Q&A with CREW Atlanta Director Meredith Leapley

July 24, 2020

As a way to get to know the CREW Atlanta leadership better, we will be interviewing the board members on their thoughts on CREW Atlanta, the commercial real estate industry, workplace issues and life in general. This month, we caught up with CREW Atlanta Director and Leapley Construction CEO and Founder, Meredith Leapley.

Q. How is COVID-19 impacting your business?

Overall, we are fortunate and cautiously optimistic about the future. We’re thankful to be diversified so that there isn’t as much of a negative impact. For instance, if there is a slow down on the corporate interior side, our folks are working and are busy in our other business verticals (Higher Ed & Healthcare). We have had some projects that have pushed into 2021, some have paused and a few have gone away indefinitely.

On the interior side, things will definitely shift over the next few years and I’m not sure today what that looks like, but we’re actively discussing and learning more about what the future of office space looks like.

From our team’s perspective, we are fortunate to have a connected culture, almost with a family feel, and I wondered how we’d be able to keep that going while working remotely. But we have, and we’re now back in the office at 50% capacity with a rotating schedule.

Q. What attracted you to the construction industry?

Entrepreneurism is in my blood: My mom was a nurse who started a home health care business, and my father started a construction company in Washington, D.C. Being raised by entrepreneurs, I just thought, “This is what you do.” I was 19 and bored to death in college, and my father agreed to let me come work in his business. He had two fundamental rules: First, I had to work in a different division where I didn’t report to him; second, he wanted me to learn every part of the business. I worked in the field as an apprentice in the drywall division, running ceiling tiles to the piece workers and eventually wanting to try it myself. I eventually came into the office where I did everything from run the switchboard to helping in the accounting department and to assisting project managers.

Q. Tell us about how you started your own company.

After working for my father in Washington, D.C., I wanted to move to Atlanta and came to work in one of his divisions here. There was an unfortunate series of events, he lost everything after over 20 years in business.

Starting my own company at age 26 was about survival. It was lonely – I didn’t know very many people in Atlanta and it was hard to find clients and attract talent. This is where CREW came in – it was literally my network to social connections, team members and clients.

We started with smaller work and built trust over time. We were off to the races when we won an RFP from The Coca-Cola Company in March 2001. That contract really put us on the map and allowed us to attract more talent that has ultimately led to our growth today. We still hold that contract and I keep a framed copy hanging in my office.

Q. What is the most important thing you’re working on right now?

The growth of the next generation of Leapley. That’s two-fold: It’s about the business as an entity. It’s 21 years old and about to graduate college, so to speak; it’s about to do something even better and more expansive. Then there is our next generation of leaders. I spend most of my time now out in the community and coaching my team. We have incredible people on our team, and I want to help them grow so that they have a long runway of success for themselves first and Leapley second. It’s fueling my fire right now.

Q. What makes a successful leader?

Self-development and self-awareness parallel with growth in a good leader. There’s a philosophy that’s widely talked about in leadership circles that describes the “delicate balance of courage and confidence, with humility and curiosity.” In my earlier days, I was more of a “bull in a china shop,” brave, courageous and confident. But as my team has grown, so has my own commitment to leadership, and I’ve learned more about curiosity and humility as strengths.

Q. What is your best advice for women in commercial real estate?

Don’t be afraid to show up authentically. It’s OK that you don’t know everything (that is the adventure of life) about your role or your career path, or even about your end goal. I don’t think we ever do. I know I don’t. Women have challenges – and we’re starting to break the mold – with thinking that we need to be perfect at everything or have everything at once. But taking a risk is also having faith in yourself. Trust in yourself that you will be capable enough to find the resources to figure it out. Take the leap.

Some people think that leaders or entrepreneurs don’t have any fears. That’s not true; we are human. But, I have a bigger fear of regret. I don’t want to look back and say I didn’t try something because I was scared or that I never experienced that adventure. I’d rather fail and celebrate the learning experience than to say I didn’t even try.

Q. What keeps you busy outside of work?

My wonderful “son,” Andrew. Now 20, we met when he was 3, through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta. This family that we have created also includes two bonus daughters, Livvie and Bella, and now my husband, Zach, who I just married in November. We love to travel together, and we split time between our homes in Atlanta and Ponte Vedra Beach, where about 30 members of our family live.

Through our Leap In and Build program, I also do a lot of coaching internally and out in the community. We focus on time management, leadership skills and the enneagram (I’m an 8 with a 7 wing!).

Q. What is the last book you read?

I’m currently reading “Infinite Mindset” by Simon Sinek. It’s about how leaders are often focused on the end-goal, but the reality is, business is dynamic and there’s really no end. I’m also reading “More Myself: A Journey” by Alicia Keys after hearing her interviewed on BrenĂ© Brown’s “Unlocking Us” podcast. I’ve read most of BrenĂ©’s books and highly recommend them as well as her podcast “Unlocking Us.”

Q: What has CREW done for you?

CREW provided me with friendships, connections and team members. I joined in 2001 shortly after starting the business and was part of our inaugural leadership program. CREW has served as a platform for Leapley for brand awareness and business friendships. The organization literally wrapped its arms around me. I owe a lot to CREW and hope that I’ve been able to return some of what I’ve gained. As a current board member, I’m honored to be getting to know the next generation of leaders in commercial real estate. I’m excited to see younger women coming up. They are bold leaders.