We had the good fortune of connecting with Gia Heller and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gia, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I have been coached and mentored by some of the wealthiest and most brilliant minds on the planet. One thing they always taught me was that the next level is always a pay cut. As a salaried employee, this did not make sense to me. I did my job and if I did it well, I got a raise. Why then would I need to take a pay cut to achieve a higher level? What WAS the next level?
To explain the answer we must travel back in time to the moment I would risk it all. It was January, 2004 and The Apprentice had made its debut. It was my first guilty reality show pleasure as I did not relate to “Big Brother” at all and never watched it. It set me on FIRE. I was certain I could win this competition. When the words “AUDITION NOW” came across the screen I did not hesitate. I put together a video that I knew would result in a call back. It did. I had complete faith I could win this show. I got a phone call from the producers. They told me there would be a cattle call in Scottsdale with thousands of applicants. I was instructed that MY appointment would be at 12pm and to go directly into the elevator to room XXX and knock on the door. It was a very odd experience.
The hotel lobby and outside of the hotel were filled with more people than capacity could handle. It was a fire hazard at worst, a mosh pit at best. I told one of the workers that I had an appointment at 12 with room XXX and I was ushered immediately to a room where people were eating lunch. No one even addressed me. After about 20 minutes of painfully watching them eat in silence and barely acknowledging me, I said “Hey guys, what’s going on – lots of people downstairs waiting for their shot and I’m up here watching you eat lunch?”. The big curly haired guy who I would later learn was Producer Rob LaPlante said “We have already chosen you, you will be headed to Santa Monica”. My excitement level was UNPARALLELED. For television? For Donald Trump? NO, because I was ready to COMPETE! As a lifelong gymnast my #1 goal in life was always to win and I was certain I could!
Months went by and I never heard from them again. Then all of a sudden, I got another call. Be ready in 5 days you didn’t make the cut off for Season 2 but we are auditioning you for Season 3 and you will be sequestered in Santa Monica during the final selection process. 50 of us were flown out and 18 would make the show. This season was “Street Smarts VS. Book Smarts”. I had to tell my bosses that I could be gone up to two weeks – they told me they were my biggest supporters! I had designed a system for them that allowed them to go from showing 8 sites a month to CVS Pharmacy to upwards of 30 sites per month. I made these guys richer than they already were and they were already dripping in diamonds. I later learned I would not have access to these diamonds for myself but they were fitting me very nicely for my golden handcuffs.
When I returned home I was told not to forget to put in my PTO request…. that was their level of “Support” after 6 years of perfect service and tripling their commercial real estate pipeline. From the moment my taxi door opened in Santa Monica the cameras were IN MY FACE. It was overwhelming and exhilarating at the same time. We were being tested like olympians. The Apprentice staff, doctors and producers kept us sequestered except for when we did an IQ test together, ate together and had doctor visits, psychiatrist appointments etc., after a week of this they were already sending 2-3 people home a day. I made it to the final 21 being chosen for 18 slots. A female producer came in my room. She left me the contract to read. It was literally one inch thick and double sided but I was used to reading contracts from real estate and I was bored to death so I read every word. This was indeed a “Reality show” not a “Game Show” and the winner would be SELECTED and performance had no bearing on the win. They could also dub people with a similar voice and ADD words to my mouth on national television. I became upset, disgruntled in my room, realizing this was NOT a competition and I would be at the whim of brilliant producers with a goal in mind. She also told me that they were having a difficult time figuring out if I should be on the street smarts team (Personality, grit) or the book smarts team (5 years of 4.0 grades in college).
