Alex Sutton, co-president of The Woodlands Development Company, discusses community
This month marks Alex Sutton’s 25th year at The Woodlands Development Company, a subsidiary of the Howard Hughes Corp. Although he hasn’t always lived and worked in The Woodlands, as co-president of the company he has a good handle on the area.
Sutton sat down with The Villager to talk about his history in smaller communities and how that has helped his current work, both professionally and personally.
QUESTION: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get to The Woodlands?
SUTTON: I grew up as an Army brat. My father was an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers. I grew up in the Western Hemisphere — lived in Germany, Iceland and Panama, and then at a number of Army bases in the Eastern Seaboard, all the way out to Fort Hood. I went to high school in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The town, at the time, was a fourth of what The Woodlands is now in terms of population. My background is one of being in communities. Army posts were basically self-contained communities, particularly if you’re in a foreign country: so my background is small towns.
I graduated from high school and went to Rice University, which at that time had a total undergraduate population of 2,000. I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Rice in civil engineering. When I graduated, I began going to the University of Houston at night and getting my Master of Business Administration in finance and accounting. I’m a registered professional engineer and a certified public accountant.
In my career I’ve used both of those. For a while I was in finance, for a while I was in engineer. Certainly here in the development business, it’s both. That’s what’s really fun about it.
QUESTION: What do you do as co-president of The Woodlands Development Company?
SUTTON: I work with my colleague Tim Welbes. We manage the operations of the company. But my focus is on development. You can think of development as two things. One is land development — horizontal, water, sewer, drainage, paving, and then we sell land to home and commercial developers — but then it’s also commercial. Office buildings, retail, golf courses. That’s my focus, in the commercial and development area, whereas Tim handles the residential.
QUESTION: How did you get into your current position?
SUTTON: I worked for Exxon, and I started off in design and engineering, designing offshore platforms. Then, I moved into the real estate arm of Exxon, which was Friendswood Development Company. I was there for about five years, then moved into refining and doing different things. I came back here, and then decided I really wanted to be more active and hands on than what Exxon had the opportunity to do, so I joined a consulting engineering firm. I was a principal over there.
One of my first clients was Mr. Plato Pappas, he ran the land development in The Woodlands. After five or six years, he was looking for someone to take his place when he retired and he asked me to come over, so I did. I wanted to get back into development as opposed to pure engineering, too. With my finance background, I thought it would be a better use of my talents and training. I came back and worked in land development, steadily progressed through commercial, and then the opportunity came up and I was promoted to co-president. That was about 10 years ago. I moved here in 1994, and started Jan. 31, 1994.
QUESTION: Are you planning to do anything to celebrate your 25 years here?
SUTTON: I’ll probably go out to dinner. I really feel honored and privileged to be part of building the community. It’s not a place where you just sleep at night. There are plenty of places like that, but to actually be some place where we’ve got everything that goes on here is exciting.
Something I’m probably proudest of is the way that the Waterway in the urban district has turned out. That really is a separater for us. I live in the Town Center, and it’s fun to be able to look at the tall buildings. It’s completely different from typical suburban development, which is great. We’re able to offer something different, and it’s a lot of fun.
QUESTION: What are your goals professionally for 2019?
SUTTON: We have a lot going on in The Woodlands. And we have a lot going on in Bridgeland, and also at the Woodlands Hills. My goal, both professional and personal, is to execute our plans. To continue the development of The Woodlands per the original vision. We’re in the middle of that, and really beginning to execute that vision at Bridgeland and at the Woodlands Hills.
QUESTION: You were just named the 2019 board chairman of Interfaith of The Woodlands. Why have you chosen to work with this organization?
SUTTON: The mission statement of Interfaith is to build a more loving and caring community through service. Looking back at my background, I’ve been in small communities most of my life. When you’re on the military base in Iceland, and Icelandic is very hard to speak, you are in a self-contained community. As a developer, I’m interested in community building. This is what we do here. And those of us who are more fortunate have the obligation to help those who are not as fortunate. The way interfaith works is that you work with people in the community, help people who need help, and at the same time you build that community.
I learned long ago that the way people build credibility with others is to do things with them. If you and I are working on a joint project together, and we accomplish something, the next time you or I need some help we feel comfortable reaching out. That’s what community is all about.
QUESTION: What are you most excited for personally in this coming year?
SUTTON: I’ve got six grandkids. Five of them live in Houston and four of them are here in The Woodlands. I have a great time playing with them, doing things with them and attending their functions. And helping them to any extent that I can.
I play the piano a little bit, play the banjo a little bit. My wife gave me a banjo a few years ago, so I’m just plunking on it. One of my objectives is to get better at the banjo, but (my objective) really is to be a good grandfather.