2018 Journal of Business Rising Stars
-September 13th, 2018
In the five years that Brooke Baker Spink has worked for Baker Construction & Development Inc., she's helped secure more than $40 million in construction work.
But it was work in another industry in which Baker Spink, 32, learned how to build sales.
After graduating with a bachelor's in business administration from Washington State University, she spent five years working for State Farm insurance, where she helped build a new office on the South Hill here from the ground up, she says.
"It was a really good experience for me, essentially helping open up a business from scratch. We didn't have a single policy holder when we opened up our doors," says Baker Spink. "That was when I got my first taste of sales."
Afterward, she transitioned into a corporate role with the insurance company and was later offered the option to run her own State Farm office.
Instead, Baker Spink chose to join Baker Construction & Development because she wanted the opportunity to work with her dad—and second-generation family business owner—Barry Baker.
"Before I got married, he was my best friend," says Baker Spink, who wed in 2015. "My dad is my role model and the guy I go to for everything."
After long conversations with her father and his business partners about what joining the construction industry and working in a family business would involve, Baker Spink says she came onboard to the company in a sales position. Five years later, serving as director of business development, she loves working for the family business, she says.
"I know that this is where I was meant to be," she says.
Now, Baker Spink primarily works with preconstruction services—working with clients to prepare to break ground on projects. That can entail selecting a project site, procuring loans, or interviewing lenders, architects, and engineers to ensure the companies are good fits for the client.
"Director of business development is just a fancy title for sales," says Baker Spink. "I'm getting out there; I'm in the community and chatting with people and seeing if they need our services."
Being the boss's daughter, young, and a woman in the construction industry, Baker Spink says she's been stereotyped and had to work hard to earn her place in the mostly male industry.
When she started out, she was "more puppy dogs and candy canes" but has since toughened up and adapted to working in a fast-paced and hands-on industry, she says.
"I'm drinking more, I'm cussing more, and I'm fitting right in," she says, laughing.
Beyond her career, Baker Spink is involved in a number of community organizations, including co-chairing Spokane County United Way's Emerging Leaders Society and working with the Spokane Philanthropy Awards for four years. She's also on the board of directors for the Spokane Sports Commission and a member of Rotary 21.
Earlier this year, she was named by Spokane County United Way as the 2018 Emerging Leader of the Year. In 2015, she was recognized as one of Catalyst magazine's 20 Under 40.
As for personal aspirations, Baker Spink says she'd love to be a mother someday and continue her traveling adventures.
"I want to show my future children you can be an amazing mother and have a successful and fulfilling career at the same time," she says.
In her 12 years of working at Next IT Corp., now a part of customer engagement company Verint Systems Inc., Jen Snell says she's never once been bored.
The 38-year-old vice president of product marketing for Verint's intelligent self-service business unit joined the company in its early startup days, before Siri and Alexa were household names.
"We were still learning how to do what we do and get the outcome, so I got to do a lot of different things," Snell says. "It became apparent that we needed some focus in marketing, so I developed my own role for marketing, and I've been there ever since."
Snell grew up on a wheat farm near the tiny town of LaCrosse, Wash., about 80 miles southwest of Spokane, in Whitman County. She attended Washington State University, where she says she changed her major several times before settling on advertising. She graduated in 2002 and completed an internship with the Seattle Sonics before returning to Spokane. While working at advertising agency WhiteRunkle, Snell heard about Next IT and decided to visit the company's offices. She says she was hired on the spot.
"We've evolved as a startup. We've pivoted into different areas and focuses, and all along the way, it's been really exciting to be part of," Snell says. "I'm trying something new every day. That's why I think I've been here for 12 years."
Next IT was founded in 2002; in December 2017, the company was acquired by New York-based Verint. Snell says being part of Verint gives her company a competitive edge.
"I want to see Verint, specifically this business unit and Next IT, compete in what is becoming a really competitive market," Snell says. "Our competitors have gone from some niche players to Microsoft, Google, Amazon."
One of the projects Snell has worked on involved building an artificial intelligence health coach in an effort to get more patients to follow their doctors' recommended treatments more closely. It was the company's first foray into the health care industry, and Snell says she was pleased to see positive feedback after the health coach was launched.
