It’s the consensus among all of– they didn’t really want to leave. Work never felt like work for four of Neal Communities long-time staff members, including Kathy Cioffi, Priscilla Heim, Jim Schier and Leisa Weintraub. Each one spent more than two decades at Neal Communities and was, in their
own way, instrumental in the development of many people’s quality of life. But what causes people to want to stay within a company for as long as they did?
“I’d like to think it’s our family culture and that we give our employees the freedom to ‘do the right thing’,” said founder and chairman Pat Neal of Neal
Giving employees the freedom to make a difference in their community, in other people’s lives and in each other’s lives was a common theme among those who recently said their goodbyes.
Kathy Cioffi’s Designed Entire Communities
For more than two decades, Kathy Cioffi had a direct influence on the design of the neighborhoods that Neal Communities built – from the lavish entrance ways, lush landscaping, unique architectural styles, varied community center amenities and preservation of environmental assets.
Cioffi retired as the Vice President of Design in April after 24 years with Neal Communities. But she said she didn’t really want to go. “As a matter of fact, I was really contemplating not retiring and staying a couple of more years,” Cioffi said. Instead, she returns to the office about once a week in a consulting capacity as the design team transitions
Cioffi first joined the Neal Communities team in 1998 as a designer for what would become one of the region’s largest home builders. She soon was promoted to manage the design center. In that role, she kept up with the latest architectural and decorating trends. She worked with product developers and architects on floor plans and elevations as well as tile and cabinetry. When she took on the role of Vice President of Design, Cioffi got even more involved with the look-and-feel of the communities being built.
“It’s a good feeling to see a community and know that I had a role in the design,” she said. “I loved the creativity of the job, so it was not really work for me. To see it all evolve was so much fun.”
For Cioffi, it was hard to say goodbye to her co-workers. “It becomes a big family and we do all work together – from the hard times like the downturn in 2008 to what’s happening now with the prosperity of the house sales,” she said. “Neal Communities is a wonderful company to work for. It was bittersweet for me to retire.
Priscilla Heim Embraced, Embodied the Family Culture
For 22 years, Priscilla Heim was Chairman and Founder Pat Neal’s administrative assistant. She helped transcribe dictation, craft memos, answer phone calls, handle his calendar and attend to his daily needs. She said she enjoyed every moment of it.
“Pat is a big visionary,” Heim said. “He sees things way before other people see them. He’s a good person. He looks to the future and plans for the future.”
Heim moved to Florida with her husband, Dave, in 1984 from Pennsylvania. At the time, Dave had been laid off from his job in construction due to the harsh winter weather. They decided to move to the warmer climate and be closer to relatives. Shortly after moving to Manatee County, Heim started working for an Episcopal church, where she stayed for 15 years before becoming Pat Neal’s administrative assistant in June of 1999.
Throughout her time at Neal Communities, Priscilla said she always felt a part of the company’s family. She made lifelong friends with many of her co-workers. “It was wonderful,” she said. “To the outside, Neal Communities is known for its landscaping, branding, style and beautiful homes. But what people don’t know is that, on the inside, Neal Communities is like that song, ‘Lean on Me.’ People call on each other when they need a friend. It’s a wonderful place to work.”
She said the actual Neal family members are as helpful as the employees. “The Neals are really great people to work with,” she said. “They don’t ask anyone to do anything they wouldn’t do themselves.”
Heim spent her last official day with the company in early March and is now enjoying retirement with her husband, Dave. She said it is strange not having to wake up to an alarm clock, but she loves to spend time looking out over the sunrise or sunset from her Myakka City home. She has gone back to visit coworkers a couple of times since leaving. “Those people mean a lot to me,” she said.
Jim Schier Loved that Neal Communities Gives Back
Jim Schier started working with Neal Communities in the early 1980s. At the time, he was employed by an accounting firm in Des Moines, Iowa, and Neal Communities was his client. In fact, the homebuilder was such a large client that the accounting firm moved Schier to open an office in the Sunshine State.
