The men work submerged in their tasks amidst the noisy construction site of clanking tools and roaring machines. A car pulls up to the site and out steps a confident, tall blonde in jeans and high heel boots. The machines slow and the hustle and bustle calms as the men look up. She glides through the dirt, seemingly oblivious to the sawdust and debris. “What’s going on,” she asks, “any problems or issues?”
The boss lady is here.
Kara Bolton, dolled up with trendy accessories and skinny jeans, might look like your typical girly girl, but as the saying goes, you should never judge a book by its cover. If Bolton’s life was a book, the pages would be filled with childhood tales of playing in the dirt with the boys, and more recent chapters relaying her busy life as the owner of her own building company—where she still finds herself out on the field getting dirty with the crew.
“I’m not afraid to help the guys along when they’re tired, or when time is of the essence,” she said. “I understand what it’s like to work hard.”
Bolton can understand hard work because it is all she has ever known. Growing up, she learned to appreciate hot labor in the Florida sun, working summers for her father’s construction company. Her father was not easy to work for, and she didn’t receive special treatment. She described him as a driven and hardworking man—two qualities he undoubtedly passed on.
While most teenage mothers struggle with finishing high school, Bolton graduated at the top of her class a year early—while raising her 10-month-old daughter, Cheyenne. She worked her way through college, using only scholarships and grants to assist her, as she earned a degree in psychology at the University of Florida. It was around her junior year that the hands-on worker realized she desired a career that would allow her to produce a product—which prompted her to obtain a minor in business.
She soon realized, in her college career, that she wanted to be a builder and help her father. His response was advice she passionately followed: get a business degree.
She entered graduate school, where she managed a large research study, and earned her Master of Science in Management. A year later, she went to work for her father, where she went through a two-day introduction, before she was left to manage the company on her own.
“I was never taught how to build homes. That was something I had to learn very quickly in the field,” she said. “It was an amazing experience for me to manage, oversee and operate a construction company at a time when the market was good. It was strong when I came in and hyperactive by the time I walked away.”
Her father told her from the beginning that she wasn’t going to work for him forever; he wanted to prepare her to work on her own. Stressing the fact that money is made in the field – and not in the office – he observed her work, “but he never gave me anything, and I respect him for that.”
After nearly three years at his company, 135 houses built and the company’s business of the year award from the Newberry Commerce (the company’s first-ever award), Bolton formed her own company, Sutton Family Homes.
With a degree in psychology, which helps her to understand human behavior—something she said is critical to running a company and understanding clients—along with her two business degrees, the sharp and hardworking businesswoman turned her company, now Kara Bolton Homes, into a successful empire.
“My motherly instincts kicked in and I was able to control cost,” she said. “I started when the market was good and learned how to stretch a dime and manage a budget.”
Aside from understanding cash flow, one of the most valuable lessons she has learned managing her own building company is to stay out in the field—being there to answer questions, resolve issues and even help the workers. Staying on top of the labor also helps her develop relationships with the crew, while she makes sure the working conditions are safe and clean.
“It gives you control over the entire process,” she said. “You stay firm and knowledgeable about your field—there’s always new materials, new products. You have to transition when the market changes. I had to evolve as a custom home builder.”
Driving past one of her sites, you can often spot Bolton walking along with a broom to help clean up, or even helping the men lift heavy items. She has no problem relating to the workers, “I have a lot of respect for the men and what they do.” She also, however, has no problem being the boss. Giving clear instructions, keeping firm with expectations and continuously remaining at the top of her game allow her to manage all aspects of building a home.
“I don’t get pushed over, I know my work well enough and I know what my responsibilities are. I also know theirs’, and I keep that clear,” she said. “If I was to fold, I would get bulldozed over constantly; staying firm and educated is extremely key.”
She added, “Working with men and other professionals in real estate, I have to have understanding of how men work and want to be treated. I follow a few basic business principles: pay fair and promptly, but with respect and understanding. I know what it’s like to be in the field.”
It is, possibly, her understanding of both men and women that has given her an advantage over her male competitors.
“What has always set me apart from some of the male counterparts is that I understand how a woman views a home,” she said. “I explain the process in plain language, and truly understanding what women want has been critical to sales.”
What has also been critical to the success of her business is her involvement in the community. A firm believer in “the more you give, the more you receive,” Bolton has volunteered her time and efforts since she was a young girl. Six years ago, she started giving back to the building industry, joining the Builders Association of North Central Florida. Since then, she has steadily increased her involvement—recently working her way up to become the fourth female president to manage her own business.
It is the current success of her company that allows her to take time off to head the association. She’ll have less work, she said, but she’ll “have to work smarter.” She plans to help other builders get their foot in the door, while helping build a strong community.
“I’m truly enthusiastic about serving the members of the industry and building strong communities and an affordable housing community for Alachua County,” she said. “I have a personal mission to help make housing more affordable for all of Alachua County residents.”
The new president not only has the support of the building community, but also her children: Cheyenne Sutton, 18; Tyler Sutton, 6; Trinity Bolton, 13; and Evan Bolton, 9; as well as her new husband Adam—who coincidentally, is also a builder.
“In a stressful field, it doesn’t hurt to have someone by your side sharing your experiences and offering support,” she said. “We have a mutual respect and understanding of what our workdays are like—of all the challenges of homebuilding and managing a construction company.”
Adam also understands her innate independence, she said, and appreciates the strong woman she is.
“Women inherently want security, and I think they have to find something they are secure in,”
she explained. “No business, no role in business, no industry is safe from job loss. Understanding how to replace that need for security so you can free yourself to do something is how you manage the need for security. You can’t ever reap the rewards of taking a risk until you do it.”
Her advice is something she can personally attest to. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that Bolton found herself taking quite the risk when she started her own building company.
“I hosted my ‘five and alive’ party last year, and it was kind of my benchmark to know that I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to stay to serve in this industry and build great homes.”