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Published in the September-October 2014 issue of MyLIFE magazine

Thelton McMillian
PROFILE
Name: Thelton McMillian
Year and place of birth: 1970; Pensacola, Florida
College attended: Florida State University, B.S. in Communications
When did you start your company?: 2006
Most valued saying: Be a Comrade.
Favorite charity: No Kid Hungry
Family: Married, with 2 daughters
Favorite Arizona destination: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Comrade is an Oakland, California-based strategy and design agency with deep expertise in financial services,
health care, technology and transactional design. The company creates digital products and services, including Web and mobile apps to help leading companies improve their user experience. With their industry focus and practical approach, they partner with clients to understand their customers and get new innovations to market quickly. They take pride in having clients such as BlackRock, JPMorgan Chase, TIAA-CREF, Wells Fargo and University of California, San Francisco as their “comrades.”

MyLIFE: What is your background, and why did you start Comrade?
McMillian: I’ve been in the communications and design business—marketing, advertising—for over 20 years. I went to Florida State University and got my bachelor’s in communication in 1992. From there I worked at various interactive 
and digital marketing agencies and rose all the way up to president and chief operating officer at Critical Mass, one of the Omnicom-owned digital marketing agencies. In 2006, I left to pursue a career-long dream, which was to start my own agency. At the point that I’d gotten to the level of president of an agency that was owned by a publicly owned company, I realized that a big part of what I wanted to do every day was to work very closely in a very hands-on way with clients, building a team, shepherding the culture—and remaining private, independent. That is really why I started Comrade.

MyLIFE: Your company is diverse. You employ artists, athletes, gourmets, gadget geeks. How has that diversity helped you become successful?
McMillian: That’s a great question! First, we love to attract and grow with very multitalented people. We look for people with a variety of interests who can bring a broad perspective as well as a variety of inspiration to the work that we do. Our office culture involves food. We do a lot of things around food—someone cooks lunch for the team on a given Tuesday—and we share interests. We find that different perspectives keep creativity fresh and keep us focused on achieving our goals. It creates a much more interested, more well-rounded perspective and team.

MyLIFE: What technologies do you use? Do you create your own to cater to each individual business?
McMillian: We work with clients in the U.S. and around the world—Europe, Asia, etc. Collaboration and being able to work remotely with clients is very important to us. We have invested in a few cloud-based technologies built around collaboration. We work with Basecamp, which handles project management, file sharing, etc. It allows people to log in, review documents and give feedback regularly. We also invested in an upgraded cloud-based PRT system, to provide better project 
budgeting, and controls for running projects for our clients, being able to report to them where we are at any given time. We invested in a technology called Workamajig. We have a lot of clients who are developing software, either Web or 
mobile applications—and prototyping to communicate what we’re going to build or how it will work, what the design will look like, what the interaction will be. We have used commercial prototyping software—Highrise, Proteo and others—but we also developed our own internal tools. A big challenge is getting websites to work across different devices—whether that be a smartphone, a tablet or a desktop computer—and across a lot of different file formats. So, we developed a lot of tools with what’s called responsive design. When it comes to branding, we use a variety of tools for stakeholders to get a sense of where they want to see the direction of their brand going. We use a technique called polarities … for example, do you want the brand to be bolder or more conservative? We use surveys to gather input. A lot of our clients want us to go as fast as possible.

MyLIFE: Imagine you are at a conference with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. How would you describe Comrade to them?
McMillian: We are a strategy and design agency focusing on helping clients, both start-ups and well-established companies. We improve user experience of Web/mobile products and services, as well as improve their customer experience across interaction points. We work with financial companies, tech companies and retailers, so we have a strong focus in transactional-based systems, e-commerce, mobile banking, online banking applications.

