Q & A with NANA Employees

A Conversation with Ildiko Geuss, Process Manager in the Commercial Sector for NANA Development Corporation

This is part of a series of interviews to learn more about our diverse employees throughout the NANA family.

64591496352267IldiGeuss.jpg

Ildiko Geuss came to work for NANA in 2008. Her job is to create and maintain an oversight process for the commercial sector. A recent project she managed was NANA’s transition to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

 

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Paks, Hungary, in Eastern Europe. In 1981, our family immigrated to the U.S. (Then, Hungary was an Eastern Bloc country that suffered from inflation and political upheaval.)

Hungarian was my first language. It’s what my parents continued to speak at home. Even now, that’s how I communicate with them.

At five, it was almost effortless for me to pick up English. For my brother, Attila, who was five years older, it wasn’t as easy. For a long time, he had an accent and was teased at school.

Tell us about your name.

Ildiko is very common in Hungary. It’s like Jennifer here. But, growing up in New Jersey, no one knew how to pronounce it. People call me Ildi.

I didn’t know that Ildiko meant “warrior” until I was in my early 20s.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in East Brunswick, New Jersey, which is in the center of the state. It’s about an hour to the Jersey shore and an hour or two to New York City, depending on traffic. There were a lot of great things about living on the East Coast, but one thing I don’t miss is the traffic.

Who has inspired you?

My dad. He’s got gumption and true grit. He doesn’t let anything get him down. He gets right back up and dusts himself off. He’s like Dory from “Finding Nemo.” “Just keep swimming.” He’s a problem solver extraordinaire. He’s selfless and reliable, but sometimes he can be impatient. That’s something we’re both working on.

When he worked for Hostess, there were always Twinkies and Ding Dongs in the house, but the cherry mini-pies were my favorite. Then he worked for Costco as the building supervisor of their East Coast distribution center. It was so big, over 1 million square feet; he used a Segway to get around. He’s retired now, but he hasn’t slowed down.

Where did you go to school?

I went to public schools in East Brunswick. I was lucky. Our high school was excellent. Something like 96 percent of the graduates went on to college.

I don’t remember getting a lot of pressure from my parents to succeed academically. Mostly my peers set expectations for me to continue my education. I’m the first in my family to graduate from college. My brother went to a trade school for computer science, got a good job, then eventually went back to get a degree.

I received my undergraduate degree in business and marketing from Arizona State University in Tempe, where I met my husband. After graduation, Scott and I moved up to Anchorage, where he’s from. At the University of Alaska Anchorage, I earned my master’s in business administration. Through NANA, I have a Certified Associate in Project Management, a credential offered by the Project Management Institute.

What was your first job?

At 11, I started babysitting. I loved it, especially the opportunity to earn my own spending money. When I was 16, I got a retail job at Cosmetics Plus, which sold a huge range of beauty supplies. Those were my big-hair days. I still keep in touch with some of my co-workers. My favorite job from my younger years was working at Brentano’s in Scottsdale, Arizona, during college. (Brentano’s was an upscale bookstore. It was featured in some “Seinfeld” episodes. The chain was later acquired by Border’s and, like Border’s, eventually went out of business.) To this day, when I walk into a bookstore, I take a deep breath. I love the smell of paperbacks.

When did you start working at NANA?

In 2008, I saw a job posting for a communications coordinator. I thought it would be a good fit for me. Before NANA, I worked in the communications department at the Anchorage Daily News, which became Alaska Dispatch News. I figured the experience I brought from the newspaper could be of value here.

What is your current job?

Since 2015, my title has been process manager. I manage projects, improve processes and add efficiencies. I create and maintain a structured oversite process for the commercial sector. This is a critical role that didn’t exist before.

Prior to that, I was a project manager in the communications department. In that communications role, I helped keep our business development efforts organized and on track.

Tell us about some of the projects you have managed.

The largest project was our recent transition to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. We had 28 team members throughout the commercial sector and some tight deadlines. We provided benefits to employees while saving the company something like $2.5 million.

Some of our communications projects have positively impacted our shareholders. Those include our United Way campaign, the Uutukkuu Snow Golf Challenge that raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Aqqaluk Trust, and Junior Achievement that supported financial literacy in schools. One of my most gratifying projects was distributing life vests to residents in the region. (Approximating 5,000 life vests were delivered to 1,200 homes in the 11 NANA region villages.)

Internally, I helped rollout our wellness program and I started a NANA Toastmasters Club to develop employees’ public speaking skills, mine included. We’ve since closed the club, but people have found other local chapters where they can continue their presentation and leadership training.

What do you like best about working at NANA?

I love the variety. I enjoy working with people and managing projects, improving processes and adding efficiencies.

I feel I never stop learning at NANA.

What lessons have you learned?

Lessons I’ve learned in the corporate world apply to life in general.

  • Don’t procrastinate.
  • Come prepared.
  • Over-communicate.
  • Stay curious.
  • Be kind.
  • Live a balanced life.

What is over-communicating?

To me, it’s repeating the message in a clear way—to make sure everyone’s on the same page and that we all heard the same thing. There’s no risk in over-communicating.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I have wanderlust. Growing up, we never traveled anywhere. We simply didn’t have the money and it wasn’t a priority. I remember one road trip to Orlando, Florida, but we didn’t get to go to Disney World.

I want to share my love of travel with my kids. I want them to see the world, not just what they see on TV—and they don’t watch much TV, since we don’t have cable. This year, we backpacked through Iceland, Ireland, Scotland and England. Before that, another big adventure took us to Hungary, the Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland.

What else are your kids learning?

This fall, my son and daughter will both attend the Rilke Schule in Anchorage. Logan will be in 4th grade, his fifth year at the school, and Evelyn will start Kindergarten. (Rilke is a K through 8th grade immersion school to promote international awareness. Half of their school day, they’re encouraged to speak only German.)

Being bilingual is a skill I want them to have. It helps you see things differently. In Dublin, our cabdriver spoke five languages.

***

Ildiko Geuss was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.