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15 Dec 2010

Getting to know you: Liz Gessaman

In this month’s edition of the Vertical Measures employee interview series, I speak with client services director Liz Gessaman about managing change at VM, her early morning hikes and some of the best trips this globetrotter has ever taken.

Michael Schwartz: What exactly do you do on a daily basis at Vertical Measures?

Liz Gessaman: Well, I’ll use a Vertical Measures favorite term: “It Depends.” As you know we have a great team here and I think what I do daily is to make sure everyone has the resources they need, development opportunities and most importantly that we are delivering to our clients a valuable service.

Michael: At VM processes change all the time and you are often at the center of making everything go. How difficult is that to handle?

Liz: I’m not sure it’s as difficult as challenging. It reminds me of chess, which I thought I would like because it’s based around strategy but it’s very nerve racking learning because there are so many moving parts. With Vertical Measures it’s exciting because there are so many moving parts, but I understand them and the results. It’s developing an individual’s strengths by making sure they have opportunities, it’s developing a new product so we are delivering the best we can to our clients. It can be frustrating at times because like anything we want instant gratification, but as with the game of chess it’s also about patience, taking a step back and looking at the big picture and in the end you hope you made the right move.

Michael: What did you learn from your 11 years at American Express and what kind of positions did you hold there?

Liz: I started as a travel agent and then became a customer service agent supporting Fidelity Investments with their travel needs and they in return had a lot of travel opportunities for me. I then had an opportunity to become a Quality Analyst, which supported the Fortune 500 companies by identifying their customer service issues and what could be done to reduce costs utilizing Six Sigma processes. From there I moved to reporting. We managed individual databases that included financial, customer satisfaction and retention information and would extrapolate monthly results and deliver to leaders of American Express travel for them to review how they were doing against other regions and their yearly goals. I learned a lot but I learned the most about myself. I like process improvement and change. I took away with me a lot of skills and process improvement techniques that have helped me here at Vertical Measures.

Michael: What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken in your life?

Liz: I’ve had amazing opportunities to travel the world and each opportunity has been different and unique in its own way. There are so many, including camping and hiking with the animals in South Africa for a month, hiking Kilimanjaro with my dad on his 60th birthday, scuba diving the blue hole and other amazing reefs, visiting the Eiffel Tower, skiing off the Andes Mountains to hang glide, riding a chicken bus in Guatemala and then having it pull off the road since the locals had shut it down because they had had enough of a bandito that they burned in the town square and seeing the sun rise over Machu Picchu.

Michael: I tend to go to bed late on the weekends, so some days it’s possible you wake up before I go to sleep. How early do you wake up and why do you feel compelled to rise before the sun does?

Liz: I haven’t always been an early riser but it seems like my schedule has conditioned me for it. At first I was up early to get to work and then I would have the afternoon to hike or bike. Now I’m up early to run or hike before work. But there is something to be said for being on top of Camelback for sunrise or having the Phoenix Mountain Preserve to yourself. It’s those moments that make you appreciate your surroundings. The chance to see the sun rise, a ringtail cat on Camelback, seeing the coyotes running along the path. It’s something that I’ve accomplished while most people are still sleeping and I feel fortunate to have had that experience. Doesn’t happen every day and some days are harder than others to get up out of bed, especially this time of year when it’s cold and dark but it’s worth it.

Michael: We know your longtime boyfriend and esteemed photographer Darren from the fun and serious pictures he took of the staff when we redesigned our web site. Does his creative energy inspire you or complement you?

Liz: I would say his personality complements me.  I tend to be more of a planner, problem solver and logical one where he is the creative, go with the flow and social one. He balances my grounded personality and makes life fun. We both like adventure and new things, but our two personalities allow not only talk about the opportunities but action as well! He is my perfect balance.

Michael: I seldom can recognize the kind of foods you bring in, but all I ever think is how much healthier you eat than I do. Describe your diet and why you choose to eat so healthy.

Liz: It’s been a transition really. I have always been pretty active and have never really had to worry about what I ate but would eat mostly protein and vegetables. Not too exciting, but it worked for me.  I met my boyfriend seven years ago, and he has been a vegetarian for about 20 years. His diet consists of a lot of starches. I didn’t mind giving up the meat, but I realized over time that I have a food intolerance to some of the starches. Not being able to think outside the box, we made two different types of meals that fit our dietary needs until I found two things. The first was Nature’s Garden Delivered. It’s an organic vegetable and fruit delivery service here in Phoenix which forces us to try new recipes and gives us variety. The second was 101cookbooks.com,  a blog by Heidi Swan that has a variety of recipes that are natural and vegetarian. It opened my mind to savory meals that are whole food, fulfilling and contain a good balance of nutrition. Darren and I now enjoy the time we spend cooking together and have found a solution to our diet choices/needs. We’ve taken our whole foods methods to our car camping and just bought a food dehydrator so I can see if I can take our back packing meals to an au natural state.

Michael: And finally, why do you like working at VM?

Liz: Well first of all I love the people I work with, it’s like a big family. We don’t always see eye to eye but we learn from each other, we respect each other and we have fun. I like the challenge of growing a successful business and the opportunity to develop on the journey. Plus the industry is always changing, which forces us to keep ahead of the curve in order to be successful so we are always learning, always putting ourselves out there and always changing. I like that – it’s an adventure!