MyLIFE: What are some current challenges facing your industry?
McMillian: It changes, as you can imagine. One of the key challenges is the pace of change. And that is driven by new 
technologies, new changes in consumer behavior, new regulatory changes that are happening often in financial service
clients. Making sure we adapt and evolve as well as understand all the new technologies and interactions. One of the other challenges we are facing that is a blessing and a curse is the democratization of design. More and more CEOs and 
organization leaders are realizing that design—in terms of not just visual, but for websites, mobile and web apps, how it looks and works—is more important than ever. We are doing everything we can to help our client leaders learn the basics of design and how to think about design in the context of the work they are doing because this will help their client experience and interactions. It has elevated the role that design plays in corporate America but it also breaks down our own expertise. It’s like being a plumber, teaching someone how to be a plumber and then putting yourself out of business. That is why it’s a blessing and a curse. The other macro challenge we are seeing is a shift toward smaller project sizes in terms of revenue, budget and time frame. This is a macroeconomic or corporate investment change. Companies have invested on their own in digital media. We are seeing a digital plateau, and there are not the big capital projects as there has been in the prior five or six years. This has created a definite challenge for us in our industry.

MyLIFE: In terms of your vision, where would you like to be 10 years from now?
McMillian: I look at vision in terms of timeline and direction and purpose, behavior that drives our decisions. I would love to continue what we started in 2006, working with leaders to help them improve customer experience and improve their strategy and design so that from a human perspective doing daily business—banking, consuming—is made
easier. Also, I want to get more and more into health care and the way they use mobile, Web and downloaded apps to 
improve and provide remote health care. I would like to expand internationally and increase the scope of our impact. We believe that improving design has a positive effect on people’s lives, such as making sure their banking experience is safe and secure, making sure they prepare for retirement, get the best health care. That is what drives our work.

MyLIFE: You have an impressive list of clients. Why should companies consider a business relationship with Comrade?
McMillian: The first is our approach to doing business. We have a philosophy: “Be a Comrade.” To a client, this means that we deliver high-quality work, top-notch service, quick response time, that we’re flexible and adaptive and understand their personal needs as well as what their customers need. We deliver value. We have proven over and over that we are able to solve complex problems very quickly—whether it’s a branding problem, a service problem or a customer problem.

tyler-trabandPublished in the July-August 2014 issue of MyLIFE magazine

Read this list to see if imaginary background music plays: Vacations. Zoos. Oil. Breasts. Motorcycles. Hospitals. Wisconsin. Neutrinos.

Musician Tyler Traband examined and created sound to fit these subjects, and more. Composing background music for movies and commercials is his art. This artist has as much music in his being as there are birds in the air and fish in Lake Michigan (near his birthplace).

Traband’s life is about sound—and animals. He understands that music supports communication. Read about him here and put some music on … he’d like that!

Q. How did you learn the language of music?
A. As a child, I was always humming, singing, making up rhythms and exploring musical ideas in my head. I whistled all the time! I was always doing music activities at school. In college, I realized how loud the voice inside my body and soul was speaking to me. There, I learned about the language of music, and found others with the same passion.

Q. What was your favorite project?
A. My favorites change often! “Chasing the Ghost Particle,” the IMAX film about neutrinos I just scored, is toward the top of my list. Its music ranges from classical to pop, orchestral themes to electronica—appropriate for giant black holes with synth sound effects right into crazy, gooey sound designs complete with bubbly space noises and explosions.

Q. Musicians need good support systems. To whom are you grateful?
A. All artists need support and encouragement, and I worry about the future. I got to sing or play nearly every day in school. How are tomorrow’s musicians going to learn? I believe in the arts. When we learn to draw, dance, play or sing, we are gaining so much more than just that skill. Leadership, critical thinking, group skills and listening are all enhanced. At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Joan Wildman was a huge inspiration. She is an amazing jazz pianist and theoretician. Her passion for the language of music is what got me hooked. I think of her each time I sit down to practice. She helped me understand how to communicate with other musicians.

