On the Job with Lara Gill

Lara Gill is the executive director of the American Red Cross, Flint River Chapter.

Lara Gill is the executive director of the American Red Cross, Flint River Chapter.

Lara Gill loves to help people, clearly an outstanding qualification to be chapter director of the American Red Cross.

Raised in Macon with 20 years in the Americus and Southwest Georgia area, she’s a mountain girl at heart, who plans to spend her later years in the North Carolina highlands.

Gill admires Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney and one day plans to write a book.

Recently, Gill answered a few questions in an interview with Herald reporter Jim West.


NAME: Lara Gill

AGE: 42

POSITION: Executive Director, American Red Cross, Flint River Chapter

FAMILY: Children, Elizabeth, 15 and Jack, 12

EDUCATION: University of Georgia

Q. What was your first job?

A. When I was 14 my dad decided that sitting at home during the summer wasn’t time well spent, so he took me to work with him every single day and I did a lot of clerical office administrative jobs with him and kept up that job all through high school.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. That paycheck was an awful long time ago, but knowing me, I’d say it was something to do with clothes.

Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. I have the best employees and the best volunteers with the Red Cross. They’re a terrific group of people. I have found that their attitude usually mirrors mine in some sort of way, so I try to keep an upbeat attitude, a positive energy in the office and try to listen to them and understand what’s going on in their lives, and any frustrations they may have here at work.

Q. What led you to your current position?

A. I have a very strange career path. I worked in the early 90’s in telecommunications and sales. I had majored in public relations in college and realized all of a sudden upon graduation that I wasn’t going to be able to pay my bills on the salary that a public relations job had, so I took a job in sales. I did that for several years — in the telecommunications industry and everything I sold is now obsolete. After I got married and had children I was able to stay at home with my children while they were young. I was very lucky in that respect. While I was staying home I did a ton of volunteer work. I served on the boards at many different institutions and organizations and I did a lot of fund-raising and I learned a lot of management skills just from my volunteer work. When I got back into the job force I took a job in sales. I didn’t think I could get a job in anything else. I worked as a pharmaceutical rep. My company was sold to another company and 240 of us were let go in an e-mail. I got back into the work force looking for a job and was approached by the Red Cross — not because of my work experience but because of my volunteer experience.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. There eight other chapter directors in the state of Georgia. Most of them have a lot more experience than I do and I’m really lucky and grateful to them. We really talk all the time amongst ourselves. We work on best-practices and the things that are doing well for each of our chapters — we share all that, so I really look up the them.

Q. In your position, what have you learned from the recent recession?

A. Since I am a professional fundraiser, the recession has hurt all of us. What I’ve learned is that you have to really stand out if you’re a nonprofit. What do you, as a nonprofit, have that makes people want to give to you. What we really do is try to constantly work on our Red Cross Brand and we really want to be the charity of choice for America.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?

A. I can answer that question, since I’m the parent of teenagers. I would love to see texting go away. I’m not ready to give up my cell phone by any stretch of the imagination, but I think people have really replaced talking with texting. I look at children at the dinner table texting their friends and it drives me crazy. It’s also really easy to be misunderstood. You can’t judge somebody’s inflections and that sort of thing.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. I couldn’t live without my laptop and my mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. I cover 24 counties for the American Red Cross so I’m in the car and on the go every day. My laptop is really my constant. I couldn’t survive without it, but my mobile Wi-Fi hotspot allows me to use that laptop anywhere.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. I have one family tradition that I love more than any other. About five years ago, my parents retired up to Rabun County up in north Georgia and for the past five years I’ve gone home for Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving, the family gets up that morning, we drive into North Carolina to a tree farm, spend several hours searching for the perfect tree. Then the men in the family get to cut it down. We strap it to the top of the car and we drive our freshly cut tree back to southwest Georgia.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. I’m in the middle of Tom Wolfe’s new book and I love his books. On a daily basis I always check out the news. I usually look at The Herald before 10 a.m. online. I actually am a huge lover of almost all kinds of magazines.

