The short list: Holiday habits of six Oregon CEOs


We ask business and nonprofit leaders how they survive the season.

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How business and nonprofit leaders celebrate, and survive, the holiday season.


Click through the following pages to see how Oregon executives manage the Christmas rush.


Dr. George Brown, CEO | Legacy Health, Portland


George Brown poses with his tuba inside the Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center. Brown was playing with Legacy Brass, a band comprised of Legacy Health employees.

George Brown recognizes a sales pitch when he hears one.

“The grand kids are pretty smart and enterprising. So they begin their Christmas campaign in the summer. It starts with a ‘hey grandpa, how are you?’ call. Then it escalates as the months go by. It’s pretty funny. We say, ‘sure and no you can’t have a new car. Because — No. 1 — you’re too young to drive.”

In lieu of presents for each other, Brown and his wife buy six gifts for the Salvation Army Angel Giving Tree at Washington Square Mall.

“One of the humbling things of looking at those requests is how simple they are,” he says. “One young boy, all he wanted was a basketball. A little girl wanted a coat. There was a request from three of the kids for coats and some for sneakers.”

A tuba player, Brown plays with a small brass ensemble and narrates Twas the Night Before Christmas for hospital events. His favorite venue is the Tuba Christmas concert at Pioneer Courthouse Square. 

“Imagine 300+ tubas, and either it’s really cold or it’s really cold and raining. You’re under a tent, shivering trying to play with inches of space to play, and it’s a lot of fun and a nice tradition. There are some stalwart participants and spectators who are there whether it’s cold or raining. Standing out there shivering with us.”


Mara Gross, executive director | Coalition for a Livable Future, Portland


Mara Gross celebrates Hanukkah with her 2-year-old daughter Lucia Szporluk.

Mara Gross aims to keep the holiday season simple, while maintaining her status as “cool aunt.”

“(Buying for) kids can be difficult, because it’s hard to know what is interesting to a 12-year-old boy for me,” Gross says. “Last year I went to Crafty Wonderland and got some hip T-shirts. I’m the one that most regularly gives them presents, so I’m beating my brother [at being the most beloved aunt/uncle].”

Religion is also part of the of the holidays. Gross is Jewish and her partner is Christian. They have a daughter, 2-year-old Lucia Szporluk.

“I think my faith is probably a bigger part of my life than my partner’s,” Gross says. “But we want Lucia to understand where she comes from on both sides of her family — she’s Jewish, but some of her family isn’t.”

Gross says the rampant consumerism associated with Christmas can be frustrating.

“That’s an ongoing challenge. My daughter doesn’t need more stuff but we have people who love her and want to give her things. So we try to accept graciously and otherwise live relatively simply.”

A local approach is important too, she says.

“I recently got access to visit the Columbia Sportswear Employee Store. So that’s now my first stop for shopping this year. Excited!”


Cynthia Rider, executive director | Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland

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Oregon Shakespeare Festival employee Lucille Burke makes and sells her handmade pottery in the business’ credenza.

“I love Christmas so I’ll take the stress (that comes with it),” says Rider. “The great thing about being in Ashland is it’s really easy because we have so many locally-owned stores within a block or two. I just have to go right out of my door.”

Sometimes she doesn’t even have to go that far. During the holidays, coworker Lucille Burke sells her handmade pottery in the building  — a boon for the “late shopper.”

Rider and her husband also shop at Paddington Station. “We’ll stay there for an hour or more and we’ll do all of the stocking shopping then,” she says.

“Shopping was always part of how we celebrated the season. My dad took time off for the season to be with us. I see shopping as something you should do with people.”

Rider also continues a tradition started by her mother years ago.

“I have a high bar with my kids to make sure my stockings are fun and special,” she says. “I’m trying to follow that tradition of how she could put surprising and wonderful things in stockings. You get one big present in your stocking. It’s a piece of jewelry, book or CD — It’s special to you. Then she also picked out candy that she knew you like. You don’t all get an Almond Joy. Only the people who like Almond Joy get Almond Joys.”