On my last night, I met with the producers and owner, Mark Burnett in a giant room with tons of lights. He stood directly in front of me eye to eye at his alleged five foot eight inches (I had heels on). He said “What can you bring to my show? I have the #1 show on tely.” To which I replied, “A little bit of authenticity, I am here to compete and win and if I feel the producers are harming me and helping someone I will call it out on national television.” I also let him know that his show was #8. I was angry. I was disappointed. I came to compete and I wanted to go home. Prior to this evening, I sat at a round table with the doctors, psychiatrists etc that had interviewed me. They said, “Your IQ is one point higher than Hillary Clinton’s. You could run your own country. If you did not walk in this room as a female, we would have assumed based on all the data collected that you were a man. You are one of if not the smartest people here. Yet you are the only one working for someone else. The only one with a “Job”. Why is that?” I was Dumbfounded. I had NO answer. I had started my own company when I left my family’s construction business in 1999. I was charging $25 an hour to digitize peoples businesses. Once hired by a team at CB Richard Ellis, they brought me from $25 an hour to a six figure salary including bonuses. With two kids and as a single mom this was great in 2004. But I no longer cared. When I got home and those men that I had given my blood, sweat, tears and time away from my children told me to put in my vacation time when I got back, I was GONE. I knew from the Maxwell leadership classes they paid for and sent ME to that they indeed had reached their leadership lid. They wanted to keep me in a support position forever. They told me to earn commissions I would need to work for them for FREE for two years commission FREE!
However this Apprentice thing boosted my confidence. I was special and this time I had outside proof. It gave me the courage for the greatest risk I would ever take in my life – putting myself and my children at risk. One day in my closet crying in my big house with the pool and hot tub I called my mom. I said “I can’t do this anymore. I’m helping send their kids to Harvard but there is no real future here for mine or me”. She was an entrepreneur, her sisters are entrepreneurs, her father was an immigrant entrepreneur and I am lucky for all of this. With 2 young children and as a single mother making bank my mom said what probably NO OTHER mother would have said at the time. “You can do whatever you want whatever you set your mind to- you just need a plan”. I took her advice.
My life dream was to move to Mexico when I was older and sell real estate on the beach. Mexico was booming. I started looking for positions. I saw a high-end, oceanfront, sky-rise community was looking for a salesperson. I applied. I was immediately hired. Commission only. I put my house on the market sent my oldest to live with grandma until I was settled and put my 8 year old in private school and took my equity and a PAYCUT (went from 6 figure salary/bonus to 100% commission, banking on MYSELF!) and started working. During the 3 years we were in Mexico I was a Top Producer. Then, in 2008 I would take another pay cut, which was not intentional. The market crash of 2008 ruined me and I had to move back to the states having lost EVERYTHING.
I Started over, re-invented myself and worked for FREE for two years creating several businesses from nothing and got them up to half a million a year. At this time, I was no stranger to risk. And when I learned that I could survive anything risk became my middle name. In August of 2020 I decided to take my last pay cut. I would no longer be hirable for marketing for clients. I came to realize that clients are just like bosses but worse. Instead of one boss you say goodbye to at 5pm you have 25 bosses that all think they own your blood. I took a paycut when I announced my retirement but am already building the residual line of income that retired me with the income/lifestyle I had as a slave worker/slave business owner without the slaving. So when you ask me about risk it’s not a short story. But, it’s a great story. And I will continue to take risks because we only get one life and without risk there is truly no reward. Now I mentor others for free. I teach them what THEIR value and worth is and how to free themselves from not only Corporate America and retail America but also their own small businesses that have a stranglehold on their finances and life in general. Full circle. Everything required a paycut. Retired at 47. Thanks Apprentice! Maybe I didn’t get to compete but The Apprentice changed my life. Forever grateful to Rob LaPlante for seeing in me what I didn’t even see in myself.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am a mentor. I do not charge but my interviews are quite demanding. I am looking to attract others like me: educators and leaders. People that had it all and lost it all. After many years of working and owning my own businesses and doing things the hard way I have the experience to help others achieve their goals. It was not easy getting here and I have repeatedly had to overcome one challenge after the next. But, the lesson I have learned along the way is that if it SHOULD be it will be. I have also learned to stay open because there is no evolution personally or professional unless you are open to the possibility that the actions you are taking today may not be the actions needed to secure the freedom and security you are looking for. Who is your mentor?
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.
I’ve been in Phoenix for thirty years and I’ve been everywhere and done everything. Here are a few of my favorite things to do in the valley!
