Text by Mike Wade
Photos by Kristie Lea Photography
Jeanne Stosser was on a recent business trip when a younger gentleman asked the 70-year-old grandmother when she thought the day would come that she had worked “enough” and could ease into retirement. He quickly learned what many developers, municipal officials and community members throughout the New River Valley already know. There simply is no quit in Jeanne Stosser.
“I told him, ‘Enough was a long time ago’,” recalls Stosser, “but when you’ve spent most of your life doing something, it almost becomes an illness or addiction – and it can never be cured. I’m still motivated by the challenge of making something from nothing and making it pretty in the process.”
A native of Wythe County, Stosser has turned that passion into a business empire, amassing an impressive portfolio of real estate over the course of the past four decades that includes everything from single family homes to sprawling apartment complexes. As owner and president of SAS Builders, Inc., and CMG Leasing, Stosser is regarded as one of the region’s leading developers and property owners. Much of her success can be attributed to the fact that her companies have stayed ahead of the game and kept pace with the steadily growing student populations at Virginia Tech and Radford University.
“I guess I would consider myself a visionary,” Stosser adds. “It’s hard to explain, but I can look at a piece of ground and visualize what it could become and what would work there…and not just the landscape, but how it will be perceived and administered.” Her most recent vision that came to fruition – and the one that she’s most proud of – is The Edge, a contemporary student housing community across from VT campus.
“We owned that property since 1993, owed very little on it, and it was performing nicely,” notes Stosser, “But it was also underdeveloped, and we toyed with the idea of something different and then, as they say, the interest rates just got too low, so we decided to move on it. It was a calculated leap of faith. We knew what we had – and recognized the potential – but it required taking a significant income stream out of play for two years. Now that I look back, there’s no question it was a good move. I’m incredibly proud of The Edge and consider it a personal success.”
Stosser credits her mentor, Carl McNeil, with getting her started in real estate development. She was also inspired by motivational guru Zig Ziglar and says John Schaub’s seminar, “Making It Big on Little Deals,” was the best advice she’s ever received. “When I was young, women had two options – you could find a job or find a man to marry who would take care of you. Well, I would have been fired from any job because I’m too opinionated, and I didn’t do very well with the marriage thing. So, I had no choice. I had to figure out a way to make a living for myself.”
Stosser’s sons, Scott and Jeffrey, are senior vice presidents with SAS. Scott handles the construction and development end of the business, while Jeffrey focuses on property management. “When you pour so much of yourself into your business or career, it can definitely be hazardous to your personal life, and I haven’t been able to succeed at all things,” she notes. “I’m a firm believer in what goes around, comes around, and I’ve got my kids working beside me and that’s going great. So, I guess it all eventually worked out.”
Not everyone who enters the real estate development industry manages to achieve the level of success that Stosser has. The fact that she is a woman in a field dominated by males has presented its own set of challenges. “I truly believe that women in the workforce can do anything,” says Stosser, “but what I’ve found over the years is that, as a woman, I have to do everything twice as good, in the same amount of time as my male counterparts, and I’m allowed to make zero mistakes.” Despite that extra pressure, she insists the rewards that come with being her own boss far outweigh the idea of not having control of her own destiny.
“When someone first referred to me as an entrepreneur, I had to look it up,” she says with a chuckle, “but the financial independence that comes from being able to run my own business has definitely been a driving force. Back in my 30s when I took John Schaub’s seminar, we were challenged to write down our goals. I decided at the time that I was going to position myself so I wouldn’t have to depend on the system or my children to take care of me.”
Stosser went on to say that she hopes more young people will follow the same path that she has. “I feel like our society has lost its competitive edge. Competition just doesn’t exist anymore, and we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that everyone is equal – we all get a trophy. Well, we aren’t all equal, and there has to be a leader somewhere.”
“So, I’d like to see a whole lot more people in this world starting businesses and creating jobs, but you have to find something you’re passionate about. You have to love it, and if you do, the money comes along for the ride.”
Mike Wade is a lifelong resident of the New River Valley. He has worked as both a journalist and public relations professional for more than 20 years. He freelances as a writer, graphic designer, and portrait artist.