A discussion on passion, service, business ownership, and honoring your roots without fencing yourself in.
Kelly Beevers was one of the first young professional friends I met when I started my job in downtown San Antonio after graduating from college. I was 22, she was 24. We became known as the “Kelly and Ellie” duo, and even shared this featured article in San Antonio Magazine about our enthusiasm for urban living when it started to become popular here. Kelly is one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and even though she now lives in Montana, we keep up as often as if she never left.
She’s the kind of friend everyone needs: the one that you go to for shared enthusiasm when you’re at your best, and also the one you go to for empathy and compassion when you’re at your worst. We text now when we have our daily wins, but I’ve also spent an evening on her old King William apartment floor with tears streaming down my face as I nursed half a bottle of wine hysterically recounting one of the worst days I ever had in the office. (I don’t drink half bottles of wine anymore and the joke’s on me- that didn’t end up being my worst day in the office. See this post to guess which one it really was.) And, of course, Kelly is the one who caught the bouquet at our wedding.
Jokes aside, I find it to be no coincidence that we have been put into each other’s paths. Even though Kelly is in Montana and I am in Texas, our paralleled challenges and triumphs while we navigate the choppy waters of entrepreneurship together certainly shrink the 1,625 miles of distance between us. She has launched a real estate and ranch land conservation company focused in the American West that she calls herself the Force and Heart of: Topos & Anthros. (She’s really the Founder and President.) I have always admired Kelly for her grit in a Board Room and the grace in her heart, and I am ever-inspired by her passion and service driven approach to the real estate business. Without further ado, I know you’ll finish this article wishing you were friends with Kelly too. 🙂
What was your childhood like, and how did growing up on 120 acres in a small Texas town inspire your passion to work in real estate and land conservation?
My childhood was adventurous, loud, and simple. I grew up as the oldest of five kids on a small ranch in Central Texas. We were like the March Sisters meets Little House on the Prairie. We were always outside imagining far away worlds, going on epic adventures, or doing seemingly endless ranch chores. My dad always jokes that he had four daughters (our little brother came along later) so that he never had to hire manual labor to do the chores. Beginning early on Saturday mornings, tasks of cutting down cedar trees to make fence posts or picking up rocks to run the shredder, or running cows through the chute dictated my budding social schedule.
As a teenager, I so envied my friends who slept in and went to the mall; but, as an adult, I am incredibly thankful for the lessons of hard work, personal responsibility, and land stewardship I was afforded the opportunity (or forced, if you ask the 14 year-old me) to learn. Growing up on a working land fostered my love for rural communities and ranching, while fueling my fascination for the integral connection of place and people. It took years and many steps for me to professionally realize how deeply my childhood upbringing impacted my perspective and inspired my passion for real estate and land conservation.
What was the dream career you envisioned for yourself when you were at Texas A&M as an undergraduate?
My undergrad in Finance and Accounting exposed me to many facets of the business world, but it was my investments and portfolio management classes that captured my attention. I found the world of financial investing to be challenging, interesting, and intriguing. Early in my undergraduate career, I dreamed of the deep-pocketed, high-flying world of Wall Street, investment bank level finance. I thought of going to D.C. or New York to work in financial markets.
Was there a particular professional position you held while living in San Antonio that you feel groomed you for your entrepreneurial endeavors?
In San Antonio, I was fortunate to work with a team of talented, thoughtful folks at Hixon Properties. As I grew with the company, I took on the role of Development Manager, where I led commercial real estate development projects from “soup to nuts” as they say in the industry – or from just an idea or interest in a piece of property through to a fully built, operating building. Though a well established, traditional, family-owned corporation, Hixon Properties gave me the latitude to spearhead projects and lead teams in a way where I had the flexibility, authority, and ability to make decisions and effect change. That slack with a safety net situation allowed me to grow and gave me a taste at what I really desired, the ability to chart my own course: entrepreneurship.
I love that Topos & Anthros strives to preserve and utilize the distinctiveness of place to foster the connection of people and strengthen communities. You are putting the heart and the purpose into real estate. At what point in your early career did you find your calling in your industry, and how did it happen?