1. Restaurants w/Ambiance or a View & AMAZING eats – Durant’s, Different Point of View – these are two NON franchise EXPERIENCES in dining. Completely different from the other. Grab your guy or gal and get dressed in your finest threads for dinner or go during lunch for more reasonable pricing. These are the best of the best and long time staples!
2. Fun in the summer, Salt River Tubing. And if you have more than one car try to do it yourselves without the crowds and rented buses… you can find instructions online. It is the most fun and peaceful outdoor summer activity in the valley!
3. Breakfast at The Compass Restaurant downtown will give you a birds eye view of the whole city! And it rotates so it’s super fun and has little landmark placards to show you what you are looking at.
4. If you love biking try our canals and Scottsdale Bike Paths they are fun and safer than riding on our streets. Hiking is plentiful as well, but I prefer biking.
5. Check out the Gondolas at The Hyatt At Gainey Ranch for happy hour or sunset
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I am grateful to have a paragraph to thank those that helped me get to where I am today. Without gratitude, we are limited in the joy and futures we create for ourselves. I want to thank my biology. I come from strong, Italian, Immigrant stock. My grandfather was a true entrepreneur and my grandmother a true humanitarian. He took care of the whole family from nothing, and my grandmother loved the whole neighborhood regardless of age, color or religion & taught me what unconditional love was. My mother has been “Free” from work since 1983 and absolutely gave me the tough love needed to become the strong woman I am today. She also was unconventional, and that allowed me to not fear the unknown and always question authority. Most of my Aunts also own their own very successful businesses, so it was easier for me than the average Joe to eventually see that potential for myself. I adore Roger Moon, my college professor that saw greatness in me and poured energy and love into me in a way that no educator ever had. From the roles he cast me in to the advice he gave me behind the scenes he helped me see the woman I was and also the woman I could be. Special thanks to Rick Ramirez, who came in and stole me from my first Mexican developer for his Century 21 Sun & Sand. He taught me everything about doing business in Mexico and became family. I want to thank Bruce Baker who hired me at Sonoran Resorts and paid me more than I probably should have been, because he saw my value. We worked side by side so effortlessly and it was fun and we had a family environment. I want to thank Peter & Kim Denton, who took my daughters and myself into their home after the 2008 crash and allowed me the space and time to re-create myself and businesses that could take care of us. Without that 2 year hand up, I have no idea where I would be today. They were there for me in a way my own family wasn’t. (And I was too proud to ask anyone, so Kim & Peter just demanded I let them help me) Big thanks to James Robinson who recognized in 2008 that my true love was marketing, not commercial real estate and told me to “start a little networking group”. This little networking group opened in 7 cities, created half a million a year in revenue and changed the rest of my life. Not to mention the hours and hours of math tutoring that he never will get back. LOL! HUGE thanks to Bob Proctor, from The Secret. He had me speak on his stage about social media when it was in its early infancy, and to DELTA Airlines for listening to my story, hearing me and sending me pro bono round trip to Toronto. It changed the course of my history moving forward, took me off public assistance and would prove to be the most financially successful weekend in the history of my life. Ira Rosen, Cory Michael Sanchez, & Bill Walsh. Leaders who saw my value and invested in me, with their time and $. I learned so much from these guys and still keep them so close in my heart. Forever grateful. To Adrian R’Mante & George Caceres for being amazing partners that asked me to travel the world with them instead of just marketing. This came at a time where I was emotionally empty from a brutal divorce and working with them filled my soul and heart and pockets again. I look forward to post-covid times and bringing our passion back to the kids and helping them realize their dreams. My lifetime and forever gratitude. Thank you to the Canadians who not only reminded me of my worth, but showed me in facts and figures how I was NOT being compensated fairly by the very people I have given my blood, sweat and tears to. They showed me how I created my OWN golden handcuffs and handed them out to anyone that would pay a fee. They told me that if I finally built something ONE last time, it would be me what I was worth and always be there for me, even in sleep, even in death. I am grateful to everyone in my life now and the future people coming that will also help me elevate my game and allow me to help them elevate theirs. I spent the first half of my professional career making rich men, richer. My new goal is to leave behind a legacy of helping the little guy get ahead. I have the vehicle and passion.