WINnovation 2017: Donna Preiss

Donna Preiss
Founder and CEO, The Preiss Company

Donna Preiss is the founder and chief executive officer of Raleigh-based The Preiss Company, one of the nation’s top 10 providers of student housing, and the largest woman-owned owner and operator of student housing.

She and the company are credited with leading the transformation of American college dorm life. Not long ago, if you were a college student, you most likely shared a cramped dorm room with a roommate or two, walked down the hall to the bathroom, drank stale coffee in the campus cafeteria, and hauled your laundry down to the basement to wash, quarter by quarter.

Things have changed.

If you are a college student today – thanks in no small part to Preiss – you may have your own fully furnished bedroom in an off-campus student housing mecca designed just for people like you. Your bathroom is your own. You drink coffee in your suite’s sleek stainless-steel-appliance-appointed kitchen, and watch TV on the 50-inch flat-screen that came with the place. You don’t need to stockpile quarters, because you have your own washing machine and dryer.

“We play a very important part in people’s lives,” says Preiss. “They’re planning their life’s work. If they enjoy where they’re living, they do a better job at that. We believe we make a difference.” More than 21,000 students in 14 states from California to North Carolina agree.

Preiss credits her success in part to her positive mindset. There’s a myth, she says, that “if you work hard, you’ll achieve success, and then you’ll be happy.” That’s flawed for two reasons, Preiss believes. First, success (health, wealth, status) does not predict happiness. Second, “you need to start with happy. Happy people work hard and achieve success. Happy people make a difference in the workplace and in relationships.”

An important part of happiness, Preiss believes, is a sense of purpose. “The Japanese call it ikigai. It’s a reason to get up.” People who have it tend to live longer, work harder, and have better relationships, she says. Another important piece of happiness is gratitude. Being grateful for the small everyday things that go right is important, she says. “Most of us see our lives through our own particular lens,” she says. “You can change that lens. You can isolate those moments, appreciate them, look for them.”