by Bill Geroux
Dorothy “Dot” Leach Wood, President and CEO, JD& W Inc., Virginia Beach
Like many women, Dorothy “Dot” Leach Wood knows shoes: the latest colors, trends, styles. But in 1978 she did not know a single contractor who could build out a shoe store.
At the time, Wood was a pioneer in the male-dominated industry of commercial real-estate construction. She had reared her children and wanted something to do. She decided to try commercial real estate because “it seemed like something you could do and be proud of when you finished, like a needlepoint.”
Lack of experience didn’t stop her. Wood called around and found a contractor for the shoe store.
Today, Wood, 71, sits on the State Board of Contractors and runs JD& W Inc., a multimillion-dollar commercial construction business she has headed for 31 years. The company’s 15 employees include her two adult sons: James L. Wood, who is vice president, and W. Christopher Wood, the secretary/treasurer.
Dot Wood can’t drive around Hampton Roads without seeing her company’s handiwork. Over the years, it has completed many renovations and design/build projects. One of JD &W’s most challenging projects was removing the stained-glass windows at historic First Baptist Church in downtown Norfolk and refitting them in new frames.
As a woman in construction, Wood says she encountered some resistance, particularly in the early days. “When I went to the bank to borrow my first $1,000, the banker said, ‘Sure sweetheart.’ ” Later, she adds, “They lost my paperwork. In my generation, it was impossible for women to get backing.”
She also remembers when people would call and ask “to speak to the man in charge. I’ve lost some business over the years because they didn’t want to deal with a woman.” Sometimes Wood would sidestep the problem by simply putting a male employee on the line.
These days she enjoys taking the time to mentor other businesswomen. Katherine Katsias, who runs The Katsias Co., a commercial real estate firm in Virginia Beach, says Wood not only helps women starting out, but lately has been helping to find jobs for women who have been laid off.
Long active in business and civic groups, she’s a founding member of CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) in Hampton Roads, co-founder of the local Meals on Wheels program, a former city planning commissioner and a key fundraiser for the city’s Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.
“My parents taught me that if you were fortunate, you really owed it to other people to give back,” says Wood. “And I’m fortunate. I’ve got four wonderful grandchildren and two children, both of whom are [working] with me. Good health, good friends and a wonderful husband. What else could anyone want?