I grew up on a ranch in Wyoming, left home at 12, and got married at 16. And at that time, in Wyoming, new work laws were just coming into effect, and it was hard to find work. A friend suggested I go to work in the oil fields since, at the time, they put pretty much anyone to work. After a month there, an industrial accident landed me in the hospital and would eventually leave me with a missing finger. While I was recovering, I used the accident as an opportunity to pursue my love of drafting and architecture. I relocated to an architectural technology school in Denver to learn drafting and move into that industry.
Gary Rissler: Career Highlights
1978–1983: Owns and operates his own design, construction, and building-materials businesses in Casper, WY
1984–1985: Works as project architect for Niels Valentiner & Associates, constructing mid-rise office buildings and retail centers
1987–1991: Works as senior construction project manager for Pier 1 Imports
1991–1996: Works as senior director of construction for the big box division at Tandy Corporation in Forth Worth, TX
1996–1998: Relocates to New York City and works as director of construction management services for FRCH Design Worldwide
1998–2001: Works as senior project manager for Federated Department Stores
2001–2002: Works as contract construction manager for Newmark Construction Services
2002–2004: Works as construction manager for hospital construction for Wm Blanchard Co. in Springfield, New Jersey
2004–2010: Works as director of construction for Burberry USA and creates its in-house construction department
2011–Present: Works as director of store planning, construction, and facilities for Stuart Weitzman Holdings, LLC
After I finished the program in Denver, I moved back to Wyoming, where I started working for an architecture firm. Because I was good at drafting, I quickly became head of their drafting pool and soon started working for HNTB, who was doing projects in my area at that time. From there, I went to work for a contractor who did commercial building and oil-field projects. One of the firm’s owners asked me why I didn’t go independent, so in 1978 I went into business for myself. Less than a year later, I had around 100 employees, and I hired an Argentinean architect who still runs that firm today.
In the mid-1980s, when the oil business died in Wyoming, I moved to Salt Lake City, where I worked for another architecture firm. From there, I started working for a company who hired me on as a construction manager for their commercial buildings and shopping center projects. In those days, most retail stores were landlord build-to-suit, and most retail chains didn’t have in-house construction teams. Among the stores we helped build, Pier 1 Imports liked what I did so much that they brought me to Texas to help them build an in-house team.
I later moved to Tandy Corporation, where I managed a team of 25 project managers building more than $800 million a year in big-box stores. I was there from 1991 to 1996, when the company started undergoing some transformations. I used it as an opportunity to find new work and ended up in New York City, working for FRCH Design Worldwide, where I created a construction-management department to help their retail clients that did not have in-house teams. However, they and the other company I worked for relocated to Cincinnati. I wanted to stay in New York, so I did some consulting for a few years and then went to work for Burberry from 2004 to 2010, creating their in-house construction department.
I went independent again for a while, but in 2011 I received five job offers. I chose Stuart Weitzman because I really enjoy the people and the work the company does. Most people I’ve known over the years that are in my line of work don’t understand business on the retail operations side, and in most companies, the relationship between retail operations and store planning and construction is almost adversarial. I have worked very hard through the years to learn and understand their needs so I could better contribute to the overall experience. I’ve worked very hard to strengthen my relationship with operations, finance, legal, HR, and anybody that affects how a store becomes profitable.
I’ve always been instrumental in starting in-house construction and store-planning departments, and at Stuart Weitzman, I’m doing that globally. I’m fortunate to have worked for a lot of companies and done a lot of things. My experience helps me maneuver everything from the job level to the back-room politics that make up the corporate world. Having built stores in all regions of North America has been really helpful for knowing how I communicate on an international basis. Internally, we are using new web-based software to manage how we communicate better in all areas we affect. I want to keep partnering with more international parties so that I can grow my knowledge in those areas. ABQ