Leah England

Hear Me Roar


January 2024 Issue
Photography by Cassidy Dunn Photography

Company: Bellwether Design + Build
Family: Husband, Chris. Children, Thomas (15) and Jane (7)
Hometown: Fort Smith, Arkansas (My husband grew up on Hilton Head)
Current Town: Bluffton
Career: Licensed Homebuilder
Passion: Creative Problem Solving

You have followed in the footsteps of three generations of men by becoming a licensed builder. How did your family react when you stepped into the traditional men’s world of construction?
My mother and my grandmother worked in the industry with my father and grandfather, so it is very special to me to be carrying on the whole family’s legacy in a new way, and in a new part of the country. My grandfather passed away before I was licensed, and my grandmother tragically slipped into dementia, but growing up they always supported me. My great-grandfather was ingenious; he purchased the rights to stumps left by the timber company to make his own shingles, built the first painted house in the county, and made the speed square tool for his carpenters, which serves as my logo today. He was from a different time, but I like to think he’d be pleased that his great-granddaughter is a builder! My grandfather brought accounting principles to the firm when he joined the company after serving in the Navy, my grandmother drew the architectural plans, my father moved the company into solar and geothermal services, and my mother is a genius in client care and trade relationships. I named the company for them, each one a “Bellwether,” a trendsetter, in their own right.

Who is your biggest cheerleader, the one telling you, “You Go, Girl!?
My husband, Chris. He’s always supported me, even when I decided to quit my job at another building company during the pandemic to start my own firm.

You’ve had some pretty big jobs before starting your own business.
Tell us about your favorite.

Founding and running the Charleston-based Lowcountry Dog magazine was immensely fun and rewarding. I particularly liked art-directing elaborate photoshoots like tea parties for dogs, ballerinas and jumping dogs, and dogs in prison programs. But when I began working in the construction industry here, that’s when I felt like I had found my true calling. It took returning to my husband’s hometown to find myself back at home in the family construction business.

It is said you learn something new every day. What have you learned new recently?
In her book, How Women Decide: What’s True, What’s Not, and What Strategies Spark the Best Choices, cognitive psychologist Therese Houston suggests people should dial their confidence down so they can better consider other perspectives before making a decision. Once it’s time to execute a decision, the confidence should be dialed back up. The rally between humility and confidence resonates with me.

What is something about you that people would be surprised to learn?
I’m a classically trained soprano and once held the title of top soprano in the state of Arkansas. I was also in the Miss Oklahoma pageant, which surprises a lot of people. My sorority sisters coaxed me into entering the Miss Oklahoma State pageant, and much to my surprise, I WON! I was thrust into the serious world of state-level scholarship pageantry, and really had no idea what I was doing. I had one goal: not to win the crown and move on to Miss America, but to win the cash scholarship awards to help me pay for graduate school. I won the “Talent” and “Newcomer” awards. My daughter now plays dress-up with the crown I won as Miss Oklahoma State.

If we asked your friends or family what your three best traits are, what would they say?
They would say I am fiercely loyal, always desire to do the right thing, and have incredible work ethic.

Ask your children what makes you a great mom. What did they say?
My daughter said I am a great mom because I am kind, and my son said because I am always trying to be the best parent I can be for them.

So many people tell their “horror” stories of building a home.
How can people have a positive experience in building?

Take the time to make as many decisions up front as possible so those features can be priced into the project from the beginning and defined in the contractural scope of work. Understand that “good” and “hard” co-exist. It is an immense blessing to build a home, but even with the best team, it can be difficult. It’s hard to make so many decisions, even when all your options are good ones. Something will not go as expected or planned. Someone will let you down. But there are hidden opportunities in every challenge. It’s immensely rewarding to face those challenges together with a team you trust.

You have a husband, two children and a thriving business.
What is your formula for balance?

For me, it’s more like a pendulum swinging between the two, and one of the reasons I started my own construction company was to have more control over how that pendulum was swinging. I am blessed with a very engaged, supportive spouse, and we divide up home and child rearing responsibilities. He is a partner in the truest sense of the word.

Who inspires you daily?
I find a number of people very inspirational, but one person who comes to mind is the author Justin Whitmel Earley. I’m inspired by how he genuinely weaves his faith into his secular work as a business attorney and author, while also being a very intentional spouse, parent, and friend.

How do you give back to the community?
I am honored to serve on the board at Family Promise, whose mission is to provide shelter, family stability, and permanent housing for families and children in Beaufort County. Because Covid disrupted the previously used model of housing families in church facilities, we are currently seeking land to construct permanent housing for the guests in our 90-day program. Bellwether has a philanthropic initiative called “Good Measure” that funnels a percentage of company profits into Family Promise. My family and I are also active in our church, Hilton Head Presbyterian, which has a number of community outreach programs like “Dress for Success,” the non-profit that provides school uniforms to Beaufort County children in need.
What are you “ROARING” about? Ambition is not inherently male or female. And, if you are thinking about doing it, cultivate a bias toward action. Trust yourself, and DO THE THING!