Young Alumna Breaks Ground

Cross Continent M.B.A. '13 Marnie Oursler has a nimble approach in construction business
December 11, 2014

After spending childhood summers sweeping up sawdust and eating lunch atop overturned drywall buckets on her father’s construction sites, Marnie Oursler M.B.A. ’13 swore off the building business. Then the bullish real-estate market of the early 2000s caught her attention. A property sales agent at the time, she lived on peanut butter sandwiches for two years until she’d saved enough to buy a $250,000 fixer-upper in Bethany Beach, Delaware. Nine months later, in 2005, she flipped it and bought an empty lot to build a home with her $89,000 profit.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” says Oursler, whose business, Marnie Custom Homes, generated $6.5 million in revenue in 2014. She’s finished thirty-five high-end homes, including Delaware’s first LEED-certified house, and has garnered industry awards. But to succeed in an ever-changing market, she’s had to stay ahead of the competition.

“There aren’t many young woman in the industry,” says Oursler, who is thirty-six. “I kept thinking about how I could diversify and turn that perceived negative into a positive.” Oursler enrolled in Fuqua’s Cross Continent M.B.A. program to hone her business acumen and broaden her experience. “It changed my company tenfold,” she says. “Now I come across as a new generation.”

Her clients often bring high expectations and wide-ranging knowledge to each project. Oursler says having an M.B.A. has helped her understand the unique needs of her customers. “We’re spending a lot of time together, and they’re spending a lot of money. They need to trust me.”

Oursler says it is also important to be responsive to current trends. The LEED house she built came about after the 2008 election cycle: “All you heard about was sustainability, and I thought, yes, we need to be building like this. Why throw so much away?” When another client, a military veteran, requested she use as many American-made building materials as possible, she was able to source 90 percent of them domestically. And, when the town of Bethany tore down its historic boardwalk to replace it, Oursler jumped at the chance to buy up the old, storied lumber.

She knew her clients would appreciate the sense of history and authenticity that recycled materials bring to new construction. Oursler designed and built a table out of the boardwalk to donate to The Joshua Freeman Foundation, a nonprofit Oursler sponsors that is dedicated to providing art education. “I’m always aware that people are raising families in my houses, building their own memories, and to do what I love and give back to the community is very important to me.”


  • Louise Flynn is the associate editor at Duke Magazine.