Q. Connect the dots between music and dogs for us—I understand that you are planning to adopt one.
A. We are in negotiations. My wife, Sara, has been researching and likes the English Golden. We both grew up with dogs. Sara had an Old English and I had a St. Bernard and a Basenji, as well as many generations of great cats.

When I was in high school, every time I pulled out the trumpet our dog Tasha (who was part Samoyed) howled along with me. She sang along with the piano, as well.

We’ve had tropical fish, hermit crabs, huge bullfrog tadpoles, a school of baby bullheads (until we released them) and two giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches. My son wants a leopard gecko.

From 2005 to 2010, Traband composed and recorded the commercial broadcast music for the Milwaukee County Zoo. “I still have the track from the year the zoo introduced flamingos on my iPod, and when it pops on I always smile,” he said. He visits the zoo often with his children. “We know some of the scientists and caregivers, and have close ties with the aviary personnel,” he added.

That makes sense—birdsong is great background music!

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Cory Remsburg (second from left) on June 6, 2009, during a re-enactment of the D-Day paratrooper jump into Normandy during World War II.
Cory Remsburg (second from left) on June 6, 2009, during a re-enactment of the D-Day paratrooper jump into Normandy during World War II.

Published in the May-June 2014 issue of MyLIFE magazine

On October 1, 2009, Army Ranger Cory Remsburg landed face down in a canal near Kandahar, Afghanistan, after a quarter-ton roadside bomb exploded. Shrapnel lodged in his brain—he was at death’s door. Fellow Rangers pulled him out of the water and performed emergency medical treatments. He was in a coma for three months.

Since that day, Cory has traveled a long road rife with multiple surgeries and intensive therapy—in Germany, Maryland, Florida, California—and at home in Gilbert, Arizona.

Cory survived ten combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, he is facing, and is determined to win, a different kind of battle.

As a teenager, Cory wanted to join the Army. His father, Craig, refused to allow Cory to enlist at age 17. He wanted his son to consider college. On Cory’s 18th birthday, a knock on the door from an Army recruiter was the answer to Cory’s dream.

Cory says he became a Ranger because he “wanted to be the best,” and that outlook and determination have carried him through his ongoing recovery. His attitude is inspiring. Cory’s story was profiled in an interview on CNN in February because of his hero’s attitude. He used the moment to tell the world that he refused to accept life in a wheelchair.

A few months before the bomb explosion changed Cory’s life, he met President Barack Obama at the D-Day re-enactment in France. Less than a year later, Obama visited Cory, who was then unable to speak as he recovered from surgery, in Maryland. In August 2013, when Obama visited Phoenix, Cory abandoned his wheelchair and walked up to greet the president. In his January 2014 State of the Union address, Obama said, “Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.”

corey-remsburg-mylife-cover-may-june-2014-issueThis story is one of remarkable healing. Cory endures a strenuous rehabilitation schedule and says he has to get up “too early,” for the five-day-per-week trip to central Phoenix for physical and occupational therapy. After therapy, he works with his service dog, Leo.

The Remsburgs are grateful for various organizations that have helped Cory over the last five years. The military provides medical care for wounded soldiers, but many other important aspects of recovery are funded by private charities.

The Joshua Chamberlain Society, based in St. Louis, Missouri, reimbursed Cory’s dad for his travel to visit his son in Florida and helped with remodeling a bathroom that would be accessible for Cory. This charity specializes in assistance for veterans with “permanent combat injuries” and commits to helping them long-term.

The Fisher House Foundation, headquartered in Rockville, Maryland, provided housing for Cory’s dad and stepmom right beside the hospital for more than a year in Florida. This foundation’s slogan is “Because a family’s love is good medicine.” The Remsburgs agree.

Housing is a big factor in returning wounded soldiers to health. Cory told us he will “very happy” to be living in a new, specially equipped house provided by Lead the Way Fund. Lead the Way Fund supports wounded and disabled Army Rangers and their families. Craig remembers that representatives were in touch with the family within hours of the explosion. The organization also assisted with expenses to fly family members to and from Germany when Cory was being treated there.

