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Alumni Spotlight

Small Town, Big Business

At the base of lofty Mount Nebo in rural Utah, Traci Memmott wraps up a conference call with a team in New York City. She jots down a few notes, gathers her things to leave, and closes up shop—she has an important appointment.

Memmott drives a few minutes down the road to a field teeming with sweaty boys in pads and helmets. Breathing in the fresh autumn air, she settles onto the cold bench next to her husband, Chris, to watch their son’s football game.

Memmott lives what she calls a dual life—the best of two worlds.

The 1990 MAcc grad is vice president of HR and PR operations for American Express Global Business Travel, a company that provides travel planning and meetings management to businesses in nearly 140 countries. But unlike other cosmopolitan VPs, her corporate command post is stationed in a repurposed grocery store in Nephi, Utah, rather than on the ninetieth floor of a Manhattan skyscraper. So when Memmott isn’t leading a global team of forty, building payroll systems in record time, or flying to and from the Big Apple, she’s watching her boys play sports, exploring the beauty of the Wasatch Mountains, and improving the local rodeo’s ticketing system.

This VP is a country girl at heart.

The Provincial Life

A simple, small-town lifestyle is something that Memmott never really wanted to give up—even for a corporate gig.

When she was about to start high school, Memmott moved with her family to Nephi. That’s where she met Chris. They began dating her senior year and continued seeing each other after she left for BYU. Chris soon followed her to Provo, studying at Utah Tech—now Utah Valley University—and the two married in 1988, when Memmott was a couple of years into the accounting program.

“The chance to leave Utah came when I graduated,” says Memmott. “I was probably more ready to leave town than Chris.” The couple talked it over. Chris had a good job, and they decided Utah was a good place to raise a family, so they settled in American Fork.

A few years later, Memmott was working as finance manager at Amex, and both she and her husband were spending a lot of time away from home for their careers. With their oldest son, Walker, about to start kindergarten, they realized they wanted to be around more.

“We decided to move back to Nephi, and we started looking for jobs that would help us do that,” says Memmott. That’s when Amex approached her about joining its global reengineering team. She said yes, but with one stipulation: “I want to be virtual. I don’t want to move,” she told them. Not wanting to lose Memmott, Amex agreed.

So the family set up shop in the old grocery store; she uses the office space in the front, and Chris runs his telecommunications contracting business in the back.

Memmott does have to commute cross-country about ten weeks a year, but she tries to make it to as many of her boys’ football and basketball games as she can, even if that means she has earbuds in, talking with someone in New York. “My kids always laugh—I’m on the phone constantly,” she says.

Memmott’s decision to pursue two dissimilar paths stems from some advice she received at BYU in an ethics class with

K. Fred Skousen, then dean of the Marriott School. She says, “I will never forget what he said: ‘Do not choose a career. Choose a lifestyle, and make choices about your career that support that lifestyle.’ I’m the poster child for that.”

The Corporate Rodeo

At the end of June 2014, American Express and private-equity firm Certares closed a deal on a joint venture: American Express Global Business Travel (GBT). The company had to start from the ground up. Meanwhile, Memmott’s job as VP of HR reporting and analytics for Amex was being eliminated, and she wasn’t sure what she would do next.

Then she received a phone call asking her to be a part of GBT’s endeavor as vice president of HR operations.

After only a few weeks on the job, Memmott was given what she considered an impossible task: create and implement both a payroll system and an HR system for 12,000 employees in twenty-six countries in nine months. “I said, ‘It ain’t gonna happen,’” she remembers. Her team echoed the sentiment.

But Memmott took on the challenge, and she and her team started from square one: They sought out, negotiated, and signed contracts with vendors throughout the world. They evaluated, designed, and created the processes for payroll and HR—from recruitment to benefits and retirement. Working weekly hours that far exceeded the conventional forty, Memmott made hundreds of decisions each day. She was regularly on the phone—and more often in Manhattan than in central Utah. Some days were like trying to ride a bull, and all Memmott could do was hold on.

On 1 May 2015, the new payroll system went live—right on schedule.

Getting everything up and running in such a short amount of time was a big accomplishment, Memmott says: “We’re pretty proud of it.” Along the way she discovered that the well-known aphorism is true—with a few variations: “It takes a village to make a company run, but it also takes every kind of skill set,” she says. With the right team, “absolutely anything is possible. You can do anything in any given amount of time.”

