By Dawn Robinette, APR Photography by Suzanne Pack
If it’s possible to have home building and realty running through your veins, Kristi Sutterfield bleeds real estate. As executive vice president of the Greater San Antonio Builders Association (GSABA), it’s her job to represent and promote the home building industry, but Sutterfield’s commitment and knowledge about homebuilding trace back to her childhood. Her father was a homebuilder, and she watched her mother open her own real estate company.
“When my dad completed a home or had a home under construction, as a family, we held open houses on the weekend. We didn’t just sit – we cleaned the construction site, and each of us could broom sweep a house under construction to my dad’s high standards,” notes Sutterfield.
That sweeping and her parents’ successful careers – and a series of mentors who recognized her talent and helped her develop – put her on the path to GSABA, where she leads a staff team to serve 750 member companies representing more than 10,000 people working in the single-family construction and remodeling industry. That includes a diverse mix of businesses. “Anyone who is associated with the residential construction industry: Builders, remodelers, developers, vendors, suppliers, service providers, title companies, mortgage companies, banks, bricklayers, framers, electricians, you name it. Anything that goes into a new home.”
GSABA’s membership stretches across 22 counties, so Sutterfield works far beyond San Antonio. As executive vice president, she fills the function of CEO, serving as the trade association’s staff leader and working with an executive team and board comprised of members from the industry. “Membership is voluntary. That’s what is so critical about successful trade associations: I believe that everyone who makes their living from an industry should give a part of their time and talent to the industry.”
“When I got out of college, I worked for my parents for a brief while, and then I went to work for Ray Hunt. I was a project developer, and I was also the director of sales and marketing for certain communities. So I became a member of the Dallas Builders Association, then I became a member of the Greater Fort Worth Builders Association, and Woodbine Development hosted their parade of homes. I went on to hold several volunteer roles. I told a friend that I was going to be the first female president of the Greater Fort Worth Builders Association someday, but little did I know God had a different plan.
“It’s my passion, and it’s a gift to work in this industry. I’m passionate about homeownership and very passionate about affordable housing,” she explains. “We need to remove so many barriers. If I were up on a stage speaking to a group of people, I would cite staggering statistics like the Texas A&M Research Center study that shows for every increase of $1,000 in the price of a new home, 22,000 Texans are knocked out of the market. That’s how sensitive it is. And 25 to 26 cents on every dollar that goes into the price of a new home is in fees and regulations.
“And in San Antonio proper, finding a $200,000 new construction home is next to impossible these days, thanks to the cost of land, materials, and development.”
Part of her role at GSABA is working with local, state, and federal officials on industry regulation and government affairs. She caught the government relations bug thanks to a high school internship in Congressman Dale Milford’s district office. “I have been so lucky in life,” she notes, but there’s no doubt her commitment and dedication have helped her find success.
Her love of the industry and the members shines through everything she does. “Seeing the outcome, getting to the finish line – that inspires me. It’s the little things. Bringing last year’s budget in the black when we didn’t have our largest fundraiser [GSABA’s annual Parade of Homes]. I have the most amazing leadership team – my current president, our past presidents, and our future presidents. They give me strength, and they give me hope. When we’re in a challenge – and we’ve had quite a few of those as we’ve navigated the pandemic – I get so much satisfaction over planning the work and then working the plan,” she explains. “That’s always been my motto. Plan the work, work the plan. I’m really good at building a consensus. And laying out the work plan, then measuring that plan as we go.
“I believe if we have a challenge and you don’t have one solution, then you are part of the challenge. I’ve always told my staff, if you know we have a problem or a challenge, bring me a solution. We’ve got to think outside of the box. We can always do it together – always. I really believe you can solve anything if you put your mind to it.”
With a career that includes serving as the executive director of both the Greater Fort Worth Builders Association and the Texas Association of Builders, Sutterfield has maintained her own business, as well, working on projects throughout Texas for the last 15 years. She also serves as the Director of the Texas Housing Conference for the Texas Affiliation of Affordable Housing Providers. She’s called San Antonio home since 2016. “I love the people here. I lived in Austin for 15 years before I moved here. San Antonio is a lot like where I was born and raised in Grand Prairie. The people are kinder; they’re more inclusive.”
Despite 10-12 hour workdays at times, Sutterfield prioritizes her relationships and family. In addition to her four children, she has five grandchildren she sees as much as possible. “I really work hard at staying in touch and spending time with them and my friends.” She has friend “posses” that go back to grade school and stays in touch with even past boyfriends and their families.
Those friend groups get together for travel and fun. “I have my grade school posse, my college posse, my sorority group,” detailing each and how they all stay connected through regular get-togethers and fun trips.
“I was president of my sorority in college. It helped me be the woman I am today. If you can make 100 girls happy, you can do almost anything,” she laughs. It also taught her a lesson. “When you’re a leader, not everybody’s going to love you. Not everybody’s going to like you. You have to get over that.”
That guidance came from her mother, who is still active in the business. “My mother is 80, and she still works five or six days a week. She was telling me about all the deals she was closing last night at dinner. She’s my hero and my best friend.”
But she is committed to finding work/life balance, and after several long-term relationships, she’s hopeful of finding the right person to add to her life.
“I’m working on better balance overall. I don’t have a balance yet. I really struggle hard with it, but it’s something I’m determined to change. I’m working out 2-3 times a week and taking more downtime. And I’m a voracious reader,” she explains. “I don’t want to wake up ten years from now and wonder, ‘Where did my life go?’”
But she still makes time to mentor others, working through the GSABA Education Foundation. “I’ve been richly, richly blessed in my life, having incredible mentors, and I feel it’s the way that I can pay it forward.
“Every few years, we build a scholarship house. Many of our members contribute to it. We take the proceeds and invest them back into young men and women who are enrolled in the construction trades. We gave 29 scholarships this last semester. The student chapter at St. Phillips College is incredibly unique because you have young kids that dropped out of high school, got their GED, and they’re going to learn a trade. And military people that have done three tours of duty and are coming to learn a trade. You even have people that have retired and are looking at their second career. Then you have those that have been incarcerated that need a hand up,” she explains. There’s also a chapter at the University of Texas at San Antonio and a high school program at Warren High School, helping high school students understand the job opportunities available to them.
What advice does she give to those students? The same advice she would give to her younger self. “Take the chance. Don’t pass things up. If an opportunity comes along, take it.”