Fireside with 2022 Tal Award Recipient Chrissy Surles

To acknowledge dedicated and thoughtful employees who embody our core values, HighGround established the Tal Award, named for former HighGround COO Tal Roberts. The award recipient is selected by HighGround peers through a nomination process.

At our annual all-staff Vision Meeting earlier this month, Chrissy Surles was named as our 2022 Tal Award recipient. Chrissy is HighGround’s Operations Manager and has been with us since 2018. We recently sat down, fireside, to learn more about her story and to celebrate how her work has impacted HighGround and the client partners we serve.

Chrissy (left) with HighGround CFO Kari McGregor


What role do you play in the advancement of HighGround's mission?
HighGround’s mission is to protect, strengthen, and grow the assets that fund our nonprofit clients’ work. The operations department is the central hub of our office because everything filters in and out through us. We process investment trades and handle the distribution of funds to our clients. We are behind the scenes, doing the big and small tasks required to support our nonprofit clients’ missions.

What is your professional background?
I came to HighGround with 12 years of banking experience, 10 years of which were in retail banking operations and 2 years were in trust and wealth administration. I’ve also owned my own restaurant, and I have a seasoning business with my brother.

What brought you to HighGround?
I believe things happen for a reason. I was living in my hometown of Tyler at the time. I was content but starting to feel I wanted something different, something outside of Tyler. I wasn’t looking for an opportunity, but a recruiter for HighGround reached out to me through LinkedIn to see if I’d be interested in their open account manager position.

In the end, I chose HighGround because it was an opportunity to come to a bigger city, I appreciated the aesthetics and beauty of our office space, and the employee benefits showed how much HighGround values the people who work here.

How has your role developed from when you first started at HighGround?
I first started as an account manager and was on a completely different team than I am now. As an account manager, I helped with the administration of our client accounts. Account managers are the clients’ first contact for statements, requests, or questions. I also helped with reports clients might need.

I was promoted to Operations Manager toward the end of 2020. I’m now managing people and learning how all our systems connect with each other. My background is in taking a process or a workflow, breaking it down, and rebuilding it more efficiently. I’m not saying what we’ve been doing is inefficient; this is just how I learn. And I’m looking at our processes with growth in mind. Will this procedure work when we’re at a higher volume of clients?

It's what I enjoy most about my job - the challenge of learning something new, seeing how it works and how it correlates with everything else, then breaking it down to see if rebuilding it will create efficiencies.

We focus on strengths at HighGround. What are your strengths and how do they impact your work?
I really like our emphasis on strengths. I think focusing on what members of a team are good at and how each person complements the other is a positive way to build a team.

My top 5 are Intellection, Input, Developer, Consistency, and Learner. Input means I want all the information and data, and Intellection means I want to sit with that information and think deeply about it before giving an answer or providing guidance. I like to think critically about things.

Consistency in my role means I want us to operate in a way that is right and reliable. I want us to run like a well-oiled machine. I prefer to be proactive, instead of reactive.

And so much has been new this past year, it helps that I enjoy learning. Everything filters through the operations department, so we have to understand aspects of every other department to do our jobs well.

Tell us about a favorite memory or story from your time at HighGround.
My favorite story so far is my hiring story. I had a phone interview first. I guess there was something I said that made them feel I wasn’t a good fit for the position, so HighGround passed on me.

A week or so later, the recruiter called me back and explained that it was a unique situation, but HighGround would like to interview me again. I was already in Dallas for a training, so I was able to do this interview in person.

The HR manager gave me directions to the office. I’m a small-town, country girl, and driving in downtown Dallas already scared me. I turned into what I thought was the parking garage. My car was on a steep decline going into this garage, and the gate wasn’t opening. I called the HR manager, and she realized she had given me directions to HighGround’s old building. So, I had to reverse out while in this steep position and pray that I wouldn’t slam into the gate or hit a pedestrian or car as I was backing out, since I couldn’t see behind me. I got out safely and then had to turn around to start all over. I was so frazzled at that point, I almost decided to not go to the interview.

What is one of your most rewarding achievements or moments while at HighGround?
Not to sound cliché but getting the Tal Award was pretty special because my peers selected me. It makes me feel really proud. Last year was the hardest year of my professional career. I lost my main processor to retirement, and I recently lost another to retirement. The two of them had been on the team for 16 and 22 years. This award means a lot to me, to be acknowledged and appreciated by my co-workers in this way.

Which of the HGA core values resonates most deeply with you and why?
I’d say Visionary. It’s the way I seek to operate and conduct myself. I want to improve current processes and workflows. I never want to forget where we come from, but in order to grow and expand, we have to prepare for what is to come. I want to look at us down the road and always keep where we’re headed in mind.

How do you like to spend your time? What are your hobbies or passions?
I’m definitely a “family and friends” girl. I have a close-knit friend group that is like family. I play pool and darts, and I’m trying to get back into yoga and weight-lifting. I’m also a dog mom to my chihuahua, Charli. I rescued her while living in Austin.

How about we end with a favorite quote of yours?
I like this one from Steve Jobs: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”