Q. I’m up and going by? And what is your morning routine?

A. I’m usually out of bed about 6:20 a.m. and I get up and juggle getting myself ready, my children ready, lunches made, them fed breakfast. I try to have them at school by 7:30 a.m. Sometimes I wonder how I even have matching shoes on in the morning. I drop them at school, drive downtown to my office and I try to be here by 8 a.m.

Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and Why?

A. I think George Clooney for very obvious reasons — but on a serious note, I would love to meet Oprah Winfrey. She’s fascinating and fun. I’d love to talk with her about how a girl from Mississippi grew into one of the biggest media moguls in the United States.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. I love to do anything outside. I try to walk everyday after work to try to blow off steam. I try to spend time with my children and with my friends. When I have time, I love to travel. I do like to try new things.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. I don’t know that it would be a business decision, but what I would probably preach to my children and anyone else is: When you are thinking about a major in college, and you major in something very broad, like I did, public relations, well, when you have a downturn in the economy like this it’s actually somewhat difficult to find a job. I would say that it would be really important for everyone to have a skill. You could be employed anywhere, any time, in any economy.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. I have the best job in the world, and the best thing is, I get to help people. If you go out to a family whose home has just burned down and you’re able to put them in a motel and give them financial assistance for food, clothing, bedding, storage. If you just look at these people’s faces and the gratitude — just providing immediate assistance to people who have been impacted by disaster — that’s the best feeling in the world.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. Probably the overwhelming responsibility that comes with providing that assistance. We have to stay “Red Cross Ready.” That’s what we call it. Because we are always providing these things to people who have been affected by disaster. It’s a big responsibility.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. I’ll tell you it must have been a writing course. I’m a journalism major so any class I took toward writing has benefited me personally, in business, and hopefully, one of these days I’ll be able to write that book I have up in my head.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. I think it’s still on my career path. I envy Gail McGovern, our CEO in Washington, D.C. I respect her. Her job is amazing. She’s an international ambassador for the Red Cross, for our mission. I just really respect the business decisions she’s made in the past few years.

Q. Finish this thought: “On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself …”

A. This is wishful thinking, but if I’ve been retired for a year I hope that I am sitting on the porch of my mountain house in North Carolina, hopefully working in the garden, having lunch with friends.

Q. What is the one trait a person in your position cannot afford to be without?

A. The ability to make a decision. There are people who make rash decisions and there are people who cannot seem to make a decision. I think decision-making skills are really important.

Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. I am certainly no economist, but I would gather that Albany will probably lag behind the general economy in its recovery effort. But if we can get this whole fiscal cliff rectified by congress, hopefully by 2014 would be an estimate.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. I’m a big music lover, but I’m sure if you looked at my iPod you might think I have multiple personalities. It would be a very eclectic list, at best. Whatever suits my given mood that day.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. This is me projecting things I’m certainly no expert on, but I think that Darton College will become a four-year college by then. I think that will be a very very positive effect on Albany.

Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?

A. About five years ago I was fortunate enough to go the the Virgin Islands with my family. We took a boat trip down to the British Virgin Islands and went snorkeling all day. We were able to provide great family time in the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It was wonderful.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. The American Red Cross has had a great many changes since 2008. We still provide the same four lines of service we always have: blood services, disaster services, preparedness health and safety services and our services to the armed forces. What we’ve had to do is sort of centralize our operations. We actually now borrow resources from each other, but our chapters are much larger. It used to be that each individual town had its own chapter of the Red Cross. Now, we’ve kind of reorganized and Georgia is working out of a region. It’s a very well-oiled machine. We have nine chapters outside of metro Atlanta. That way, if there ever is a disaster, or if we need resources that we can’t provide from our own, we’re able to beg and borrow from our own chapters. We’ve really grown much larger. Our chapter here is 24 counties now. We really are one Red Cross and we hope to be