Less than comfortable being in the limelight, Cory prefers that the attention be on his fellow soldiers and wounded veterans who need help. When asked what the average American can do, Cory and Craig agree: “The service member doesn’t have any choice to deploy or not, so be supportive.”

That support can take a variety of forms. Donating even a small amount of time or money to any group that helps troops and veterans is worthwhile. The difference made by family and support groups in Cory’s recovery can be made for other wounded warriors who are also traveling long roads back to health and well-being.

Since his wartime injury, Cory has been able to heal emotional scars through his positive outlook and sense of humor. When told that he looks great, he said, “Oh, stop!”

It’s clear that stopping is not an option for this Army Ranger and hero, Cory Remsburg.

soldier-rescueHELPING OUR WOUNDED HEROES
Lifelong physical disabilities are horribly common among our active military and veterans; the number of single-limb amputees returning from Iraq and Afghanistan exceeded 1,500 in 2012, according to the U.S. Army surgeon general’s office. Serious head wounds, hearing loss and vision impairment are other frequent injuries among our country’s troops.

Privately funded charities, like the ones that are helping Cory, fill in when military and government benefits stop. The varying services they provide make a significant difference in quality of life for service members returning with physical and emotional wounds. These organizations rely primarily on fundraising through private donations.

Lead the Way Fund www.leadthewayfund.org

The Joshua Chamberlain Society www.chamberlainsociety.org

Fisher House Foundation www.fisherhouse.org

For a list of additional charitable organizations, including those dedicated to helping our troops and veterans, visit www.charitynavigator.org

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Published in the July-August 2014 issue of MyLIFE magazine

ROF
PROFILE
Name: Carrie Martz
Year and place of birth: 1956, Davenport, Iowa
College attended: ASU, BS in Marketing
When did you start your company?: 1980
Moved to the Valley: 1973
Family: Single, with two adult children, son-in-law and one granddaughter
Most valued saying: “We aren’t here for a long time—we’re here for a good time.” Bob Parsons
Pet: A Japanese Chin named Oryo
Favorite Arizona destination: Anyplace she can go with her granddaughter.

Martz Parsons is a full-service advertising agency founded in 2013 after the acquisition of the Martz Agency by GoDaddy founder, Bob Parsons. After running the Martz Agency for more than 30 years, Carrie Martz joined with Bob Parsons in October 2013, creating Martz Parsons.

The company remains one of the top 20 advertising and public relations firms in Arizona and is growing at a rapid pace. Providing a full range of advertising and public relations services to the agency’s diverse clients, Martz
Parsons offers local, national and international advertising and strategic marketing services, including creative, media, branding, promotions, collateral, social media, research and digital media.

MyLIFE: Carrie, you opened your agency’s doors 34 years ago. What core principles do you attribute to your success in what is clearly a very demanding business?
Martz: The first thing I have to tell you is that it doesn’t feel like 34 years—it surprises me every time I see that number because you’re right, it is a very demanding and very competitive business. I would have to say that the endurance has to come from doing something I’m truly passionate about and I love. That is the only way that you could stay in this field for that period of time. It’s one thing to be working in the industry, it’s another thing to be working in it and also be financially responsible for it—two aspects that sometimes don’t always work cohesively. I would add that I have tried not to take what we do so seriously that I would make myself sick over it. I know many people handle stress differently, and one way I always tried to handle that is to have a sense of humor. I can’t say that I’ve always been balanced in my work and home life, but I try to maintain a positive attitude on both fronts. That has certainly helped keep me in the game and I think contributed to the success. I know in the long run it’s really about being fortunate to work with very smart people that I value and treat as I would like to be treated. I think respect and honesty are our business principles—and I think that we should all live by them.

