Gina Pertee and Karen Bragg Find a Greater Level of Clarity in West Virginia
by Kim Harbour
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- 20/20 is perfect vision. But 20/10 is a greater level of clarity.
So explained Karen Bragg and Gina Pertee when they described how they selected the name for their new organizational development business in Charleston, W.Va.
“To get 20/10 vision and that different perspective you need assistance,” Pertee said. “You have to find partners and make connections.”
And that is exactly what this pair of business consultants did to fashion a new opportunity for themselves in the state they love.
Bragg and Pertee each ran successful consulting businesses. When they considered the chance of working together, they mapped out what was needed to grow their new business into a regional presence. They approached the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson and proposed a strategic partnership. The timing was right. They are now a Steptoe & Johnson company and business has boomed. 20/10 built a strong alliance with Charleston-based Epiphany Consulting, LLC, as well.
“We believe you can create whatever opportunities you want,” said Bragg. “Some people take the mindset that someone else needs to do the work, first, saying, ‘You build the jobs and then I’ll come home.’ But there are other ways of going about it.
“West Virginia is fertile ground. There is talent. The work ethic is tremendous. There is creativity. And there is a readiness that I sense – an energy, with people open for things to happen. In that environment – you can create your own opportunities and shape things to match your vision.”
Improving the flow
Bragg has fond childhood memories of growing up in the coal-mining hollow of Kimberly, near Montgomery, W.Va., where “church and family were of top importance.” But she left the state soon after she got her computer science degree from the West Virginia Institute of Technology.
Bragg went to Virginia Beach to work as a programmer/analyst, and later became a corporate director of management information systems. Within a few years, she started to miss West Virginia’s mountains.
Bragg maintained a weekly connection to her home state by subscribing to the Sunday (Charleston) GazetteMail. One day, she read that Columbia Gas was recruiting West Virginians who had left the state and wanted to come home. So, she returned to Charleston.
At Columbia Gas, Bragg did systems analysis and real-time data acquisition programming – helping to monitor and measure the flow of gas in the pipelines. As she studied for her MBA at “COGs” (what is now Marshall University’s College of Graduate Studies), Bragg began to see that her systems training easily translated into human resources work and eventually held executive leadership positions in corporate planning and human resources.
“When working from a corporate planning and business strategy perspective I start by identifying the goals of the organization – such as customer service, financial, product or services goals. You start to see the direct connect between where people and systems may be out of alignment – and what’s needed to improve the flow. This helps people become more engaged and work more efficiently,” she said.
Free to be yourself
Gina Pertee grew up in Lincoln County. For three years during her early childhood, her family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where her dad worked in the steel mills. Her earliest memories are that every time her family came home to West Virginia for a visit, they cried all the way driving back to Cleveland. “We hated to leave West Virginia. Our extended family was here. It was safe -- I couldn’t even play in the yard where we lived in Cleveland.
“Then, when I was four, we came home for Christmas. As usual, we started to cry as we left and my Dad said he’d had enough. He stopped the car in Parkersburg, turned it around and dropped us off at relatives in Huntington. He went back to Cleveland to quit his job and brought us home.”
Pertee enjoyed living in the embrace of three mountains in Lincoln County. She studied at Marshall, then at Wheeling Jesuit University. She worked in Columbia Gas’ human resource department, where she met Bragg. In subsequent years, Pertee earned her MBA from Ohio University and was recruited by an international aluminum manufacturer in Louisville, Ky.
“Although we had a good experience in Louisville, cities can be transient places. Many don’t put down roots. It’s harder to get to know people and it’s easier to fall into the trap of ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’
“My family’s recreation interests focus on outdoor activities. It was not as socially acceptable to do rugged outdoor sports in Louisville. A business executive was supposed to relax at a golf club or the racetrack – and not be seen on an ATV in the middle of the woods on a weekend. There wasn’t the terrain and the freedom to explore. In West Virginia, you have the freedom to be who you are -- not who everyone thinks you should be.”
Bringing the best home
Bragg and Pertee see plenty of career opportunities in the state.
“The Baby Boomers are preparing for retirement or transitioning to other roles. This provides a wealth of opportunities. Companies are hiring the people to groom to fill the talent gap that is going to be here in a few years. Companies that have the reputation for being difficult to enter are now in the hiring mode and need people,” Pertee said.
When considering career opportunities to leave the state, Bragg advised that people weigh their priorities. “You may get a higher salary – but will you have the quality of life you have here?”
Pertee agreed. “With technology, you can participate globally from anywhere. There is an abundance of options to create the situation that’s best for you. The global mentality could be applied within the state. Our people have an amazing work ethic. Just think how you could bring them to bear in the global marketplace.”