By Amy Halpern When you open the glass door of the former fire station that’s home to Anthony Wilder Design/Build in Cabin John, Director of First Impressions Rachel Cave is sitting behind the desk. She looks up and smiles. But the best greeting is from Beau, a 1-year-old Bernese mountain dog. “There are at least three or four dogs here every day,” says architectural designer Maria Fanjul, who’s been with the company for nearly two decades. Some of the dogs come to the office so often they are listed along with the employees on the AWDB website. When the firm takes on a new project, Fanjul says, one person is assigned as project manager, but many of the firm’s interior designers and architects are encouraged to come up with ideas for it. “It really opens your mind to different options and things that you never thought about,” she says, “and we all feel connected…we feel like we are a team.” The company, which was founded by Anthony Wilder in 1990, also listens to employees, Fanjul says. Several years ago, she told her bosses she had a dream of living a month at a time in different Asian countries. “If that is your dream, do it,” they told her. She took four months off and her job was waiting for her when she returned. “I know it was not easy for them to accommodate it, but they did,” she says. AWDB President Elizabeth Wilder, the wife of Anthony Wilder, joined the company in 1994 and became its president the following year. “When you are building a culture where you care about each other, some of the black and white rules have to go by the wayside…we expect a lot and we give a lot,” she says.
By Amy Halpern Mike McNeel, who has been a project manager at Sandy Spring Builders for 13 years, says it’s “unheard of” for people to work for a decade or more for one employer in the home construction business. But he says he has no intention of leaving Sandy Spring Builders. It’s not just the fully funded profit-sharing plan Sandy Spring provides—something McNeel says he’d never been offered at any of the previous six or seven builders for whom he worked. Instead, McNeel says it’s the independence he’s given, combined with the assistance he knows is always available, that he appreciates the most. “They let us manage our jobs the way we see fit, and they ask the question: Is there anything I can do for you today?” In the late 1980s, friends Mimi Brodsky Kress and Phil Leibovitz were operating their own home building company when they joined up with a small home builder and reincorporated as Sandy Spring Builders, LLC, with Leibovitz as the CEO and Kress as the COO. “Phil’s the big-picture guy and I’m the detail person—I make sure things are humming,” Kress says. Today, Sandy Spring Builders has 25 employees and operates out of an Arts-and-Crafts style house in Bethesda. Meetings are held in the living room in front of the gas fireplace or around the island in the kitchen of their office. “Mimi and I have the same philosophy,” Leibovitz says. “It’s very important for both of us to be liked by people, and I think that reflects on our place of work.”