In school, investments and portfolio management captured my attention, but it didn’t take long for me to identify that stocks and bonds were too homogenous and intangible for my lacking. I remembered my dad, who is a commercial real estate broker and developer in Central Texas, telling me that every real estate deal is different and that property is tangible, so I quickly redirected my attention to real estate as an investment vehicle. Late in undergrad, it occurred to me that by controlling property, one has the ability to shape, create, and build community, and simultaneously real estate can be a viable financial investment. At that point I dreamed of buying, building, positioning and controlling property in a way that achieved a greater good. So I went to grad school to get my Master in Real Estate (and ride out the financial downturn) in the hopes of finding a way to make my dream a reality.
I worked at USAA’s Real Estate Company during my graduate school internship. The experience was incredibly valuable, and it helped direct me to commercial development as a form of investing. I can’t say enough about the opportunity to work with Hixon Properties. Just a few weeks in, I found my calling of using place to connect people and build community as I joined their efforts to invest in and capitalize on the unique downtowns of San Antonio and Austin. Getting involved in the community meetings to shape Hemisfair Park, working with neighboring landowners to think through our collective impacts, and collaborating with other real estate professionals in the Urban Land Institute fueled my fascination of the intersection of people and place while exposing me to the breadth and depth of real estate investing and community development.
What has been the most profound lesson of self-discovery that you have learned from moving across the country, starting anew, and now starting your own mission-driven company?
I have experienced seemingly endless teaching moments on this adventure. I hope that I have noticed and internalized them to the point of truly learning these lessons that have the ability, should I apply them, to shape my perspective and inform my constitution as a person. Honestly, I feel like I am still in the heat of it all. The more months that go by, the clearer things become and the more I am able to articulate the lessons. That being said, I think the one thing that has profoundly impacted me in all of this has been the lesson of trusting peace. I’m a firm believer in the powerful force of peace that surpasses all logical reasoning and understanding.
Each of the things I’ve embarked on in the last three years has been scary, unknown, uncertain, and even somewhat foreign, but I’ve had peace about the decision to leave a life I loved in San Antonio, start a new chapter in Montana, and ultimately to start my own company based on my conviction of how I wanted to impact the world and lead my life. Trusting that peace, whether you call it trusting your gut, following your heart, listening to the Lord, or daring greatly, has led me to places, people, and opportunities that I could have never imagined. The experiences that have resulted from me simply (and at times courageously) trusting that peace have been unbelievably rewarding.
What has been a challenge you have faced as a leader and an entrepreneur, and how have you worked to overcome it?
Balancing, acknowledging, navigating, and overcoming the (largely self-imposed) pressure to have it all together/ figured out with the (sometimes strong) undercurrent of feeling like an imposter as a business owner is one of the challenges I have faced as a leader and entrepreneur. I think we as women feel the tension between this and our resolve, self-confidence, and determination all of the time. Whether we are strong community leaders, brave mothers, lone entrepreneurs, company executives, creative makers, or still young students trying to figure it out while pretending that we have it all together often overwhelms us. I have found truth and encouragement by pressing into the tension between knowing what you are meant to do and feeling like you’re too inexperienced, ill-equipped or under qualified to do so instead of trying to resolve either side. I don’t know that I have overcome it; each week has its own related battle, but I have an incredible community that has challenged me and given me freedom and permission to know and not know all at the same time.
Here in Bozeman, where I live, we have an incredibly strong group of women entrepreneurs called BossLady. It’s an online group with an in-person structure meant to build a strong community of business owners. The group has over 250 women engaged in helping build each other up as we individually, but in unison, press into what it is that we are all uniquely positioned to do to add value to the world, fulfill our callings, and reach our respective potential. Close friends, mentors, and communities like BossLady have helped me diligently persevere through the challenges of leadership and entrepreneurship.
What is one piece of advice you can offer young women aspiring toward careers that are defined by a higher sense of purpose and service toward others?
A life lived in consideration of others is fulfilling in a way that a life lived for self never can be. By focusing on the people part of your business (and life) and aiming to provide opportunities for others, you have the ability to amplify your impact, expand your influence, and gain exposure to people in a way that adds beautiful dimension to an otherwise flat life. Someone wise once told me that in business I should prioritize my time and efforts in this way: 1) people 2) properties (or projects) and 3) deals. Working with people I trust, care about, and can grow with guides and yields success in a way that no property, project, or deal structure could ever overcome, should the people component be forgotten, downgraded or ignored. Live a life for others in business and beyond. There’s no better way.