Snell says she considers many of her peers to be sources of inspiration, as well as Tracy Malingo, senior vice president of product strategy for Verint.
"I've watched her over the last two years, and I admire her approach and perseverance in really difficult situations," Snell says.
Her parents also inspire her, particularly her father, who still farms wheat in Whitman County.
Snell says her path to success has been "organic," depending heavily upon her ability to be decisive and her desire to succeed.
"I remember I had a conversation with one of my co-workers years ago, and he asked me 'what drives you?' and I said 'winning.'"
In 2014, Next IT named Snell its Innovator of the Year. Snell was also named 2015 Trailblazer of the Year silver winner by New York-based pharmaceutical marketing publication PM360. She's written articles for VentureBeat and TechCrunch.
She says she believes it's important for her not to take herself too seriously.
"I feel like the moment I take myself too seriously, that’s when it's not fun anymore," Snell says.
Scott Isaak, owner of real estate holding company 5D Holdings LLC and owner of the Spokane's Sweeto Burrito chain, describes 34-year-old real estate agent Jordan Tampien as a cross between "Mr. Rogers, your favorite life insurance salesman, and your grandpa," but in a good way.
Isaak also describes Tampien as this "tip of my spear in terms of my real estate investing wing," and contributes much of his success to Tampien's demeanor and ability to see industry trends—Tampien has probably secured $60 million in transactions for Isaak's real estate holding company over the three years they have been working together, he says.
"I think he understands the path of progress as well an anyone here in Spokane … and he's just done great things for me personally, but I know it doesn't stop there," says Isaak.
Graduating from Gonzaga University School of Law with both a law degree and master's in business administration in 2010, Jordan Tampien, co-founder of 4 Degrees Real Estate, says he interned with Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners while in school, says Tampien. He worked for the nonprofit until 2013.
"I ran their portfolio of multifamily projects, fell in love with real estate, what it can do, and what (SNAP) was doing in the community," he says. Working with SNAP until 2013, Tampien secured $7 million in grants for the program.
That feat led him to a job with Washington State University's extension program as an economic development specialist.
While working with Washington State University, a post he left in January, Tampien says he "decided to get my real estate license, thinking it might be fun since I like looking at houses anyway," he says.
By September 2015, he owned roughly 50 rental units and struggled to manage all of them while also working.
He also had difficulty choosing a management company, so he opened 4 Degrees Real Estate with his brother, Joel.
Additionally, Tampien has been involved in a number of recent developments and transactions in the downtown area, including: the development of a seven-story multiuse building, the purchase of a 15,000-square-foot office building, and the purchase of two adjacent buildings for a restaurant and brewery concept.
Looking forward, Tampien is interested in real estate development and getting more invested in the entrepreneurship scene.
"As a career, I want to get into developing more housing opportunities and entrepreneurship … I think my dream job would be a venture capitalist, helping young, starting businesses get up and going."
As an economic developer for WSU, he had worked to get jobs for programs and rural communities, he says. However, he noticed he was able to form more positions by jumping into his own business ventures instead.
"It was a really eye-opening experience of where I saw the most change and where I thought I would be most helpful," he says.
About 28 employees and 42 agents work at 4 Degrees Real Estate, says Tampien.
Two other companies he owns, the Backyard Public House and Boiler Room Pizza, have roughly 12 and 28 employees, respectively.
Brandon Haugen began working as a valet at the Northern Quest Resort & Casino in early 2008, when the casino and hotel were in the midst of a massive $275 million expansion.
A decade later, the casino is undergoing another expansion, but this time Haugen—now 33 years old and general manager of the Kalispel Development Co.—is at the center of the most recent wave of development activity.
Haugen grew up "an average kid in an average part of town" in Spokane. He graduated from Ferris High School before he was recruited to play linebacker for the University of Wyoming
Haugen received his bachelor's degree in planning in December of 2007 and decided to return to Spokane. While working at Northern Quest, he earned a master's in business administration with a focus on American Indian entrepreneurship from Gonzaga University.
