Gil Atanasoff, Senior Helpers

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Gil Atanasoff, executive director, Senior Helpers.

1. What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

Most challenging: Finding — and keeping — enough caregivers to provide consistent care for our clients, and ensuring we have the right match between the two.

Most rewarding: Helping our clients and being considered part of their family. In many cases, mom or dad cannot get out of the house, or even out of bed, without our assistance. And while it’s a sad time when a client passes, when we’re named in their obituary we know we’re doing something right!

2. Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

My first manager at my first job after graduating from college — Karen Jensen of Harley-Davidson Motor Company. She taught me many important things early on in my career, before I had to “unlearn” any bad habits. What sticks with me are: skills can be taught, so hire people with the right attitude and willingness to learn; let the quality of your work do the bragging for you; and finally, almost anyone can be a good manager but it takes compassion to be a great leader.

3. What has been the high point of your career so far?

The highlight of my career was back in 2011 or 2012 when I was still with GE Healthcare, on a customer visit in Bangalore, India. I was responsible for our pre-owned X-ray and interventional equipment at the time, and a 10-month old boy was having stents put in his heart with the assistance of our equipment. One of the technicians in the room turned to me and said the boy would have died if not for this operation. Having this kind of impact is what makes work truly fulfilling!

4. Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

I’d tell my 21-year-old self to take a chance on a startup or entrepreneurial opportunity. I’m very fortunate that I’ve gotten that chance with Senior Helpers later in my career, but other opportunities came and went that I thought were too risky or scary to even consider. Looking back, I should’ve jumped into something sooner. Then again, I believe everything happens for a reason, so perhaps I waited until just the right time when my opportunity with Senior Helpers came along.

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5. What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

I love the sense of community in Dane County. Even though it’s the second largest county (by population) in Wisconsin, there’s a sense that everyone knows everyone or at least goes out of their way to make you feel welcomed. People take great pride in the local business community, too, and in caring for the elderly, which makes the work we do at Senior Helpers that much easier.  

6. Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

For some reason, I seem to be really good at negotiating cable and satellite TV packages. On one occasion, my sister-in-law was trying to get the same deal I had, and she even shared a copy of my bill with the representative, who responded by saying, “Oh, wow … I have no idea how your brother-in-law got that deal, but there’s no way I can match that!” On another occasion, I called after my current promotion ended, expecting to pay a little more each month. Instead, I got an additional premium channel, as was paying $10 less per month for the next year!

7. What are your guilty pleasures?

I really love watching TV, which includes reality TV. I probably shouldn’t admit this but I’ve watched every season of Survivor … and The Bachelor … and American Idol … and MasterChef … and others.

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