MyLIFE: You have a strong belief that the customer is No. 1. So why is it that in this tough economy we are finding companies that don’t seem to share the same value for customers?
Martz: I’m so glad that we are talking about this because I just experienced the absolute worst customer service with a security company that I hired to put a [alarm] system into my home. One of the little buzzers kept going off and the system stopped working. After trying to get through their automated system for 10 minutes, I finally got through and spoke with a human being. The man who I spoke with asked ridiculous questions and he told me the earliest they could get to me was two and a half weeks. I said, “I’m a woman who would like to feel secure, so I would imagine that you could move that time frame up—because what if there was an emergency situation?” He said, “We’ll put you on the list.” After this, a message came on the line about a customer service questionnaire. So, I stayed on the line—I never do this, I never stay on the line. This time I did and answered their questions. I responded on every single question with a 1—very dissatisfied. At the end, I received a message that said, “Thank you for taking our survey. We understand you are very dissatisfied,” and then the call ended. I would expect that within 10 minutes that would trigger something that would let someone know there is a very dissatisfied client. It has now been over 24 hours, and I have not received a phone call. I looked at that and I thought, “How do I deal with that?” With social media as prominent as it is right now, all I would have to do is tweet about this and start ranting about it on my social platform, and it could hurt their business. I sit here in awe, trying to figure out how these companies survive, and all I can think is that we as consumers are too busy to find alternatives. Even though we may not be satisfied, which I’m not, for me to find another company that can do this requires time—and I don’t have it. I think the only reason they’re getting by with what they’re doing is not because they are the only game in town—it’s because we as consumers are so overwhelmed that we are allowing this kind of mediocrity to be the norm. I’m hoping that will change because we all deserve far better respect for the dollars we spend. The companies that will rise above all this clutter in the next several years, I’m hoping, are those that truly understand customer service. That’s why I have that strong belief, because I am a consumer and I expect great service because that is what we give. That’s why people come to us. We may not always be able to satisfy every customer’s need immediately, but we demonstrate our care and concern. We will continue to grow and be successful because we give customers what they want. Bob Parsons has been evangelistic about this, which is why this partnership is going to be so great for us. One of Bob’s top beliefs is: Give customers what they want. That means listening to your customers and surprising them by doing a better job than they ever expected—and that creates long-term relationships.

MyLIFE: Tell us more about the partnership with GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons. You certainly make a dynamic duo. What is your vision for Martz Parsons for the next several years?
Martz: I thank you for saying that we make a dynamic duo. I am humbled and honored to be put in the same sentence as Bob Parsons. Look at what he has done and who he is. I keep telling everyone that I am truly living a dream right now. I have so much respect for Bob and what he is allowing us to do. This sort of thing doesn’t typically happen. He is giving us an opportunity that no other agency—I would bet in the country—has, and that is that he wants to create the most sophisticated, talented advertising agency, as one of the best places to work, west of the Mississippi and then east. He wants to make sure we attract the best talent and offer expertise not seen before, under one roof, at the highest level. In our industry, you grow by acquiring new clients. As you get those new clients, you hire people to serve their needs. Rarely can you hire people and wait for the business. Bob has changed the paradigm of this business for us. He said, “Hire and create capacity within your business.” Go out and find the best people. Once you have that core team and people are having fun with what they’re doing, and you’ve got that capacity, make sure you’re taking care then of your customers—they’re No. 1.Don’t worry about the bottom line. What will happen magically is that the business will come. I know our clients are raving about us, because they’re referring us business. It’s magic. It’s almost like we are a technology company, an incubator for good ideas.

