Profile in Leadership: NAHB's Former Female Presidents Share Their Stories

This post has been updated.

Continuing to celebrate National Women’s History Month in March, we turn to look at two powerhouses in the industry: NAHB’s two former female presidents — Shirley Wiseman (1989) of The McVay Group in Lexington, Ky., and Sandy Dunn (2008) of BJ Builders in Point Pleasant, W.V.

Both women came from highly political families and had an interest in running for NAHB’s leadership ladder because of their familial backgrounds. Both used many grassroots efforts to successfully win their campaigns as well.

Building Strong Connections

After serving in almost every leadership role at her local home builders association (HBA), Wiseman ended up working in the Reagan administration for three years in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), where she rose to the position of Acting Assistant Secretary for Housing. Wiseman was asked to be confirmed and stay in the administration, but declined because she already decided to run for president at NAHB.

“Before I worked in the Reagan administration, I never thought a woman could be president of NAHB,” said Wiseman. “But during my tenure in government, I took a step back and realized I was probably the most qualified person to run — so I did.”

Wiseman frequently traveled across the country for the job and, from California to Maine, saw firsthand the issues present and what regulatory reform was needed. By the time she ran for president at NAHB, she chaired many committees, as well as being the first female National Area Chairman (NAC) and first female on the NAHB Executive Board.

It was a lot of hard work paving the way for future females on the senior officer ladder. For months, Wiseman would sit down at her kitchen table and call all of the roughly 2,000 members of NAHB’s Board of Trustees one by one.

“I had to campaign on the grassroots level,” said Wiseman. “But my efforts greatly paid off.”

Wiseman’s background with the Reagan administration was useful. Her biggest accomplishments were pushing through direct endorsement and addressing many of the existing regulations that made it difficult to build affordability. Her slogan as president became, “Where will our children live?” to directly deal with the affordability crisis, because she believed it needed to be dealt with at the executive level.

She’s a deep believer in what an NAHB membership can do.

“So many members at the local level don't see all that NAHB does — it’s really a joint effort between the local, state and national levels because they are together as one entity,” said Wiseman. “If a builder hasn’t been exposed to what NAHB does, it's difficult for some to believe how much we advocate on behalf of them at the at the national and state levels — and it goes to show how much we need to continue to educate our membership and potential membership.”

Learning from and Advocating for Each Other

Dunn also came from a strong political background: Her brother Brereton served as lieutenant governor and governor of Kentucky, her father and brother Ned served in the West Virginia state senate, her mother was the youngest delegate ever to the Republican National Convention at age 21, and Dunn served four years on the city council. After becoming involved with her local and state HBAs, she became actively involved with NAHB and served, like Wiseman, on numerous committees before campaigning for the senior officer leadership ladder.

“Friends at NAHB approached me to run, and I was shocked at the suggestion,” said Dunn. “But they pointed out that I knew so many members through my committee involvement at NAHB and my involvement working on other campaigns that they thought I could win. And I did.”

Known as “Miss Grassroots,” Dunn's biggest focus was expanding NAHB’s already-strong advocacy program and making it even stronger. She believes that BUILD-PAC is the key to NAHB’s success, and so as president, she strongly encouraged all committee chairs to be Gold Key members and committee members to donate any monetary amount. Dunn was successful in getting members in leadership roles involved in BUILD-PAC.

The key to her success, she believes, was just listening to the members.

“I was serving as president, representing all of the members NAHB had at the time,” said Dunn. “I was only going to be effective in my role if I listened to the concerns of the membership and took action. As an officer of NAHB for five years, I always tried to vote for what was best for the grassroots and the future of our industry. This wasn't always popular, but it was the right thing to do.”

Dunn campaigned on the fact that she was going to be transparent and accessible. She kept her same phone number and email address throughout the campaign and time while on the ladder, and let it be known to anyone that they could always contact her with questions or concerns.

“I am proud of the respect that I gained from employees, the leadership and members of our federation!” she stated.

She also wanted to change up the committee selection process. Dunn tried to geographically diversify the committees and put people on committees who had never served before, many of whom are still involved today.

Dunn believes one of the best benefits of membership is simply the networking and conversations that take place.

“Times change, and you have to move with that. But what brings people to NAHB is not only what you learn, but the friends you make,” said Dunn. “Builders are the most generous people I know, and if there’s something that they know that’s cost effective or will make your job easier, they’ll share it. Over the years, I’ve learned so much socializing with the members. I have always considered NAHB my second family.”

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