too stressful and off-putting to buyers. Working with outside consultants, she worked to develop a more informative and relaxed experience for Newland buyers. The idea, a fully functioning cafe with coffee, light meals, and beer and wine, has been replicated in four of the company’s newest developments and will be featured in more in the future.

The friendly atmosphere at the cafes has been a hit with prospects as well as homeowners, and is a far more enjoyable way to complete a home-buying transaction, says McLeod. “It’s not a hard core sell, it’s more like, ‘Come in and have a cup of coffee and learn about what we have to offer,’” he explains.

Architect Mark Jones, a principal at Looney Ricks Kiss’ Celebration, Fla., office, has worked with Slavik-Tsuyuki for nearly 10 years on groundbreaking projects such as Embrey Mill in Virginia and Waterset and FishHawk Ranch in Florida. He is awed by her ability to see beyond trends to the designs, concepts, and features that will resonate with home buyers in a specific market.

“We have worked with Newland in several different geographical locations in the country and in each place Teri has done the homework to understand the uniqueness of each area, and the lifestyle and desires of potential homeowners in that market,” he says. “In many ways it is not so much about what buyers want but why they want and need it that she looks to understand.”

At any given time Slavik-Tsuyuki is overseeing up to 40 communities under development in 22 cities, built by national and local builders such as Lennar, Richmond American, Ashton Woods, and Beazer. Undaunted by frequent travel, she is a tireless facilitator who has gained the respect of the many people she interacts with inside and out of the firm, says McLeod. “She leads the team effort as a moderator, not a dictator.”

As the popularity of master planned communities grows, her role at Newland becomes even more important. She points out that in the past, home and community were equal in terms of what leads a consumer to buy a new house, but a recent survey showed that the community now has the most impact. “This tells me in our line of work, it’s even more important than ever to listen to customer feedback and put places on the ground that people really want to live in,” she says.