Executive Holidays: Cynt Marshall, Chad Houser, Chris Kelly, and More

It’s safe to say that we’re all ready to bid goodbye to 2020. The editors of D CEO recently checked in with area execs to see how they’re planning to spend their holidays and what resolutions they’re setting for the new year. To read part one in this series, featuring Charlotte Jones, Ben Lamm, Bob Pryor, and more, click here.

The halls are decked at the home of Cynt Marshall, shown here with her four children.

Cynt Marshall
CEO, Dallas Mavericks

Holiday traditions: “I have several: Decorating the house the day after Thanksgiving. I took my time this year since the kids weren’t home to make me go Black Friday shopping. Watching Christmas with the Kranks to kick off the holidays. Attending the local ballet’s Nutcracker performance. Making my husband go to church with the family on Christmas Eve. Wearing our Christmas pajamas and watching sports and movies all day on Christmas. This year will include watching the Mavs beat the LA Lakers. (Oops, maybe I better say ‘play’ instead of ‘beat.’) Sweating over which pics to use for the annual holiday card and deciding if the kid’s parents should be featured, although I’m currently on a two-year hiatus from the card. Going to Lake Tahoe for a week after Christmas. Currently on hiatus from that, too. … My favorite holiday treats are Harry and David pears, and my homemade sweet potato pie is famous.”

Favorite gift: “Other than salvation, a Lite Brite when I was in elementary school.”

On this year’s wish list: “Dolce & Gabbana: The One! I just ran out.”

Down-time tips: “Identify in advance the non-work days—be reasonable—and become physically distant from work devices on those days. Communicate the non-work days to family members and set a time to watch a movie or play a game. Most people are off, so it’s one of the few times of the year that work distractions should be at a minimum. Leaders should make it clear that they expect people to rejuvenate and not work. Preparing for a Mavs game is really not work. It’s fun; it doesn’t count.”

New Year’s resolution: “I am going to publish my cancer book. It’s been 10 years since my diagnosis, and I have a story to tell.”

Other leaders I’d like to see answer this Q&A: “Bob Pragada of Jacobs and Beth Garvey of BG Staffing.”

Chad Houser
Founder, CEO, and Executive Chef, Café Momentum

Holiday traditions: “In our family, you always know it’s Christmas when my Aunt Suzy serves her bacon-wrapped green beans.”

Favorite gift: “Definitely the GT Pro Performer bicycle with front and rear pegs that I spent a solid six months pleading my case for when I was 12 years old.”

On this year’s wish list: “It’s probably cliche to say this, but I get way more excited buying gifts than I do receiving them. I spend more time digging through websites than thinking about what I want.”

Down-time tips: “Put up an out-of-office alert on your email, so you don’t worry about having to constantly respond.”

New Year’s resolution: “I need to get back to reading more books, so I am resolving to read for 30 minutes a day every day.”

Other leaders I’d like to see fill out this Q&A: “Byron Sanders at Big Thought.”

Chris Kelly says his favorite gifts are the ones his children make themselves.

Chris Kelly
President and CEO, Ebby Halliday Cos.

Holiday traditions: “I really love Christmas Eve. Our family would always gather at my mom’s house and it was a big gathering and it was loud! Later in the evening, my stepdad would dress as Santa and hand out gifts to all the grandchildren. They were always so surprised and happy every year. Our daughter figured it out one year when she was about 7. When we were driving home, she said, ‘Santa smells like Grampy.’ We told him he needed to lay off the Old Spice.”

Favorite gifts: “My favorite gifts are the ones that my kids make themselves. Typically, that means coupons that require them to do things without complaining, which makes Dad’s like a lot easier!”

On this year’s wish list: “This year I have a lot of new casual clothes on my wish list—shirts that are Zoom appropriate and comfortable to wear around the house because let’s face it, there is no such thing as work clothes and home clothes anymore.”

Down-time tips: “My best tip for attempting to disconnect a bit over the holidays or a vacation is to create a folder in your inbox titled ‘For Later.’ Any emails that come in, just slide them into that folder. For me, my anxiety comes from seeing all the emails build up in my in-box. So, by sliding them into a folder for follow up after the holiday or travel, you aren’t staring at them every time you look at your phone. Also, when you do go into and respond to or address the emails, you will find that more than half magically worked themselves out without your involvement!”

