At the age of 9, Yvette Gammon learned some lessons about life that some of us never do.
What she experienced generally only comes to those 50 or so years older. “I had an aneurysm and a stroke,” says the National Plasterers Council Chair. “I spent some time in a wheelchair, and I was told I would never walk again. I was told I would never have a healthy [child].”
She did walk again, but she had to learn how to do it, as well as how to eat and dress herself. “I had to start all over again at age 9,” she says.
But she gained an outlook that has served her well throughout her life. “I appreciate the very small things in life, because I know what it feels like to basically lose your life and then wake up and you’re still here,” she says. “I learned that you have to fight to live — I had to fight to take that first breath. And it just made me very appreciative.”
This attitude has infused her accomplishments, whether co-founding a business in her adopted industry or taking the helm as the first female NPC chair. As she begins the second of her two-year term and prepares to oversee her first NPC Annual Conference in this position, get to know more about this history-making professional.
Despite what her doctors said, Gammon did have a child. In fact, she was pregnant with him when she hatched the plan for Gammon Pools, a pool/spa surfacing and remodeling firm based in San Diego.
It was also in this period of her life that she showed some of the grit and perspective gained early in life. Though she had recovered from the stroke itself, she was left with an after affect. The brain surgery she underwent to repair the aneurysm left her with epilepsy. While pregnant, she suffered a couple seizures, which kept her from working.
“When something [like that] happens to you at an early age, you go one of a couple ways,” Gammon says. “You either get angry and say, ‘The world owes me because this happened to me,’ or you ... say ‘I’m lucky. I’m blessed. I got another chance — and I need to do something with it.’”
She clearly chose the latter. She and her husband, Donnie — both San Diego natives — were a young couple and first-time parents-to-be. Donnie Gammon was already an accomplished plasterer, following the path originally carved into the pool/spa industry by his grandfather, then his father and aunt. He was working for some of the bigger plastering companies in the San Diego area.
“It runs very deep in his family,” Yvette Gammon says.
Meanwhile, with a Bachelors of Business degree and marketing minor from National University, she was benched from her position as a product marketing manager for semi-conductors. She was thinking about how the Gammons could best utilize Donnie’s talent and skills in the field and her business background.
“At that point, I was tinkering around with the business because I was bored,” she says. “I kept calling and saying, ‘Hey, this is getting exciting!’ And it blossomed from there.”
In 1998, they officially opened shop. Yvette Gammon would handle the business side of things, while Donnie Gammon would oversee construction. To keep their options open, in case it made sense to add new revenue streams in the future, she decided to call the company Gammon Pools.
“I figured from a marketing perspective, we could go in any direction,” she says. “I put us in a position where we were able to really look around, get a feel for what we wanted to do and give ourselves the time to figure out what that meant.”
She also used her position as an industry-outsider to benefit the company, talking to as many people as she could to find out what gaps the local industry had that Gammon Pool could fill. Learning the construction industry’s reputation for inconsistent customer service, she figured the company could distinguish itself in that arena.
Ultimately, the Gammons decided to maintain their specialty in pool surfacing and renovations and to keep the company small. “It gave us the ability to have that family business feeling,” she says. This way, the Gammons could stay close to the work and clients, focusing on that high level of customer service.
Seat at the table
With the NPC, Gammon took the same approach.
The company joined soon after it started. She learned as much as she could from her more established peers.
“They seemed important and scary and really smart,” Gammon says. “I was that wide-eyed person in the room looking up to all these people.”
In relatively quick order, she joined the Board of Directors. “I was terrified,” she says. “I had never sat on any type of board like this and, as a woman I was even more challenged. They all knew each other, they had created this organization, and I felt like the outsider. So I tried to keep my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open and learn.”
While there, she has worked in several capacities, at different times heading the membership committee, the marketing committee and helping with the organization’s start-up certification instruction.
“I’d had my hands in just about every pot you can think of,” she says.
Last year, she was unexpectedly thrust into the top position, when the expected incoming chair was not able to take the helm. Outgoing Chair Lee Valenzuela hand-picked her. But this meant she would come in cold. Normally, one has the benefit serving two years as vice chair before taking over. But she didn’t have this breaking-in period.
So far in her term, Gammon and the board have put the priority on preparing NPC for the future. She feels most proud of new programs to carry the organization into the digital age (see page 18). And she sees that the younger generation is beginning to claim its seat at the table.
“There are more women on the board now, there are younger faces on the board,” Gammon says. “There’s a new energy. I have people who are so motivated and excited about what’s happened that I see the new age of NPC coming, and I feel like I am right at the forefront of it.”