The right team didn’t come along by chance though. Memmott handpicked the members herself—based on the potential she saw in them. She had worked with several of them before, but she placed them in

Traci Memmott named one condition when asked to direct Amex’s global reengineering team: remote work from her rural home in Nephi, Utah. Today a VP at American Express Global Business Travel, Memmott still leads her international team from small-town headquarters.

completely new roles. And then she watched them thrive. “When I say anybody can do anything, it’s my team that has shown me all the things that they can do,” she says. Those she invited to her team knew that she believed in them—and they wanted to prove her right.

Changing Leads

That’s actually how Memmott herself took the foray into HR from accounting.

Fresh out of the Tanner Building, Memmott started filing corporate taxes—on paper, she laughs. In 1996 she was offered a position where her background and skills fit about 75 percent of the job description—finance manager at Amex. Willing to take a risk, she learned the rest on the job and transitioned away from taxes.

When that position wrapped up, Amex was forming their global reengineering team, and they asked her to come to the HR department and help change their systems and the way they thought about data. She had gained experience with systems as finance manager, so she made another jump.

Memmott was invited back into accounting in 2004, this time as CFO of Amex Centurion Bank. She was excited to be working with numbers again and pleased with the title and added responsibility. She thought, “This is where I really want to be; I’m never going to leave accounting again.”

But two years later she was asked to be the director of HR at Amex, and six years after that she moved into her current position. “HR has turned out to be the right place for my analytical mind,” she says.

Ropes and Reins

Country life has also proved to be a good fit for Memmott’s talents.

When the family moved to Nephi in 2001, Memmott’s father was on the Ute Stampede Rodeo board of directors, and her mother assisted with ticket sales. To help out that year, Memmott and her family worked the ticket booth.

The next year the rodeo’s board wanted to move to a computerized ticketing system. “Nobody knew how to do that,” Memmott says. So she drew on her work skills to digitize the process.

Then a position on the board of directors opened up. Chris had always had an interest in the rodeo—and his grandfather had been on the board—so he decided to run for the spot, not really expecting to be elected. Memmott was working in New York when she received the phone call. “I got on,” Chris told her, surprised and slightly panicked because he knew the amount of volunteer work in store. “That got us active in the rodeo and the cowboy community,” Memmott explains.

Soon after, Memmott began managing the ticket booth, and her three boys—Walker, age nineteen; Tucker, age fifteen; and Colter, age seven—got roped into helping. “With us being so involved,” she says, “they have jobs to do all summer long and could run the whole thing themselves.”

The work helped Walker—who is now serving in the Montana Billings Mission—land his Eagle Scout and a state-sponsored scholarship. On his application he wrote about volunteering at the rodeo and how helping others was something his parents had taught him. “As much as the boys complain,” Memmott laughs, “they’re learning something.”

Memmott’s most recent rodeo feat was upgrading online ticket sales last summer, resulting in 21,000 filled seats for the three-day show. The online platform cut ticket sales staff cost by a third, and for the first time in a decade all rodeo goers were in their seats for the start—not standing in a ticket line.

Though the Memmotts don’t rodeo themselves—they’d rather ride motorcycles than horses—they treasure their volunteer work. “The people involved in the rodeo are very true,” Memmott says. “What you see is what you get, and that’s what they expect of you. It’s a great dimension to add to your life.”

Back in the Saddle

Memmott has constructed her dual life by grabbing the opportunities that have come and exploring new avenues. She made the seminal decision to try something new when she was a freshman at BYU. She had enrolled as a theater major and had a drama scholarship to almost every school in the state except BYU. “But that was where I wanted to go,” she says. However, she quickly learned that theater wasn’t the right fit, so she switched to something that felt more intuitive: taxes and accounting.

Every opportunity since then has been a building block for the next one. “As I look backward, I never could have scripted my life coming out of the Tanner Building twenty-five years ago,” she says.

Looking forward, Memmott hopes to someday get back onstage, reawakening her love for acting, but for now she’s focused on her next move at GBT: improving the processes she and her team implemented last year. And she’ll be making the majority of those changes from her desk in Nephi.

“I get off a plane and drive down I-15, and I’m so happy to be home,” she says. “I love it here.”

_

Written by Lena May Harper
Photography by Bradley Slade

About the Author
Lena May Harper edits and writes at Brigham Young University. Her projects include the Law School magazine Clark Memorandum, BYU Speeches, and any number of brochures, invitations, and greeting cards. A student of ballet, she lives in Provo with her feisty lionhead rabbit, Willa.

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