New Year’s resolution: “A resolution for 2021 is to continue to encourage our team members and myself to get the rest and time away; it’s needed to be agile, responsive, and productive in the high-paced market we are living in right now. We provide PTO for a reason, and it’s a true health benefit to use it.”

Other leaders I’d like to see fill out this Q&A: “I would love to see Dale Petroskey from the Dallas Regional Chamber complete this.”

Peter Brodsky
President, Red Bird Development Group

Holiday traditions: “Even though we are Jewish, we love Christmas, everything from trimming the tree as a family to the magic of Santa when our kids were little. To this day, the rule in our family is: if you don’t believe, you don’t receive.”

Holiday memories: “I have two favorites. The first is the awe of watching my uncle Mark show me how this crazy machine called a Sony Walkman worked after he got one at Christmas 1979 when I was 9 years old. The second is staying up all night 24 years later to put together a train set for my 3-year-old son Jacob, who is now 20.”

Favorite gift: “Simon, sometime in the early 1980s.”

On this year’s wish list: “All I want for Christmas is a low credit card bill.”

Down-time tips: “If you are lucky enough to have a job from which you can take a vacation over the holidays, relax and enjoy it; the problems in the office will still be there next year. Be grateful that you are in a position to take the time off. If there is one thing we should all clearly understand after this year, it is that frontline workers deserve huge gratitude for working when others are not.”

New Year’s resolution: “Try to keep the best of quarantine—more family time, quieter weekends—even after this horrible pandemic is over.”

Hubert Zajicek recently set up his own Gluehwein (mulled wine) stand in his front yard as a nonprofit fundraiser.

Hubert Zajicek
Co-founder and CEO, Health Wildcatters

Holiday traditions: “Being from Austria, there are too many to count; however, I love the Christmas Markets in Austria, which often raise funds for charity. I wondered how I could innovate on that centuries-old tradition this year and decided to have my own Gluehwein (mulled wine) stand in my front yard. I built a stand, decorated it, and invited a bunch of people. I changed it up a little bit and made it an event where folks would come by masked with their inner COVID circle/family, grab a cup of gluhwein or hot chocolate, and then go on a walk-in Lakewood to watch Christmas lights. The proceeds went to the Rotary Club of Dallas Foundation, earmarked for its Feed the Need initiative, benefitting the North Texas Food Bank.”

Favorite gift: “I treasure the Christmas ornaments we have on our tree. They aren’t valuable monetarily, but each tells a story. The story associated with each ornament is written on their respective boxes. When we hang them every year, I read many of the stories aloud while the girls hang the ornaments. Yes, Austrian Christmas music is playing while we do that!”

On this year’s wish list: “My biggest wish is for us all to beat COVID. I know I won’t get that gift by Christmas, but hopefully later in 2021.”

Down-time tips: “I am better off cleaning my email inbox out in the morning and then not checking it the rest of the day. I rarely can totally switch off when I am in Dallas; when I’m away, it is a little bit easier.”

New Year’s resolution: “To keep innovating. We all have learned to be nimbler and not to take too much for granted. If something can’t be done the way it has ‘always’ been done, then I want to find new ways to make it happen. I’m tired of everything being canceled.”

Other leaders I’d like to see fill out this Q&A: Kathleen Gibson, president and CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation.

Kellie Fischer
CFO, Texas Rangers

Holiday traditions: “We make a point each New Year’s Eve to say goodbye to the current year by burning wood address numbers representing the year in our backyard fireplace. Each of us in the house and any guests we have can write whatever they want on the numbers to signify an end to that year. Cue Dallas Fire Department now, because we have more to burn this year than ever before.”

Favorite gift: “A peach satin full-length dress made by Mrs. Claus herself when I was 6. Fortunately, peach and satin have yet to be used to describe clothing of mine ever since.”

On this year’s wish list: “A vaccine.”

Down-time tips: “Balance does not mean equal at all times. Being realistic and honest with yourself about what can be accomplished is a great gift.”

New Year’s resolution: “Take a more active role in my schedule. Similar to the rest of the world, without travel and evening events, 2020 became monotonous (i.e., every Monday looked like every other Monday and like Tuesday and Wednesday, etc.). It was painfully evident how much of my schedule (work and personal) was controlled by others versus by me. I refuse to let that happen again, even while knowing it is fully likely to happen again.

Jon Altschuler’s kids and their overturned tree.

Jon Altschuler
Founder, Altschuler + Co.

