A long, nomadic career in the telecommunications business may have finally come to rest here for Chrin Tarola.
After hopscotching the country to places flat, muggy and very un-Northwesterly, Tarola has hit the career jackpot by becoming the customer service operations general manager for GTE.
She’s also come home.
“Even when I worked in Dallas, this was where all our friends were,” Tarola said in her squeaky-neat office in GTE’s building on Prairie Avenue. “We’d spend all five weeks of vacation up here at our cabin.”
Tarola’s 22-year utility odyssey has made stops in Portland, Beaverton, Ore., Everett, Lynnwood, Wash., Crescent City, Calif., Dallas, a stint in Coeur d’Alene in the early 1980s and, finally, to the Inland Northwest in 1993.
Dallas, where GTE located its headquarters, was a little different than the trees and mountains of the Northwest. “We called it 800 square miles of concrete and glass,” she said. “It came down to a quality of life issue.”
The company offered her a buyout from Dallas, so Tarola left GTE to work at Spokane’s United Communications Systems. After a couple of years, the commute began to wear on her.
“My husband and I had planned so that we could be poor and happy,” Tarola said. The happy part was living in Coeur d’Alene. The poor part was when she left United Communications Systems.
Being as mobile as Tarola has been in her career pays dividends. She got to work in nearly every phase of the phone business - mastering technical aspects, management skills, crunching numbers, even a little bit on the retail end while in California.
With a depth of experience behind her, Tarola was a seasoned choice for operations manager after Mike Bevis left this year.
“I like to think that this is where the real work happens around here,” Tarola said. “This is where people are face-to-face with customers, not that the staff work isn’t important.”
GTE has grown up a little since Tarola left in 1993. A gaggle of new phone products supported by a fancy fiber-optic network throughout North Idaho meant that she had some catching up to do.
“I couldn’t explain exactly how an ISDN line works,” she said. “But I sure know how it works for our customers.”
Tarola has a special affinity for GTE’s business customers. For much of her career with the company, she dealt with businesses and their phone needs or managed the sales force that did.
Being a small business owner in North Idaho isn’t easy, she knows. Anything she can do to make their livelihoods easier makes her especially pleased.
November’s ice storm created problems for many of GTE’s customers, but Tarola’s crew set up generators for a number of areas hardest hit by the storm - namely the eastern sides of Hayden Lake and Lake Coeur d’Alene - to keep phone service. Some of the generators had to be kept in place more than three weeks until power was restored to those areas, she said.
Working with her staff and crew brings the most reward for Tarola, who said the 112 GTE workers in North Idaho are among the best she’s ever worked with.”I like getting the results from our work.”
JoAnn Mack worked with Tarola when she spent time in Coeur d’Alene in the early ‘80s and now reports to her as manager of GTE’s Moscow office.
“She doesn’t look at how things aren’t going to work, she looks at how thing will work,” Mack said. “I really like her management style - these people are professionals and she lets them do their jobs.”
Working in the fast-changing world of telecommunications is exciting for Tarola too. Local telephone services such as GTE are now selling longdistance service and other products. “I’m looking forward to how we do with our wireless service.”
After compiling an impressive list of forwarding addresses, Tarola, 48, hopes this will be the last move for a long time. An avid water and snow skier, she and her husband are content here.
“You learn to never say never,” she said. “But I’ve been really lucky.”
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