At the time, his wife was pregnant with their third child, and they moved to Bradenton. “I guess you could say it was a culture shock moving from Iowa to Florida,” he said, laughing at the memory. In 1984, Schier transitioned from the other company to working full-time for Neal Communities as the company’s lead CPA.
“Back then, we were a much smaller company,” Schier said. “But we always had just wonderful people to work with. I liked everybody that I worked with. We all got along and would come together for the common goal.”
Over the course of three decades, Schier has witnessed the company grow. He’s enjoyed the comradery of his co-workers. He’s also watched as Neal Communities has donated millions of dollars to community organizations and associations throughout the years.
“It’s part of Pat’s culture,” Schier said. “He gives a lot back to the community and a lot of the people that we work with at Neal Communities volunteer their time and treasures back to the community. It’s good for business and it’s good for the soul.”
After a 38-year career with Neal Communities, Schier said he is looking forward to retirement with his wife, Mary. The two have purchased an RV and intend to travel the United States. But, when he’s home, he still stops into the office to check on things.
“Sometimes, I don’t feel as though I’m retired,” he said, admitting that it’s hard to stay away. He also said he is looking forward to getting involved in the community himself and volunteering some of his own time when he is not traveling.
Leisa Weintraub Brought Awards, Success
When Leisa Weintraub started working for Neal Communities in 1992 in marketing, she was challenged with her first assignment – getting University Park on the map. “By the time we did that, I had met every cartography department,” Weintraub said, laughing at the memory. It would not be the last time Pat Neal would challenge her. But it was those challenges Weintraub truly enjoyed during her 30 years as Vice President of Marketing for Neal Communities. She had a direct role in 50 groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings of communities from Tampa to Naples.
Weintraub tells the story of the resilience of Neal Communities. In 2008, when the market crashed, she watched Neal pivot his company’s path quickly. Rather than shutting down, like so many builders did, he downsized and changed his product lines. He found that townhomes were not desirable for buyers and ultimately invented a successful cottage home product. “It was amazing to watch, and it was inspiring to see his vision,” she said. “I’ve always seen his leadership, but that was remarkable because it was such a pivotal moment for the building industry.”
Weintraub was at the helm of marketing during much of Neal Communities’ growth. She remembers when the company hosted 13 grand openings in a single year. She played a strong role in all of them, from logo design to ultimately landing home sales through marketing efforts. “You learn how a community forms,” she said. “All of the aspects, intricacies and development processes that are used to create a community and its homes. It was always very, very fascinating to me.”
Weintraub also was instrumental behind the number of awards Neal Communities adorns on the shelf in the lobby of its Lakewood Ranch headquarters, including the Southwest Building Conference’s Aurora Awards and the Florida Home Builders Association Sales & Marketing Council’s EXCEL Awards. Neal Communities also has been recognized by the Parade of Homes and the Florida Green Building Coalition.
Professionally, Weintraub earned her Master in Residential Marketing (MIRM) certification through the National Association of Home Builders. She also was named Marketing Professional of the Year by the Florida Association of Home Builders Excel Award. She chaired the local Sales & Marketing Award Gala and the Parade of Homes Award Gala for the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association.
“Since I was at Neal for so long, I sort of got to be the encyclopedia. People would come to me and ask questions about how this or that happened,” she said. “It was often fast paced. It was challenging, and it was interesting. Each community was like your own child. They were all different. They were all marketed for their uniqueness.”
Now that she is retired, she hopes to spend time with her husband, Richard, who also sold his business and retired along with her. She intends to spend time in her garden and on her passion – clothing design. “I think the fascinating thing about working with Pat is that he is never standing still,” she said. “He is always moving and doing interesting things. And I’ve always loved that part of it. I’ll miss the wonderful and very capable team at Neal Communities.”
Making Room for the Next Generation
While Cioffi openly admitted to not wanting to leave, she said she is excited about the next generation taking over. “It’s good to bring in the younger generation and have a whole different set of ideas,” she said.
For Neal, he is saying goodbye to not just employees but good friends. “We work hard to create a family culture here at Neal Communities,” Neal said. “It’s always difficult to say goodbye, but we are thankful for the hard work and dedication that they gave to build wonderful neighborhoods for people to live, work and play.”