Julie Brinks, general manager | Zolo Media, Bend

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Julie Brinks lives by one ironclad rule.

“I do not go out anywhere on Black Friday,” she says. “I find off-hours in order to avoid the insanity.”

Brinks moved to Bend this past October and plans to spend Christmas in Tucson, Ariz., where her children are finishing up the school year.

Although a white Christmas is out of reach this year, Brinks and her kids intend to soak up some of Bend’s famed outdoor offerings in January.

“They have a nice four-week break over Christmas. They’ll be doing some skiing and they’re just excited as all get out.”

Despite the Black Friday prohibition, Brinks starts her shopping planning early: very early.

“My most difficult person to buy for is my oldest son, who simply seems to always want one very large item and can come up with 10 reasons why he should have it in advance of the actual holiday,” she explains. “He starts in about October. Trying to fend him off of that item until actual Christmas day can be a challenge.”

Scotty Iseri, owner | The Digits, Portland

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Scotty Iseri, who knows a thing or two about what interests children, highlighted Vivek Mano’s IndieGoGo-funded product “the Wigl” as a go-to gift for parents this holiday season. The Wigl responds to music.

The creator of  “The Digits”, a web series for children, Iseri encourages parents not to get into a shoving match over whatever the 2014 equivalent of a Furby turns out to be.

“With young kids, there’s usually a hot toy that’s impossible to get. If you can get an alternative, that’s pretty great.”

Iseri encourages parents to choose Etsy over Amazon for their online shopping and says kids’ imaginations are powerful enough: They don’t need a toy with a built in story.

“The ones that last are the ones that are imagination avatars, like a stuffed animal,” he says. “I bought my son a werewolf that isn’t from anything and it’s one of his favorite toys. The toys that let them build their own world and don’t do all the work for them, those are the ones they like the best.”

What about adult gifts?

“The best gift is time,” he says. “If you plan a lunch in January, it’s a great way to reconnect with friends you don’t get to see as much during the holidays.”

Iseri also makes gifts for family members. And he likes to come up with creative gift giving ideas.

But last year, he might have been a little too creative — for his father.

“My brother and sister and I all chipped in and donated a goat or a horse to a village,” he says. “We did that for my parents. Well, my dad was so upset because ‘where are we going to keep a goat?’ We had to explain to him that he didn’t have to name it and that it would be going to some place in need.”

B. Scott Taylor, CEO | Green Endeavor, Portland


Peacock Lane in Portland.

B. Scott Taylor isn’t overwhelmed by the Christmas warm and fuzzies.

“I have a love-hate relationship as an entrepreneur, because [the holidays] mean people are going to have an excuse to put decisions off. All I can think about is people taking vacations and saying let’s get together at the first of the year. It creates a sense of urgency and you have to work around it.”

His equivocal attitude toward the holidays carries over to his family life.

“I’ll shop for my wife and possibly get one thing for each kid with my own personal touch but it will be very inexpensive,” Taylor says. “I don’t like to spend money right now that I’m in startup mode. I’d rather be in denial. [My wife] is the one responsible for getting better gifts.”

A serial entrepreneur, Taylor launched Green Endeavor, which provides green cleaning solutions for industrial clients, several years ago. So he is new to the eco-friendly market. During the holiday season, he wishes he was blissfully ignorant about the damage human beings are inflicting on the planet.

“I wish I was a pure capitalist and didn’t know these things about the environment and what we’re doing to it,” he says. “Christmas is spoiled to me. It drives me crazy that we need to buy new things.”

But actually, his favorite Christmas traditions have nothing to do with presents, Taylor says.

“I’m Catholic/Christian, so I get them to think about the fact that it’s religious for our family. That’s not to be forgotten. At some moment we make a point to reflect on our spirituality.”

“We also like to go to Peacock Lane and go through the lights.”