He's been promoted consistently since he began working at Northern Quest and says he's never felt the desire to leave.
"There hasn't been any reason to want to go look for something else when you get a chance to help develop your tribe and the economic development activity in Airway Heights," Haugen says.
Haugen, who is a member of the Kalispel Tribe, is now in the thick of Northern Quest's massive expansion, which includes renovation of the hotel's top floor; the addition of grandstand seating at its outdoor concert venue; construction of M&D, a movie and dinner restaurant; a makeover of the Impulse night club; construction of a retail store; the addition of a nearby RV resort; and construction of the Salish Flats apartment complex.
Haugen oversees all of it.
"My goal, overall, is to make not only Northern Quest and Airway Heights a better place, but just this whole region," Haugen says. "I want to create attractions that bring people from all over the world to come here and make Spokane a true
Of the many projects he's been part of, Haugen says it's impossible for him to choose favorites.
"It's like your kids; you love them all the same," says Haugen, a father of three. "My biggest success, at the end of the day, is … just working with people. It's one thing to build something and to lease land and let others develop it, but it's another thing to get a whole group of people rowing in the same direction. I'm not the only reason that's happened, but I think I've had a good degree of influence over helping create that collaboration and making that work."
Haugen is president of the West Plains Chamber of Commerce and serves on the Spokane Sports Commission Board. He also coaches his children's flag football teams. Haugen says the challenges of his busy life are enjoyable.
"I'm not perfect. I make a ton of mistakes, but at the end of the day, just getting back on the horse every single time you fall off, focusing yourself on never letting yourself or anybody else down is probably one of the biggest motivators for me."
Christina VerHeul, communications director at Washington State University’s Spokane-based Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, says she doesn’t take a moment for granted since returning last year to Spokane.
“It has been one of the most rewarding phases of my career to come back to my home town … and to get to be a part of leading my city and my alma mater to its next phase,” says VerHeul, 34.
In her position, VerHeul heads up all communications, public relations, and marketing efforts for WSU’s new medical school, including working with conventional and social media, pitching news stories, and issuing press releases.
“All advertising campaigns come through this office,” she says. “I’m focusing on getting the word out across the state. I also have the support of an events coordinator.”
She’s also working on various initiatives with the medical school dean, faculty, and staff, as well as the donor-relations team.
“There’s really no area of the college that I don’t touch in some capacity to support their communications efforts,” she says.
VerHeul, who was raised in Spokane and graduated from North Central High School, earned a bachelor’s degree at WSU in 2006 in public relations, with a minor in marketing.
She immediately went to work in the Tacoma, Wash., area where she was employed in the energy and architecture industries. In 2010, she relocated to Nashville, where she worked in the hospitality industry and was most recently a vice president of marketing and consulting for a health care consulting firm.
“It was an exciting time to be in Nashville,” VerHeul says. “I got some good perspective on customer service and the entire service industry working with restaurants, hotels, tourism, and travel.”
VerHeul says she returned to Spokane specifically for the opportunity to help nurture the new medical school.
“It’s fun to be on the ground level of what WSU is doing,” she says. “We have the opportunity to do something different than other medical schools across the county that have been doing the same thing for 100-plus years. With the way that the medical school is changing the way we’re teaching medical students, we’re in an exciting
For example, she says the new medical school is attuned specifically to the needs of Washington state.
“We’re focused on community-based education,” she says. “We’re focused on rural and underserved communities. We’re shaping young people to be my doctor and your doctor.”
VerHeul says she’s fortunate to have worked under leaders who have modeled being the kind of person and leader she wants to be as much as they have shared business aptitude.
“It’s about having a lot of empathy and compassion and also empowering my team and giving them a lot of autonomy,” she says. “I trust my team to do the right things and do some great work. Those were the kinds of things modeled to me.”
While starting a new medical school presents a lot of challenges, VerHeul says it’s a fun place to work, especially when she meets medical students.
“They’re just so enthusiastic; it’s hard not to maintain that enthusiasm,” she says.
Ramsey Pruchnic, 31, describes himself as both a creative thinker and a serial entrepreneur, having established two new businesses in Spokane—an online marketing company and a donut shop—within less than a year.
