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St. Marys native Gina Wade is used to seeing the big picture, whether in her previous career as a top-level human resources manager or her new one as a photographer.
A 1992 graduate of St. Marys Area High School and a 1996 graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Human Resource management, Wade would later earn an MBA from Point Park University (Pittsburgh) in 2000. She chose human resources (HR) as a career while still in college.
"I actually wanted to be a psychologist, and you had to study a foreign language, and I didn't want to do that, so I transferred into business, and I wanted to do something [with that]. I liked the aspect of dealing with people, so a guidance counselor suggested HR and that seemed like a good fit," Wade said.
She quickly climbed the corporate ladder, beginning at an invention company and then moving on to the biggest of the "Big Four" accountancy and professional services firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP (PWC), where she worked until November 1997.
"The last two years that I worked for PWC, I worked in the global firm. And that required that I travel a lot. So I've been to some really cool places. I was in China, India, and South Africa, and various places through Europe," Wade said.
"I was a matchmaker between the firm's top 50 clients and the senior leadership of the global firm to try to match people up for deployments to different continents. And there are certain criteria as people climb the ladder within the firm, they develop folks. Most of the biggest clients here want folks to have international flair, so we send them overseas [for a time]."
Wade said her experience made her a good judge of people and knowledge about "what it took to groom somebody in a leadership position" and see who would be a good fit based on their skills, personality, and ability of their family to adjust to different cultures overseas.
"I would be able to spend time with somebody to assess their skills to put them in the right position," Wade said. "I was there for a long enough period of time that I was quickly and easily able to assess organizational fit. I had been the Pittsburgh office leader for several years before that, so that put me in most of the senior-level conversations in our market, so I had experience with most of the people in our market."
The corporate high-flyer also racked up many frequent-flyer miles in her HR career, and while she really enjoyed the fast-paced life, the responsibilities and the travel, her personal life required her to change gears a bit. As she went through a divorce, she said she took "time out to spend with [my] kids."
"I needed to spend time with my kids. I needed a break and they needed me to be home," Wade said.
Wade is the daughter of Cherre and the late David "Zeke" DeFranco. She is married to Ken and has two children, Luke, 10, and Nathan, 8. Her sister, Anita Cilia, and her family, husband T.J. and children Brandon and Lexi, also live in Pittsburgh. Her grandparents are Fred and Monica DeFranco of St. Marys. Wade said her attachment to her family led her to her current career as a photographer.
"When I was traveling, my dad was a photographer. It was a hobby of his. And when I was traveling internationally, I knew that in my life, most of my family would never see the things that I was seeing," Wade said. "My dad was a diabetic. He was sick for years. He was thrilled for me [to travel], but I wanted him to see where I was. So I started taking my camera everywhere, and I started taking hundreds of pictures so I could bring them home and show them to my family.
"I got better and better at it, and when I was taking a break, I really knew that I had a very interesting opportunity to regroup and figure out what I wanted to do."
She said she took a while to consider returning to her field or to try something new.
"I honestly believed that I would go back into HR and I found that I couldn't do it. HR is in a lot of ways the dumping pool of all businesses, you're expected to solve every problem, regardless of whether it's your department or not. You have to fire people. It can be a very ugly industry as well, and I had had enough at that point," Wade said. "I sort of sat down with a blank piece of paper and thought, 'What are the things that I like to do?' And the one recurring thing was photography. It's the one thing that when I was taking a break, I thought I truly loved to do."
Now a former successful HR executive, Wade used the same skills she developed in that career to explore her new field and make sure it was the right fit.
"I took a leap and started taking pictures, primarily for friends and family, to see if this is a viable option," Wade said. "I wanted to make sure I could support my kids. When I was taking my shot, I spent all the money I had to see if I could make this work. To be a responsible parent, I knew that the boys needed me to be home. I knew I needed to make that work, or I could go to Plan B, which was going back to work (in HR).
"I took a shot and worked really hard to develop the skill."
Wade said her hard work and persistence paid off, as she now has a thriving job with her business, Gina Wade Photography (www.ginawadephotography.com). Again using her HR skills, she networked and made new connections to get her business off the ground.
"It (photography) becomes a referral business, and whomever you've done a good job for tells their friends and their family. My friends span my St. Marys life, my IUP life, my corporate life, and now where I live, in suburbia," Wade said. "With social media like Facebook, you continue to get to know people."
She said although she loves her new occupation, it was not easy to move from a corporate to a home-based setting.
"The discipline of going into an office and having specific deadlines and bosses to answer to, and then being at home and being in charge, was a very difficult transition," Wade said.
However, she got used to the change and is the feature photographer for one of the neighborhood magazines in the area, and she shoots their cover and subjects for their family feature every month. She is also moving toward what she calls her "passion" and would like to be her specialty, senior photography.
"I like being able to communicate an idea and have people listen," Wade said, adding that is something she does miss about her years in HR. "It's funny. I still sometimes feel like I'm 25. I'm quite possibly the exact same size I was in high school [and often have to shop in the junior section at stores], so I find myself interested in the same sorts of clothes and accessories as the high school seniors do. So I try to keep myself in that mode so I can relate."
She said she will continue pursuing her passion and continue to learn and grow.
"I would also say when you have your own business, whatever it is, there's a fine line between what pays the bills and what you love, and I have to be careful that photography doesn't become my job and lose some of the 'wonderlust' about what I love," Wade said.
"Many people don't love the job they have but they aren't able to leave it, so I feel lucky because I could take the opportunity to try something new."
Although her frequent international travels are over for now, Wade's husband, Ken, is a Scot, so they do take trips to visit.
"So his parents are there, and we go there all the time, and they come here, so we still have that international tie," Wade said.
In the past, she has also visited St. Marys frequently to catch up with her own family, which includes her grandparents, whose home the extended family still gathers at every Sunday for a pasta dinner, and many cousins.
"My parents lived there (in St. Marys) until my dad died in 2011. They moved down here in 2010-- they ended up moving here, not on purpose, but because my dad got really sick and had to be lifeflighted here (to Pittsburgh," Wade said. "They ended up living with me for nine months.
"When they lived there (in St. Marys), I was there all the time. Anita and I both would go there probably once a month. It's funny, I posted a blog post not too long ago where I talk about all the places I've gone and all the things I've done, and at the end of the day, it all boils down to what's important.
"When anybody asks me where I'm from, I say I'm from St. Marys. Even though I've lived away from there longer than I've lived there, St. Marys is still my home."
She said that love of home is a matter of pride for her grandfather as well, who always talks about the positives of St. Marys.
"He's so proud of the town and so proud of us--it's amazing. I'm lucky," Wade said.