MyLIFE: You are well-known for giving back to the community. When in your career did you feel it necessary to become so involved in the community?
Martz: I got involved doing fundraising for the cystic fibrosis board for children and put an event together. We raised a lot of money. It made such an impact on the kids that I wanted to do something even bigger. I’d just had my second child—I had two healthy kids. I thought, “I need to give back to the children’s hospital because I’m so fortunate—and I want to make sure I pay it forward.” I started, with two other people, a nonprofit called Home of Miracles. In a period of about 10 years and with eight programs, we raised $7.5 million for Phoenix Children’s Hospital. We even did the program in Dallas and Houston and raised a couple of million. It was a way for me, who couldn’t write a check for millions, to raise money a hundred dollars at a time. I just got hooked. I just saw the beauty of philanthropic endeavors and I realized that even though we can’t write big checks, we could make a difference doing what we do. The agency took on dozens of nonprofits from that point, and we gave our services away. We helped with branding, websites, PR. Not only did that give me feel-good moments, but it was also a catalyst for growth for the agency. People knew that we were authentic, that we cared about the community and met people that we normally would not have. Imagine now, working for a man who is one of the leading philanthropists in the country right now, whose business practices are all about giving back. This is really music to my ears.

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smithsonian-john-grayPublished in the May-June 2014 issue of MyLIFE magazine

The focus of the article is museum leadership—the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, to be specific. When John L. Gray became the museum’s director in July 2012, he went east to bring some more West to America’s treasure chest.

Apropos, here’s a bit of “history” about mankind’s ability to “focus.” Humans have used various types of lenses to focus light for more than 3,000 years. As proof, there’s the Nimrud lens from ancient Assyria. On display in the British Museum, this convex rock crystal was likely used to focus sunlight to start fires. Over the millennia, humanity’s ability to focus has evolved from the creation of fire to the concentration of historical data and artifacts in one accessible place.

But fires and museums should only appear together in sentences—not in reality. The metaphor of fire as illumination is what Gray brings from the West to Washington, D.C.’s showcase of American treasures, the parts and parcels of our collected history.

The National Museum of American History began construction in the late 1950s and opened in 1964. Then known as the Museum of History and Technology, it was the sixth building in the Smithsonian’s space at the National Mall. Its name was changed in 1980 and in its 50 years it has undergone much renovation and expansion. It’s also gone through several leadership changes. That history will be left for another time in order to focus on John L. Gray, the museum’s current director. Originally from Colorado, Gray exemplifies someone who is a life-long learner. He earned a bachelor’s degree from LIU Post (formerly the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University) and an MBA from the University of Colorado, and he is working on another master’s degree in Eastern classics from Saint John’s College in Santa Fe.

After a 25-year career in commercial banking in Los Angeles, Gray worked from 1997 to 1999 at the Small Business Administration in D.C. until taking the roles of president and CEO at the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles.

Gray’s work at Autry set him up for his current position. The Autry National Center stores and displays more than 500,000 objects, employs a staff of 130 people and operates within a $16 million annual budget. In his 13-year tenure at Autry, Gray enlarged the museum’s scope by merging the museum with Colorado’s Women of the West Museum and the Southwest Museum of the American Indian (in Los Angeles).

Now with the Smithsonian, Gray says his vision is to “tell an inclusive, respectful and compassionate story of all the peoples in America.” He wants to use the objects in the collections to tell an overarching American story and engage a diverse national and international audience. One of the first objects that Gray brought out of storage and into the center of the museum’s first floor is one that relates to the history of the American West. A Conestoga wagon, symbol of the Westward Expansion in the early to mid-1800s, now draws visitors in with its distinctive curved shape.

smithsonian-conestoga-wagon
A Conestoga wagon, symbol of the Westward Expansion in the early to mid-1800s, now draws visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History with its distinctive curved shape.

Given that the museum has more than 3 million artifacts, Gray can be considered the keeper of the keys to all things that have made America and her people be identified as Americans. Icons such as President Lincoln’s top hat, the Star-Spangled Banner—the flag that inspired our national anthem—and Dorothy’s ruby slippers have their home just off the National Mall on the museum’s second floor. Gray’s actual job description outlines responsibility for the management and leadership of the museum, which includes planning, research, collection, education, exhibition, handling business, renovations and raising funds.

With the leadership of Gray, our National Museum of American History has defined its mission to “… help people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future.” With John L. Gray at the museum’s helm, Americans can be assured that a good mind and a focused heart now manage the future of our past.

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