Pruchnic says that for him, being a good leader is first about serving the people you lead.
“It’s about recognizing people’s strengths and needs and creating a work environment that allows them to feel fulfilled,” he says. “You have the most success when everyone is moving in the same direction, toward the same goals.”
Pruchnic holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Eastern Washington University and a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University. He spent several years living in Seattle, working in social media and online marketing at Microsoft Corp.
Pruchnic says he and his wife, Amy, moved back to Spokane in 2016, with the intention of setting down some roots.
“In returning to Spokane, we wanted to develop businesses here that would create jobs and opportunities in both the industries we work in,” he says.
Upon returning to Spokane, Pruchnic spent time as vice president of relationship marketing and marketing systems for Red Lion Hotels, helping develop the company's loyalty program and online advertising.
“I came to realize there was a void here for a data-driven agency that could help companies to optimize their brand,” he says. “That gave me the confidence to start my own company.”
Pruchnic founded the online marketing company, Strategy Labs, in January.
“We help brands achieve business goals through online advertising,” he says. “Our focus is on building strong, mutually beneficial relationships with clients, so that our business grows through helping them to grow theirs.”
While his specialty is online and digital marketing, Pruchnic says he gets the most enjoyment out of building something new.
“The best part for me is being able to build things and put my own stamp on them,” he says. “With Strategy Labs, there was no starting recipe, and we’ve had to build our own systems and processes.”
In its first eight months, Pruchnic says Strategy Labs has grown from two employees to a 12-person staff and works with both local companies like The Great PNW and The Hardware Hut, as well as larger, national brands like Premera Blue Cross and
“I see the fact that we were able to start and grow so quickly as a great success for us as well as our clients,” he says. “A lot of businesses struggle in their first year, but we’ve created a stable, strong organization that continues to grow.”
In June, the Pruchnics co-founded the Hello Sugar doughnut shop, located at 419 N. Nettleton in the Kendall Yards neighborhood.
Going forward, Pruchnic says he hopes to continue to grow both businesses.
“I’d like to make Strategy Labs into a leader in digital marketing not just here, but nationally as well,” he says. “Hello Sugar has taken off like wildfire, so we also plan to further develop that brand by adding a second, Spokane Valley location.”
With three children, a 10-acre farm in Spokane Valley, and two growing new businesses, Pruchnic says it’s sometimes a challenge to find a good work-and-life balance.
“Regardless of career, it’s a challenge to find ways to streamline, and leaders sometimes have trouble letting go and delegating,” he says. “The key is to stay aware of it and use that awareness to help yourself and your employees keep a healthy balance.”
Deanna Tiemann created Squishy Peanut Marketing LLC six years ago out of her desire to have both a career and a healthy family life.
“I really wanted to create a company where I could do good work for clients while having a family life,” Tiemann says.
Even the name of her company, a combination of her children’s nicknames, comes from her family. Her son Roman, now 7, somehow got the nickname Squishy as an infant. “He used to do this face,” she says. “He was just squishy all over.”
Peanut was the nickname of her daughter, Cicely, who died nine years ago of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome at 5 months old.
Tiemann thought her company would be running social media accounts for companies, sending emails, and handling content writing. “It’s changed over the last few years,” she says. “We specialize more in strategy and training. I’ve realized I really like the teaching aspect of it.”
Tiemann, 35, has one part-time employee and has a mix of long-term and short-term clients. Some keep her on retainer for regular work. Right now, she’s working on a competition analysis for a local store so she can help it come up with a social media plan.
Tiemann studied communications and theater at Hope College, in Michigan. She first arrived in Spokane because she was following her then-boyfriend, who was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base. The couple eventually broke up, but then Tiemann met her current husband, Jason, and stayed. The two have been married for 11 years.
She loves the area so much that she recruited her parents and brother to move here as well. She keeps her theater chops fresh by going on stage with the Fire Brigade improv group.
She has taught social media classes through the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and on her own. She’ll also put on private classes for a company if asked. She’s putting the finishing touches on an online course that she’ll make available soon.
Businesses on social media need to be professional, but they can also have some fun as well. The key is to have good messaging. “It gives brands a voice,” she says. “I think that makes it fun for consumers.”
It’s important for businesses to have a social media presence because that’s where the people are.
“People aren’t looking for a phonebook anymore,” she says. “They’re asking Alexa. You have to be where your audience is.”
Social media also provides an economic boost. “The advertising tools are so robust,” she says. “People can get away with not having large budgets and still having an impact.”
But businesses also shouldn’t try to be on every social media platform there is, Tiemann says. It’s simply too hard to do that many at once.
“I don’t recommend them all, ever,” she says. “It’s too much for clients. It’s not realistic. My favorite is Facebook. The caveat is that they also own Instagram. It’s kind of a two for one.”
Tiemann says she enjoys her work, which can vary from month to month.
“It’s just fun,” she says. “I’m very lucky to do what we do.”
Most of us view music as entertainment or a hobby, but for Spokane Symphony executive director Jeff vom Saal, it’s a way of life.
“I’ve always enjoyed music,” he says. “As a young person, I liked it and was good at it and just kept gravitating toward it.”
What started as a desire to be a professional trumpet player eventually led to a career in managing and leading musical organizations.
“I realized there was this whole other area where I could apply my knowledge and love of music,” he says. “And I really love what I do now, this is totally me.”
Originally from upstate New York, vom Saal trained as a musician, first learning trumpet at age 4 and eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in trumpet performance from the New England Conservatory of Music in 2001.
He says it wasn’t until after college that he became interested in a career in managing musical organizations, starting with the Metrowest Youth Symphony Orchestra, in Framingham, Mass.
“I learned a lot from that experience about both leadership and management of a musical organization,” he says.
From there, vom Saal went on to serve as executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra, in North Dakota, the Quad City Symphony, in Davenport, Iowa, and the Marin Symphony Association in northern California.
This year is vom Saal’s second as the executive director for the Spokane Symphony.
The symphony is a nonprofit that owns and operates its venue, The Fox, a downtown Spokane historic theater that reopened in 2007 after a major restoration.
“Spokane is unusual in that the symphony owns and operates a theater. It’s a big enterprise, and we want to make it great,” he says. “I love this work, and I love the community here. It’s a place that’s ripe for this kind of work, with many supportive and thoughtful people.”
Vom Saal describes his role as that of a synthesizer between the organization’s staff, its board, and the orchestra, keeping everything running smoothly.
A synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument, typically operated by a keyboard, that produces a variety of sounds.
“Our goal is to be a premier provider of art and entertainment, so a lot of it is prioritizing to make good things happen,” he says. “We’re not just a symphony, so the things we do need to reflect what the community aspires to be.”
Since starting as executive director, vom Saal, 39, has reduced the Symphony’s budget deficit, and the organization is expected to reach a break-even point by 2020.
Under his leadership, Spokane Symphony also has added new board members, booked more shows, and created more new community partnerships.
“Much of what I’ve done is just basic organization structure and crafting a narrative of opportunity,” he says. “That means knowing who we are and what our values are, understanding what we are doing well or not so well, and looking at new things we could be embracing.”
Vom Saal says aspiring leaders should be open, authentic, hardworking, and above all caring.
“Being a leader isn’t just about knowing how to manage people; it’s just as important to have emotional intelligence,” he says. “Leadership is about understanding the people around you, caring about them, and believing in them.”
Last year, employment and public records attorney Emily Arneson knew she needed a new line of work even though she enjoyed what she was doing for a Spokane law firm.
“I really hated having to bill people for the work I was doing,” Arneson says. “I just wanted to help.”
She was hired as Spokane Transit Authority’s ombudsman and accessibility officer in June 2017, where she found her background in law, research skills, and desire to help people provided her the perfect fit. “When I came and met everyone, I was sure this was the place for me,” she says.
Arneson, 34, grew up in Spokane and graduated from Lewis and Clark High School, then attended Whitman College, in Walla Walla, Wash. After Whitman, she attended law school at the University of Washington and worked in elder law in Tacoma, Wash., before moving back to Spokane in 2012 to take a job at the Witherspoon Kelley law firm.
Now at STA, she’s a neutral party who is the liaison between the public and the transportation agency for any concerns and problems the public may have, Arneson says.
“Although I work for STA, it’s my job to question things,” she says. “It’s a way to hold the agency
She works directly for the CEO, which removes any other go-betweens and ensures any concerns she has go straight to the top of the agency.
“The public feels their opinion is valued when there’s a position specifically for that,” she says. “A lot of times, if people don’t know where to go or who to ask, it comes to me.”
Her job as an accessibility officer means she works extensively with STA’s paratransit service, which provides door-to-door transportation for disabled passengers. Arneson is also in charge of hearing appeals from people who have been banned from the bus system for bad behavior or who weren't approved to use paratransit services.
Sometimes she will receive requests for service from people living outside STA’s service area, and Arneson says she tries to connect those people with community resources that can help them.
“I like that the work that I’m doing is critical to people’s lives,” she says.
Not only is her role at STA important, but so is the service that STA provides, Arneson says, adding, people who drive cars might not understand what a key role transit provides for people who have no other way to get around.
“If they can’t take the bus, they can’t get to the doctor, to social functions, to the grocery store,” she says. “Transit is such a vital need for everybody.”
Even people who never take the bus can see its benefits in the community, Arneson says. “You will feel them in traffic mitigation,” she says. “We can attract businesses because we have a good transit system.”
Arneson says she finds herself riding the bus more now that she works for STA. She particularly likes to use the bus when she’s going downtown so she can avoid paying for parking and the hassle of finding a parking spot.
Her three daughters, 10-year-old twins and an 8-year-old, have also become fans of the bus system.
“My kids love it,” she says. “They love riding the articulating coaches.”
After having begun his professional career in Seattle and on the East Coast, Christopher Malde, owner of Malde Capital Management LLC, says living in Spokane is a dream come true.
Malde, 36, grew up in Ellensburg, Wash., and attended Washington State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in business and went to work for Premera Blue Cross, in Seattle.
Nearly two years later, he and his wife, Jessica, looking for adventure, "threw a dart on the map and ended up in New Hampshire," where Malde says he worked three years in corporate finance, banking, accounting, and risk management.
"I had always had an interest in investing," he says.
In pursuit of that interest, he landed a job as a research analyst with a Connecticut-based hedge fund.
"I learned a lot and became their chief financial officer," he says.
Along the way, the couple, now with three children, grew weary of the East Coast life and decided to move nearer the West Coast, namely Spokane, where Malde joined Hart Capital Management Inc. in 2016 and founded his own firm earlier this year.
"Spokane has been a really nice balance of being big, everything that you're looking for but still having very much a small-town feel," he says.
He currently has a home office and meets with clients on their turf.
His target market is clients ages 35 to 45, although Malde says he has a few clients on the older side of that range.
"The average client is 41 or 42," he says. "They might not have as much to invest now as they would 30 years from now, but I can grow with them and help guide them along the way and make sure that they have everything set up that they should."
Malde contends many studies show a large number of Americans aren't prepared for retirement.
"I like helping them, providing transparent, thoughtful expertise to investors to make sure they feel comfortable about their financial future."
Malde says clients appreciate his approach.
"Being an independent investment adviser, I don't have any incentives to sell them any products. It's just purely what I feel will work best for them," he asserts, adding, "I'm less of a salesman and more of a pure investor and just try to get their money working for them."
The young firm's client growth rate is respectable, Malde contends.
"It's definitely a marathon instead of a sprint, but I'm pleased so far," he says.
He advises other young professionals looking to be leaders to be open to new opportunities.
"Saying 'yes' opens doors and creates great experiences," Malde says. "Things have a way of coming back around and being helpful."
Malde says young professionals also can take on leadership roles lending their talents to community programs. "There's lots of opportunity to get involved," he says.
Malde, for example, is a mentor with the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Northwest.
He's also a guest lecturer at WSU's business school and has helped advise WSU teams competing in the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute Research Challenge competition.