Jamie Hsu never suspected that her mom was a pioneer for women in the construction industry.
She was just annoyed.
“I remember spending weekends at job sites and just hating it as a child,” Jamie says.
Decades later, Jamie followed in her mom’s blueprints—becoming a homebuilder in an industry that’s 90 percent male.
“Growing up, I just thought it was what women do—mom comes home with mud on her boots,” she says.
It wasn’t until she was working as a corporate architect that she noticed the gender gap.
“Even in architecture school, it was half-and-half, but after graduation it was all men,” she says. “I suddenly realized there was this disparity.”
As a young architect at a San Francisco firm, she had to work harder than her male colleagues to earn respect on the job sites.
“There was always this lack of respect, like ‘she must not know what she’s doing,’ but it would always go away quickly once they realized how much I knew,” she says. “Once I exceeded their expectations, there was a switch.”
One instance stands out in Jamie’s mind:
“I was working on a restaurant in Beverly Hills and my male coworker had come along on the work trip to visit an unrelated project. The contractor was refusing to address me, instead directing his questions to my coworker who would simply shrug and look at me for the answer. After about four or five questions, the contractor was finally directing his questions to me. In his mind, I might have been there to get coffee, but I couldn’t be in charge,” she says.
Moving back to Bellevue with her husband Bill nine years ago, Jamie eventually took the helm of her mom’s 20-year-old business, Lakeville Homes, right on the cusp of the recession that devastated the home building industry.
“At the time, 85 percent of our business were spec homes,” she says. “Now, we’re all remodels and custom homes. People are simply holding on to their houses longer, and those who can afford it want to build to suit.”
In the winter of 2009, rather than put the Lakeville crew out of work, Jamie had them hanging Christmas lights and working on a more modest spec home.
“Our crew is like a second family with two decades working together,” she says.
Adjusting their business plan to focus primarily on remodels has allowed the company to stay relevant through the downturn.
“We knew this recession wasn’t just a speed bump,” she says.
In the remodel market, Jamie found being a woman has its advantages in relating to her clients.
“Very rarely have I heard a man say, ‘you know what honey, our kitchen needs updating,’” she says. “When the woman of the house is stuck on almond versus biscuit, and it seems like a life or death decision—I get it.”
Despite her architecture background, relating to people is what Jamie does best.
“I’ve realized that I’m most passionate about people,” she says. “There’s not much more personal than remodeling someone’s home.”
Jamie says that the housing market has gradually changed in terms of what people want.
“I don’t see as many oversized homes. We’re going back to less is more,” she says.
“Also, the living room and formal dining room are going away in favor of great rooms where the family can gather and be in one place. Cooking is also more communal. The kitchen is 100 percent the heart of the home.”
Besides serving as president of Lakeville, Jamie is also an active mom to her 3-year-old son Tilden.
“It’s hard being a career mom. There is so much mommy guilt, and I always felt like I need to be somewhere else,” she says. “Now, I just focus on being present wherever I am and actively participating in whatever we’re doing.”
And yes, she brings Tilden to job sites.