Every day we’re excited to come into the office. Not many people can say that. But we can, because we know the work we’re doing matters. We believe we can change the world. Each of us has a different story to tell, a different story about why doing good in the world matters to us. We thought we’d share it with you. Get to know the Pyramigos!
Greg Netzer is a wordsmith, connector, and award-winning journalist. He joined Pyramid as Senior Vice President this past July.
Welcome to Pyramid, Greg. What attracted you to this place?
I have a background in mission-specific work. I had a career in journalism in which I reported quite a lot on nonprofits, social responsibility, conservation, and sustainability. Another part of my background is in marketing and communications around similar social responsibility issues. I knew about Pyramid and their social good focus many years ago and because I was intrigued, I paid attention to where they were in the community. The combination of all those things—my experience, my specific value system—drew me to Pyramid. When the opportunity to become Senior Vice President came up, I jumped on it.
We’re happy to have you on board! Did your career begin in the journalism field?
No, I didn’t begin in journalism, interestingly enough. My bachelor’s degree is in finance. My first job out of college was working on the operations side of a punk rock record label called Slash Records in Los Angeles. I dealt with the business side—studios and agents, union contracts, royalties, and so on. The joke at that time was that if something had a dollar sign on it when it came in the mail, it went to my desk [laughs]. During that time, I started reading a lot and I ended up taking night classes at UCLA in creative writing just to see how it felt. Those classes changed my life because they were the doors into journalism for me.
That's quite the career switch. What publications have you worked for as a journalist?
I was a senior editor at Oregon Business Magazine. After that I was mostly freelance and wrote essays and book reviews. Several of my pieces were in magazines as different as the New York Times Magazine and Parenting Magazine. I wrote a column for this insurance industry magazine. I was a stringer for Harper’s for years. I also did travel and tourism work, writing for Travel Oregon’s quarterly magazine. I even ghostwrote a book for the Oregon State Treasurer.
That’s an impressive list. Professionally, what would you say you’re known for?
I’m mostly known for a literary arts organization I helped raise from the ashes, called Wordstock. I took over when it really had no business being an organization and turned it into something viable and important for Portland's cultural community. Because of my work in Wordstock and another nonprofit called the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, I know an awful lot of people within the Oregon business and nonprofit communities. As far as skills go, I am relatively well known as a connector and a thinker around issues of strategy and communication.
Interesting. What does being a connector mean to you and to your clients?
With my background in organizational consulting and strategic planning, I help our clients find the connection between their organizational strategy and communications. I can help our clients make that connection between how they talk about the larger bucket of communication issues and how these issues affect the organizational health, position, and brand overall. I have the most fun in the places where brand, business, and organizational strategy line up.
Is there one thing you like doing best?
I’m not the guy that walks into the room with a million ideas, but I am the guy that walks into the room, sees how things are working, and figures out how to alter them to make them work differently or better. What I really love to do—whether it’s with clients or for the people I work with—is improve situations based upon the work that’s been done before, rather than throw it out and start again.
That’s a great skill to have. With all of your work in social good, are there any nonprofits you’re particularly passionate about?
I try to play as much of a role as I can in the cultural community. I’m the board chair of the Newspace Center for Photography, an image arts organization here in Portland. I’m there to help them figure out how to turn themselves around and make themselves into a more viable organization.
And what are you personally passionate about?
Food, Oregon beer, cycling, and my kids, Owen and Hannah. Owen just started college this fall, and Hannah just got married this month! My kids are very present in my thoughts on a daily basis, and I’m trying to spend as much time with them as I can. Which is getting harder and harder now that they’re all grown up.
Is there anything you’ve learned so far in your life that you’d want your kids to know?
The most important lesson I’ve learned so far is to always, always be true to my own ethics and values because at the end the day, that’s all I have to support who I am. The moment I compromise my ethics, I begin to lose my credibility not only with the people that I work with, but with myself.
You mentioned cycling… I hear you’re an avid marathon cyclist.
I was last training for Oregon’s annual, statewide cycle tour called Cycle Oregon. It’s a 400-mile ride over the course of seven days and a fun week spent in the elements. There’s something fantastic about working physically all day long and then at the end of the day taking a hot shower, having a really cold beer, and falling asleep exhausted by 8 p.m. It’s very cleansing to me. I’ll be completely disconnected from my normal world: I won’t have access to the Internet, newspapers, emails, or texts. I’ll simply be on a bike in the mountains with only my thoughts and the other cyclists. Cycling is a way to pay attention to the aesthetics of my life with no distractions. I’m looking forward to the immersion and escape, I suppose.
Wow. What do you mean when you say that you pay attention to the aesthetics of life?
How my environment looks and feels matters to me. I’m not walking around and designing all the time, but I pay attention to art. I pay attention to the small amount of furniture I have and how it makes me feel and fits in the landscape of which I live. Obviously because I’m a writer, I’m also a reader. Prominent in my house is a wall full of books. I visit gallery exhibitions and museum exhibitions. I make a point to go to theater and poetry readings. Those are the things that matter to me.
With an extensive book collection, do you have any good recommendations?
I have read a lot of literary fiction, and over the last 10 years I’ve figured out that it’s acceptable to like plot and that the occasional mystery to escape into can be fun. A novel I was stunned by was Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I’ve never been so astonished by the intelligence of a writer while reading a book. I couldn't figure out how he solved all of the challenges he created for himself as he did in that book. It’s structurally, thematically, and stylistically an amazing work.
I’ll have to check it out! Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Midwest, in Springfield, Missouri. I went to the University of Missouri for my undergraduate, and then I headed west.
Interesting. Why aren’t you there now?
First of all, while I miss having seasons in Oregon, Missouri has the worst of all of them. It’s too damn hot and muggy in the summer and bone chillingly cold and icy in the winter. I also don't like being landlocked. I prefer to be near big bodies of water like rivers or oceans. Culturally and politically, well, I don’t necessarily mind feeling like a fish out of water, but I’m so different in my worldview from the people that I grew up with that it’s actually kind of hard to be there sometimes.
Fair enough. Are there any other gems you want to leave with the people reading this interview?
Just be kind. Be kind to everybody you meet. They deserve it, and you deserve it too. Try to understand what the people around you are going through and be more empathetic. It will make you a better person, a better friend, and a better co-worker. I don’t know if that makes me sound like too much of a goof [laughs].
That’s a good motto to have!