What are your main sources of inner strength?
My faith combined with my community of loving, hilarious, brave, brilliant, honest, supportive and remarkable friends and family. I am only as strong as those around me. On a deep personal level, my faith grounds me, but it is the people in my life that reinforce the truth and beauty of my faith in the way they extend grace to me, put up with me, and love me day in and day out.
Did you have a mentor that helped coach you to where you are now, and how did he or she influence your commitment to leaving an impactful professional footprint wherever you go?
I have been blessed with a number of professional mentors. Interestingly enough, they have all been men. That being said, they are all men who empower and elevate women as part of their constitution. My dad has always been my role model, professionally and otherwise. From a young age he instilled a sense of personal and social responsibility. I’m sure if I thought hard enough about it, I could recall one of the many cowboy wisdom sayings he used to tell me about honoring the opportunity to lead by doing so well.
In San Antonio, I had a team of talented, caring, and accomplished mentors in Jack Spector, Madison Smith, Bill Shown, and Andres Andujar. These men relentlessly, courageously, and patiently coached me to where I am now. They influenced my commitment to leave an impactful professional footprint in my job, my board service, my volunteerism, and my community leadership by affirming my strengths and passions, gently (but persistently) challenging my understandings, and encouraging my vision for the future. In addition, at Hixon, I had a boss that empowered, elevated, enlivened, and encouraged me. Clint Wynn put confidence and trust in me while guiding me when I was completely green and new in my career. His leadership combined with his belief in my abilities, celebration of strengths, and encouragement of my vision challenged me to be better for a larger purpose and to focus on something more than myself. His guidance and support strengthened my commitment to leaving an impact in all I do professionally.
You were one of San Antonio’s biggest champions while living here. What Alamo City traditions did you bring with you to Bozeman, Montana, and have your new friends embraced a little bit of SA?
I relentlessly bring the “Viva Fiesta” and “Go Spurs Go” spirit to Bozeman. Most of my friends here probably were initially exposed to my love for and adoration of San Antonio by my lack of tolerance for the margaritas, tacos, and lousy attempts at queso in Bozeman. They’re so off base that I feel the need to put those words in quotations. And don’t even get me started on the tortillas. Beyond that, I make a point to celebrate Texas Independence Day every year with a party at my house complete with queso, Shiner beer, and Texas Sheet Cake. I have a bowl of Fiesta medals in my kitchen that is always set out among the appetizers regardless of the event. It causes Fiesta to often become the talk of the party. Beyond that, I build my schedule around the Spurs games in the spring and summer. I’ve even rescheduled or redirected group events to accommodate the Spurs. I could go on and on. Let’s face it, I love Montana and pinch myself that I get to live here, but my heart beats outside my chest in San Antonio every day.
If you could have lunch with any woman in the world, (living or deceased) who would it be and why?
I think I’d have to have lunch with Margaret Thatcher, Ellen Meloy, Sacagawea, and Leslie Knope. Is it ok to choose a fictional character? I picked three deceased women and one fictional lady, is that weird? So Margaret Thatcher is obviously a badass. She courageously led in a world dominated by men and did so with grit and gumption. Ellen Meloy authored one of my favorite books, The Anthropology of the Color Turquoise. She articulates the connection between place and people in intoxicatingly eloquent ways. She had an authentic relationship with the natural world that extended beyond just respect of nature. She was keenly aware of the ways that place shaped who she became.
My interest in Sacageawea started at a young age when we all learn about her as kids. Then there was the Disney movie Pocahontas and she had a raccoon for a pet, so I was pretty interested in the whole idea of leading lady Native Americans. But really, my understanding and admiration of the courage, leadership, kindness, hospitality, and generosity of Sacageawea has grown from my time here in Montana. It’s Lewis this and Clark that on an almost daily basis up here. Sacageawea made much of that adventure, exploration and discovery possible. And finally, Leslie Knope. Her character is hopeful, hard working, relentless, determined, thoughtful, caring, and funny as all get out. She’s flawed and sort of a mess, but she never fails to bring out the best in others (unless they’re from Eagleton) and includes everyone in her successes. That and she spoke one of my favorite lines about professional life: “Friends, Waffles, Work or Waffles, Friends, Work, doesn’t matter, but work is third.”
Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison.