Rising Stars 2016: Cora Verge
-June 30th, 2016
Job title/company: Attorney, Lukins & Annis PS.
Education: J.D., Gonzaga University; B.A. in communication, Washington State University.
Tell us about your career so far. I started working for Lukins & Annis as a summer intern in 2012 and continued working for the firm following graduation. When I started, I was tasked with helping other lawyers in my firm complete real estate acquisitions, sales, easements, leases, and a myriad of business transactions. As I gain more experience, I still do all of those things, but with the help and guidance of my supervising attorneys, I am able to handle larger aspects of various business transactions on my own with confidence.
I also find that the Spokane legal community is a great place to build a practice. Organizations like the Washington Women Lawyers are willing to support and guide new attorneys as they navigate the start of their careers.
What are your aspirations? I would like to find a way to reach clients that are often left out of the business law and complex real estate transaction world. For example, the LGBT community is underserved in the business law realm, and new I-502 businesses face difficulties finding corporate counsel. Every business should have great legal counsel in order to get the most out of their business ventures, property sales and acquisitions, and have legal guidance that can help to minimize their risk and exposure.
Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. My dad has always been my inspiration. As a lawyer and judge, his motto to “always be the most prepared person in the room” inspires me to work hard to serve my clients and be the best lawyer I can. My mentors inside Lukins & Annis, Tyler Black, Paul Davis, and Brady Peterson, are principal attorneys who take the time to teach me how to be prepared, and how to address difficult and new legal issues that arise in the transactional world. They are always willing to do the hard work and put in the hours needed to serve their clients. I strive to follow in their footsteps.
What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? Rather than a generational stereotype, I will address a gender stereotype: that women are not willing to help other women. I have been incredibly lucky to receive help and mentorship from female attorneys both inside and outside of my firm. Whether it is advice on how to deal with drafting a particular type of document or the best way to market my practice, I have found nothing but support and inspiration from other women.
Something interesting/random about yourself. While at school in Pullman, I mastered the art of walking backwards uphill as a campus tour guide for WSU.
Job title/company: CEO, Stay Alfred Vacation Rentals.
Education: The West Valley High School, Portland State University, U.S. Army.
Tell us about your career so far. I have always been into business. I used to sneak out of the house when I was 7 and mow people’s lawns. I’ve had a few startups in college that were epic failures, but it taught me the importance of building a team, and that sales rule. Stay Alfred has been a roller coaster and a very humbling experience. Coming out of my military career and into the hospitality sector, the two couldn’t be farther apart. You can’t tell an upset guest to take a knee and drink water, or rub some dirt on it. In a nutshell, my career has always been focused on assembling awesome people, and sales.
What are your aspirations? To be the greatest damn hospitality brand in the world—and to do it in Spokane.
Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. I have a board of advisers: Tom Simpson, Jeff Thomas, and Jon Wood. They have all been there, done that, but they allow me to find my own path. Paul Hajek is my trusted business coach. Get one if you don’t have one. Put it on a credit card if you can’t afford one. My wife, Nancy, is the smartest, most business-savvy person I know, and is able to use 7/4ths of her brain. My dad, Bill Allen, has always inspired me to be humble, be nice to people, and to ask the best question you can ask in business, “Are ya makin’ money, or are ya losin’ money?” Finally, the team at Stay Alfred is a sheer force that is capable and willing to tackle any task. I would love to have them at my side in combat.
What generational stereotype do you feel strongly about? Jeez, are you trying to get me killed? I think there is a concern that younger staff are lazy and that older folks are bad with technology. So far, that just hasn’t proven true. When you hire people based on values, you’ll win 90 percent of the time.
Something interesting/random about yourself. When I was in Iraq, I studied the faces of our “High Value Targets” that were on a deck of cards. While out on patrol, I saw one of them pop his head out of a window on the third floor about 100 meters away. We surrounded the building, and captured the No. 3 target in our area of operation and found a weapons cache in his walls, ceiling, and underground. That was a pretty good day.
Job title/company: Owner, Spokane Gymnastics.
Education: B.S. in business, University of Phoenix, School of Business: Executive, USA Gymnastics, currently at-tending SBA Emerging Leaders Program.
Tell us about your career so far. I started coaching gymnastics when I was 14 years old, and it was always my side “fun” gig. I’m originally from Oregon, where I was a real estate broker and served on the Joseph City Council. When I moved to Spokane in 2007, I started coaching at Spokane Elite Gymnastics, an established business of 30-plus years. Immediately, the opportunity was presented to manage the gym, and since the previous owner was in Seattle, our team was responsible for all daily operations. In 2010, I had the opportunity to become owner and immediately changed the name to Spokane Gymnastics, which better reflects the inclusive mission of our program: to develop strength, skill, and character through gymnastics training, where every student can be successful, no matter their level or goal.
Our program and philosophy has been quite successful, and in 2013, I purchased the former Stroh’s Fitness Center near Argonne Village in Spokane Valley, and the 30,000-square-foot building has been terrific for our expanding programs. We have an incredible team of fun coaches who truly care about the development of the overall athlete, and we have received tremendous support from the community.
What are your aspirations? Even though I have only been in Spokane 10 years, I now consider it my forever home; I love the people, values, recreation, weather, community, and opportunities. I am new to Rotary Club 21, but intend to be a lifelong member. Our team has grown to the point where they handle many of the daily operations, so I have been able to focus much of my energy on community service and developing new programs at Spokane Gymnastics.
Currently, we work with Children FIRST Therapy, which provides early intervention services for children up to 3 years old with developmental delays. My goal is to expand our special needs gymnastics program beyond school-age, so all children can safely experience the joy of gymnastics. Eventually, we would like to host the Special Olympics.
We have had the opportunity to host two national-level gymnastics events, and we hope to continue to partner with exceptional organizations like the Spokane Sports Commission and to continue to share the positive economic impact of these types of events with the Spokane area. For me personally, each day my goal is to learn, experience, teach, handstand, challenge, inspire, and support our athletes, our coaches, and the community in which we are privileged to serve.
Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. I’ve been blessed to have many people share wisdom, advice, their time, and expertise over the years. I learned the most about customer service and hustle from my first boss in real estate, Jim Hoberg. He taught me the importance of attention to detail, and that always doing the right thing will be worth it in the end, even when it’s not immediately apparent.
There are many insights I’ve gained from the philosophy of Les Schwab, tire store founder; he believed that if you make those around you successful, they will make you a success. He constantly taught that, “Leaders should take care of their team, who then will take care of the customers, and that will take care of business.” He followed that principle to build his company, rewarding those who worked hard with compensation, appreciation, and shared profits.
I have been fortunate to meet Brian Newberry, of Leadership Spokane, and am inspired by his example of servant leadership. He is a prime example of what can be achieved locally, which in turn makes an impact globally, when people work together.
What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? It can be one that you either agree or disagree with. The average age of our team is 23, so I have experienced a lot of the joys and challenges of working with millennials. I’m fortunate to be able to compile my team of the best and brightest, so I get to witness role models for youth from multiple generations in action.
The millennials on our team most definitely do not fit the negative stereotype of being unmotivated and entitled; I have found that many millennials simply have not been taught many of the things that baby boomers find common sense, in large part due to the focus on advances in technology. I strongly believe that “kids these days” are curious and innovative, and those willing to work hard tend to also be dedicated and loyal. When they feel appreciated and accepted, they become confident enough to ask questions, and then they try to figure out a better way to accomplish tasks.
Something interesting/random about yourself. I’ve always loved animals and started my own business, “Nadine’s Critter Sitters” mobile pet care service, when I was 19. Besides caring for the usual pets, including small farm animals, dogs, and cats, I looked after an emu farm and have been chased by llamas.
Job title/company: Owner/vice president, Twigs Bistro & Martini Bar.
Education: Lakeside High School.
Tell us about your career so far. I started working in our family business when I was in high school and have learned almost everything I know on the job. In 2001, we opened the first Twigs in River Park Square. From there we have grown to nine locations in four states. We have over 500 team members and are currently working on expansion in Texas, Utah, and Arizona. We are opening a new full-service concept called Tortilla Union Southwest Grill in River Park Square this summer that will feature fresh southwest cuisine and craft cocktails. I oversee all day-to-day operations within Twigs, as well as future development.
What are your aspirations? To grow and develop the Twigs brand into other markets while providing a work environment for our team that is healthy and provides balance both in life and work. I believe that our business is completely dependent on people and the relationships we create with our guests. For us to continue to be successful, we have to continue to take care of our team and empower them to create a fun and inviting environment for our guests.
Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. My mentor is my father, Jeff Blackwell. He is my partner in Twigs and has taught me from a very young age that nothing is given to you—and hard work pays off. He is incredibly driven in everything that he does.
What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? Technology is changing our world faster than ever and is having a negative impact on quality family time.
Something interesting/random about yourself: I have competed in five full Ironman Triathlons, including events in Coeur d’Alene, Canada, and Kona, Hawaii.
Job title/company: CPA/tax senior manager, Moss Adams LLP.
Education: B.A. in accounting, University of Idaho.
Tell us about your career so far. Moss Adams hired me while I was a junior in college, before I really knew what public accounting or the professional work environment was about. I told my friends and family at the time that I was going to work for a few years in public accounting so that I could become more marketable and apply for a sweet accounting position for a private company. (Yes, I just used the word sweet and accounting in the same sentence.) Fourteen years later, I’m still here. While I’ve had offers to leave the firm throughout my career, the people, clients, and challenge are too great to give up.
I began my career with an internship in Moss Adam’s tax department. A semester later, I was hired on into the full-time staff pool working between both audit and tax. I eventually settled into a role as an auditor because I enjoyed the frequent client interaction, opportunity to travel, and daily team environment. After eight years of auditing, I was presented with an opportunity to transition back into our tax department.
In our profession, transitioning between assurance and tax is not common and is much easier said than done. The decision to transfer was not made lightly, but the opportunities to provide more value to our clients and the potential for advancement ultimately sent me in that direction. As a tax professional, it has been rewarding to work with great people and amazing clients who appreciate our efforts to identify significant tax-saving opportunities. I have enjoyed the challenge and am thankful for the path I’ve chosen, which has helped make me a better-rounded CPA.
What are your aspirations? Personally, I aspire to be a great wife, mom, and friend. I want to teach my kids the values that my parents instilled in me—the power of hard work and dedication along with a strong sense of community. As a working mom, I want to be a role model for my daughter and hope to pave a way for her future success. Professionally, I aspire to be a key team member who helps develop and grow the next generation of leaders who will continue our legacy. I believe each individual has unique talents that, when tapped, can greatly benefit everyone around them. I aspire to facilitate an environment where these talents are discovered and used effectively.
Tell us about your mentor or someone you look to for inspiration. I am fortunate to have many people I would call a mentor. I value each of these relationships and try to imitate at least one of the traits that have made them successful. My parents, husband, and several close friends are among my personal mentors.
Professionally, there are many individuals throughout our firm’s partner group—current and former—who are mentors to me. I work with several successful female partners who are phenomenal mentors and sponsors, one who has been my formal career adviser since I began with the firm. I am truly blessed for this relationship and I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.
What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? I love that my generation loves to connect, we love to share, we love to like, and we love to connect through humor. I love that we share photos of stacking Cheerios on our sleeping babies’ heads. I love that Bleacher Report Legoized the NBA Finals #brnbalegos. I love that Chewbacca Mom made us smile, and I love that we have Google to find everything that someone in a Rising Star bio is talking about, if you haven’t seen it. Seriously. It’s funny. Google it.
Something interesting/random about yourself. I love basketball. I played through junior college and now coach and watch my kids. March Madness is the greatest event of the year and my absolute favorite thing is waiting for “One Shining Moment” at the end of the men’s national title game. My son now listens to this song as part of his “pump up” routine on the way to any of his sporting events, which completely warms my heart.
Job title/company: Assistant director of brokerage and managing broker, Kiemle & Hagood Co.
Education: B.A. in real estate and entrepreneurship, Washington State University.
Tell us about your career so far. I started with Kiemle & Hagood in May of 2005 as an office leasing agent in Spokane, and after two years, the partners approached me with an idea of starting an office in Coeur d’Alene. I immediately jumped at the chance, and in 2008, we opened the Kiemle & Hagood office in Coeur d’Alene. I have since been promoted to also managing our brokerage division in Spokane, where I spend a portion of the week. In addition, I still handle leasing and sales of commercial property in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.
What are your aspirations? I want to continue to add value to the organization by helping grow Kiemle & Hagood with new offices in Richland, Wash., and Missoula, Mont. Also, I want to continue to grow our business in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.
Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. I have several mentors in my life, but my dad has been someone I always look to for advice. I started my first job working for him during high school in Portland, where I learned what sales were all about: creating a relationship with people that was built on trust. He has always been the do-it-yourself hard worker, and when he first opened his business, he worked six to seven days a week to make it successful. Whenever I think things might be getting tough, he is the one who tells me to toughen up and get it done, and he also usually offers his help.
What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? The stereotype I hear the most that I disagree with is that millennials and Gen Xer’s don’t know how to build relationships or communicate, as they do everything over the Internet or text.
Something interesting/random about yourself. I learned to fly planes at the age of 12.
Job title/company: Account director, Desautel Hege Communications Inc.
Education: B.A., communications with an emphasis in public relations, Washington State University, Murrow College of Communications.
Tell us about your career so far. I moved to Spokane in 2010 after graduating from WSU and completing a year of work at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in my hometown of Richland. When I made the move I was a total young’un—just 20. I had participated in the running start program during high school.
I joined the DH team as an account coordinator and was immediately immersed in agency life. The variety of work, clients and the general pace was exhilarating, and I was instantly hooked. Beyond the work, I formed an immediate appreciation for the culture at DH. We’re a fun, genuine, hard-working group, where the partners are as passionate about the employees as they are about the work we produce for clients.
Over my six years at DH, I’ve worked my way up to an account director, where I’m able to lead some of the agency’s largest accounts. I’ve been a part of everything from crafting brands that move people, to developing strategy for statewide campaigns that create behavior change.
Beyond my DH career, I’ve found a lot of joy and fulfillment through volunteer opportunities and professional associations. I joined the Spokane Regional MarCom Association board in 2013 and am serving as president for the 2016–2017 year. I also volunteer for a number of organizations, such as the WSU Murrow Mentor program and Junior Achievement.
What are your aspirations? While it’s impossible to know where your career will take you, I’ve always felt strongly that young professionals should create a five-year or even 10-year plan and update it regularly. It’s important to identify where you want to go so you can outline the steps to get you there. For me, I aspire to continue to fuel growth for DH and to refine my skills within key industries and across core functions of the agency. I also aspire to become more deeply involved in the community. I’ve seen the power of making connections across our city and want to grow those connections—and inspire other young professionals to do the same.
Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors in my life. Starting with my mom at a young age and seeing what real work ethic looks like, to my first professional mentor, Staci West, whom I met during my time at PNNL. I also find daily inspiration from the team around me at DH. With seasoned counselors in our partner team to creative colleagues across the agency, I never have a day where I don’t learn something new. Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my significant other, Sean, and my three amazing sisters Courtney, Amy and Megan. They always inspire me to do and be my best.
What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? One stereotype for my generation—millennials—is that we live our entire lives through an online medium. That we don’t engage in real life. I agree with this to the extent that, yes, I grew up with Internet access and spent a good amount of time online. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still an ’80s baby and remember the day my parents got our first home computer. I also remember learning to type at a young age because I was on AOL Instant Messenger every night.
But I suppose I look at this stereotype as an opportunity that my generation built from the ground up. Yes, we’re constantly plugged in—ready to connect with our friends at any time. But it’s also opened up new ways for businesses to connect with consumers.
I’d also note that even though millennials are so driven to be connected 24/7, we’re also a generation that values experience over material items. We buy houses later, get married later; we want to experience life more fully before we settle down. It’s kind of a fascinating dichotomy, if you think about it. A generation that grew up online and receives much of their social time, entertainment, and more via the Internet, values experiences above all else.
Something interesting/random about yourself. I’m a cat lady in training. Sean and I have two cats, and every time I try to convince him we need another, he reminds me that once there are more cats than humans in our home, I’m officially a cat lady. He keeps me in check.
Job title/company: CEO, Excelsior Youth Center.
Education: M.S. in applied psychology-mental health counseling; B.A. in outdoor recreation and leisure service management; A.A. in music.
Tell us about your career so far: I originally went to school for music composition. After working in outdoor recreation, I went to work in youth character development at places like the Boy Scouts, the Girls Scouts, and the YMCA. I found myself really wanting to get into behavioral health. Working with youth, I could see the families’ concerns about what their kids needed.
That led me to find a program in behavioral health, and I ended up working at Excelsior as a therapist in 2008. From there, I was able to integrate recreation and leisure services into some of our programs, and the outcomes are looking promising. It’s really guided us to listen to families.
We often say nothing about them without them. Their voice and their choice is a part of our theoretical approach to working with families. They’ve helped us understand more about the specialty services that they need and what programs might really impact them—what interventions might get them out of multisystem involvement. There are a lot of different requirements coming from different angles—all really wanting the same thing, and that is a safer, stronger, healthier family as part of our community.
My career has truly come to be about serving the community through meeting the needs of the youth and the families of this area.
What are your aspirations? I have so many aspirations for the youth who lack support-system resources. My goal is to work with them, listen to them, and find out what it is that gives them hope and what it is that helps them feel safe. I want to build relationships with them so they can start to identify opportunities for success. It’s all about finding hope and these opportunities to really help them define for themselves a path toward excellence. We’re trying to improve our community’s health. I want to respond to the need in our community by being nimble and flexible.
Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. I look to my staff for inspiration. There are nearly 200 employees at Excelsior, with about 130 of them being full time. The values of our staff bring us all together: unity, professionalism, and communication. We work together, and the cooperation and teamwork inspire me. We make each other better.
What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? I am opposed to the idea that this generation of youth does not care about anybody but themselves. On a daily basis I see interactions between youth that are full of kindness and care. I see relationships built between the youth and between the youth and our staff. The bonds formed are strong, and it is easy to see that they truly care for one another.
Something interesting/random about yourself. Most people are surprised to find I have extensive training and several years’ experience as an American Red Cross authorized provider/instructor, emergency response instructor, wilderness first responder, and search-and-rescue management. But perhaps more importantly, I am apparently one of the only people on the planet who knows anything about the movie “Condorman.”
Job title/company: Marketing lead, client engagement, GeoEngineers Inc.
Education: B.A., communications, minor in marketing, Whit-worth University.
Tell us about your career so far. It wasn’t until my junior year in college that I knew that I loved meeting new people, finding creative ways to help them with their pursuits, and working in a fast-paced environment. When I graduated from college, I was extremely blessed to get a job right out of school at the Spokane Symphony. It was a great place to learn and develop. In 2006, I joined GeoEngineers as a marketing assistant, knowing little about engineering and practically nothing about services related to dirt and water. It’s been a long but fulfilling journey from assistant to marketing lead. I didn’t realize it would become more than a job—it became my career. Whether I’m developing strategic marketing initiatives, crafting proposals, engaging with clients on a daily basis, planning community outreach, or positioning for projects in five different markets and five regional offices, I have the privilege of driving our work forward. I love knowing that every relationship I maintain and deadline I meet is helping our GeoEngineers team satisfy our A/E/C clients.
My role has led to many other opportunities, including serving on the Marketing Associates of Spokane board for the last 10 years, judging Greater Spokane Incorporated’s Agora Awards, and serving on committees for the American Public Works Association. My career to date? It brings me a lot of joy, and I’m excited for the future.
What are your aspirations? I aspire to help others succeed in their professional and personal goals. I truly believe that if I can help my colleagues in the A/E/C industry, our community will reap the benefits of the amazing professionals we have. I want to be known as the marketing professional who brings joy and passion to every task.
Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to receive guidance from multiple mentors in the marketing and the A/E/C industry. One individual that inspired and motivated me in my career is now retired from GeoEngineers—senior principal Jim Harakas. Each day, Jim exemplified the importance of working hard, saying thank you, being reliable, and respecting everyone, both inside and outside the firm. His encouragement and guidance is something I will forever cherish and hope to provide for others.
What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? Entitlement. I’m a firm believer that your professional reputation and advancement is earned. Work hard and be respectful, and you’ll reach new heights in your career.
Something interesting/random about yourself. How about two? I was born in Germany, and order a non-fat mocha from Starbucks every day.
Job title/company: Engineering operations manager, city of Spokane.
Education: M.B.A. Gonzaga University, B.A. in business administration at Loyola Marymount University.
Tell us about your career so far. After my undergraduate work in Los Angeles, I returned to Spokane as quickly as possible and pursued opportunities on construction sites to gain critical jobsite experience, which provided me the background to transition into a project coordinator role.
This position allowed me to work under a commercial contractor on such projects as rebuilding entrances and putting in force-protection measures at Fairchild Air Force Base and other bases. I was fortunate from this experience to move on and work on multifamily housing projects for the Inland Group in construction management and development roles. Not only did I get a chance to learn a ton about construction management as well as gain additional field experience, but I was able to acquire critical insight into how private developers engage and work with municipal governments. At Inland, I was often the point of contact with municipalities up and down the West Coast. It afforded me the opportunity to learn a great deal about many different internal city approaches to permitting, utilities, and working with developers. This has been invaluable experience that has had a significant impact in my role today at the city.
My wife and I purchased and ran our own small business for almost three years, and that experience was in some ways, better than my college education. I gained an incredible amount of hands-on knowledge about how to run a small business. All of my past job experience has been significant to my success with my role at the city of Spokane. I call on that experiential knowledge frequently.
I enjoy being an active participant in making our city a better place to live. One aspect of my role that I really enjoy is helping put Spokane in the forefront of the country in wastewater management and cleaning up the Spokane River. I am humbled to be in a position of stewardship of the taxpayers’ dollars and helping use them efficiently and in ways that we can see, touch, and feel (under our tires). The city is moving at an amazing pace for government, and I strive to continue to accelerate that pace.
What are your aspirations? I want to accelerate the pace of government project delivery. I want to help Spokane be a nationwide leader with our Integrated Clean Water plan and Cleaner River Faster programs. I want to continue to repair our streets, build more trails, expand the use of alternative project delivery, and generally make our awesome city even better. With the efforts we are making to clean up our river, the next step is to get people back on it and create more access to our natural surroundings. I want people to enjoy this city as much as I do.
Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. I am inspired by everyone around me kicking a#$. Those that work for me drive me to work harder; I work with inspiring professional people that take such pride in delivering the best value for the citizens. Their passion and commitment to the City and the taxpayers is humbling. I’ve had the benefit of wonderful bosses at the City that have pushed me and those around me to excel every day. This level of expectation for everyday work drives me to be even better. Having said all that, my true mentor has always been my father. He has always been my biggest champion, constructive critic, and adviser. The calmness and the wisdom he brings to challenges is exasperating; when I get fired up about a challenge I am facing, his input quickly diffuses my emotional response. I can then approach the issue with a more objective perspective.
What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? As a combination Gen X/millennial, or what I’ve now heard called the “Oregon Trail Generation,” I identify with a key component of each: The millennials are driven by challenges and problems to solve, typically approaching with differing methods than the past, while Gen X’ers are the first to consider putting the brakes on their careers to maintain a work/life balance. I personally feel these two competing elements in my own life, and I try to keep both in mind and in balance as I constantly strive for and take on challenges, but then reel myself in a little so that I can enjoy quality time with my wife, dog, bike, and skis.
Something interesting/random about yourself. I can juggle fire, am an outdoor enthusiast with paddles bikes and skis, and have retired from a 30-year volleyball career, through which I met my wife.