We had the good fortune of connecting with Heidi Gantwerk and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Heidi, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I had been a with a small firm for more than ten years doing fascinating work in civic engagement around the country. It was a wonderful opportunity, and towards the end I was heading up some of our most significant projects, from initial proposal through final report, but still reporting to the President of the firm. I was contemplating a move to a senior management position at a larger organization when our company president and majority owner suddenly had to step away from all his responsibilities. It fell to me to complete all our ongoing projects, and I had the choice at that point to take up leadership of that firm or branch out on my own. I had been on the road for years, all while having three young boys, working on public policy and planning issues all over North America, and made the decision to stay put in San Diego, apply my skills in my own city and branch out on my own. I liked working directly with clients to meet their very specific needs, I loved the variety and challenge of the projects that came my way, and I loved the flexibility it offered me while my kids were still in school. To be sure, the fact that my husband had a good job with excellent benefits absolutely made it possible for me to take the risk. We could afford to take the salary hit that came with starting a new business, and we didn’t have to worry about getting sick. That was huge. I thought I would try it for a year or two and then decide. Eight years in, I could not be happier with the decision I’ve made. Last year was incredibly challenging, as much of my business is based on meeting design and facilitation, and it came to a screeching halt in March of 2020. But things are beginning to pick up, and I have shifted, as have my clients, to increasingly complex online meeting formats, and I am excited to see what is next for HG Consulting Group.

Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I founded HG Consulting Group in 2013 to provide expert facilitation, outreach, and strategic planning services. My goal is to help leaders of non-profits, foundations, public and government agencies to surface essential insights, build trust and strengthen relationships with diverse stakeholders. I am incredibly gratified that I am still able to do this work and provide the kind of personalized service that defines HG Consulting, eight years later (and counting.) That has not always been a given; consulting is a very up and down business, and while I am thrilled to have a number of ongoing and repeat clients, a lot of my work is project based, so there is always the pressure of finding the next project while you are working on everything already in progress. Prior to COVID I had seen fairly steady growth but the bottom fell out, as it did for so many, when the pandemic hit. Live everyone else, I had to re-invent, but many of my clients hunkered down and took a pause on some of the bigger picture strategic work in which I specialize. I admit to having doubts about whether to give up on consulting and find a job. The financial impact was significant, but I am lucky enough to be part of a two income household and have benefits through my husband. What I found even more difficult was the excess time on my hands; I missed the sense of purpose and meaning that I get from my work and my interaction with clients. I spent a year feeling that loss, and feeling a little lost, but I decided to stick it out, and tried to take the down time as a gift, not as confirmation of my own self doubt (the old imposter theory reared its ugly head; if I were really good, this pandemic would not have slowed down my business so much…) Thankfully, businesses have reset, and meetings that never would have taken place online are working better than I might have hoped online, although I cannot wait to get back to face-to-face engagement! What I love about my work, and what I think I manage well, is the incredible variety of clients and subjects I work with. Over the years, I have learned to listen well and synthesize quickly, and that has allowed me to enter into worlds as diverse as airport noise management, homelessness, water management, regional social services, the future of Jewish life in San Diego, bridging the political divide in Washington and governance reform in Alaska. What I bring to the table is an ability to authentically engage a wide range of perspectives, to make sure everyone feels heard and to build shared ownership and authorship of decisions. And I truly love what I do, and it fills me with positive energy every time I step (or log) into a meeting.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
A mix of upscale and low key for sure. A hike in Torrey Pines or the Gliderport in La Jolla, and another in Mission trails. Walks at the Cove and Wind and Sea and the La Jolla and Hillcrest Farmers markets. Dinners in Little Italy. Dinner with a view at Coasterra, or a wine tasting dinner at the Wine Vault in Little Italy (no one has managed takeout better!), at least a few of San Diego’s incredible breweries, Societé, Modern Times, Mike Hess, Eppig are a few of our favorites. A stroll in Balboa Park. Sea kayaking in La Jolla Shores. Wandering the boardwalk and the beach in PB; breakfast at Kono’s, and coffee at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. We have always loved Powerhouse Park in Del Mar and the village and spent many lovely afternoons and evenings there. A game at Petco; even socially distanced, there is no better place to watch baseball. An overnight in Carlsbad; so many great places to stay and restaurants to discover. The seven bridges walk; just a great way to get acquainted with urban San Diego. A day trip out to Anza Borrego, especially when the desert is blooming. And after more than 25 years living in Tierrasanta, thanks to COVID we have discovered so many lovely trails and corners of our own neighborhood; always worth a visit!

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
It states in the Jewish text Pirkei Avot “who is wise? one who learns from all people.” The work I do is all about dialogue, and true dialogue embodies this principal. Any wisdom I may have accumulated over the years comes from the remarkable people who have touched my life over the years. My husband, Andy Mayer, has been incredibly supportive, and we have truly been a team in every way for 30+ years. My parents have both provided wise personal and professional counsel on too many occasions to count, and my sister and my three children always have my back, no matter where they live. The community I have found at Congregation Beth Israel has inspired me and allowed me to explore critical aspects of my work, and my passion for music; a special shoutout to Rabbi Cantor Arlene Bernstein who has done so much to shape my family’s path in all the very best ways. I am lucky to have many clients within the Jewish community here in San Diego, and in particular I have so appreciated the opportunity to work with and learn from so many remarkable women CEO’s and Executive Directors, including Betzy Lynch at the JCC, Beth Sirull at the Jewish Community Foundation, Charlene Seidel and Sharyn Goodson at the Leichtag Foundation, and most recently Karen Parry at Hillel of San Diego. The best thing about the work I do, is the the list of shout-outs just keeps growing; there is always so much to learn!

Website: hgconsultinggroup.com

Linkedin: Heidi Gantwerk

Facebook: HG Consulting Group

Image Credits
Headshot-Melissa Jacobs, Red sweater-Aaron Huniu

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