Holiday traditions: “We always travel to New York City two days—not one day (wife)—after Christmas. Not this year!”

Favorite gift: “When I was a kid, my parents always gave me a Dallas Cowboys Bluebook.”

On this year’s wish list: “I want to go back to the French Open.”

Down-time tips: “I always take the kids’ winter break away from work. I love those two weeks.”

New Year’s resolution: “I’m going to read books voraciously. I always live and work my best when I’m reading.”

Other leaders I’d like to see answer this Q&A: “Craig Kessler of TopGolf, Carl Anderson of Larkspur, Ben Brewer of Hines, Elisabeth Jordan of the Human Impact, Annika Cail of Deal Value, and Bruce Ware of Davita”

Michael Meyers
VP of Operations, Weitzman

Holiday traditions: “I always enjoy searching for the awful white elephant gift I received last year to bring it to this year’s white elephant exchange.”

Downtime tips: “I work with my father-in-law and my sister-in-law, and the whole family travels together over the holidays every year. But, I’m really interested in learning more about this balance you talked about!”

New Year’s resolution: “Well, last year’s resolution was to spend more time with my family. I probably should have been more specific that I didn’t mean all the time! I might skip a resolution this year.”

Courtney Marcus and her family have extra reasons to celebrate the holidays this year.

Courtney S. Marcus
Co-managing Partner, Weil, Gotshal & Manges

Holiday traditions: “We have a tradition in my extended family of drawing names and writing a Christmas letter to that person. It’s an opportunity to slow down and really think about the impact that someone has on your life or to recognize and celebrate that person. As for holiday treats, given my San Antonio roots, it doesn’t feel like Christmas without tamales.”

Favorite gift:  “My son was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia last year.  My Christmas wish for 2019 was for good health. Today, he is in remission 10 months post-transplant. Best gift ever.”

On this year’s wish list:  “Peace on earth and goodwill toward all mankind.”

Down-time tips: “Enjoy the chaos, and pour a cocktail every now and then!”

New Year’s resolution: “I’m hoping to maintain some of the silver linings we’ve experienced in 2020—going on family walks, taking time to be thankful, and enjoying home-cooked meals, if my husband, the chef, doesn’t go on strike.”

Other leaders I’d like to see answer this Q&A: “Kellie Fischer, CFO of the Texas Rangers.”

Lea A. Ellermeier
CEO, 2C MedTech

Holiday traditions: “Going to see A Christmas Carol at the Dallas Theater Center with my son. We have gone every year for the past 19 years. My favorite Christmas treat is pecan pie, with fresh whipped cream.”

Favorite gift: “When I was 4 years old, I got a black-and-red cowboy outfit that included a toy pistol. My mother could not get me to take it off. I slept in it.”

On this year’s wish list: “The Mirror for at-home workouts.”

Downtime tips: “It may be the end of the quarter, but it’s also a time to take a deep breath and focus on those you love. Try and hit your numbers by the 23rd!”

New Year’s resolution: “To allow myself more personal creative time without guilt. 2020 showed me that I could be much more efficient than I ever thought and that making room for creativity wouldn’t hurt my business.”

Other leaders I’d like to see answer this Q&A: “Claire Haider, CEO at WYNDR.”

Frannie Gardner (center) and her Gardner Wallace team recently volunteered for Wreaths Across America at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.

Frannie Gardner
Founding Partner, Gardner Wallace Financial Solutions

Holiday traditions: “Making gingerbread houses with my grandkids. Cooking the potato latkes with my mom and annoying her with my cooking skills or lack thereof.”

Favorite holiday memory: “Watching the sunrise with my father in Cancun—just the two of us.”

Favorite gift: “Presents from my husband, Robert. I never return them and never give them back.”

On this year’s wish list: “To get out of this year alive and well.”

Down-time tips: “Embrace the gift of being together in whatever form it takes this year. This year has been so less stressful because there are no, zero, nada parties.”

New Year’s resolution: “To be resilient; nobody knows what is going to happen.”

Lindsey Miller
Founder, Lindsey Miller Public Relations

Holiday traditions: “We always gather at my dad’s home for a huge home-cooked meal with my family, our uncles, aunts, cousins, and dear friends who stop by. Dad’s house has always been an open invitation to some of our closest and dearest friends outside of our family over the holidays. Making a fire and sitting out in the back after dinner, laughing and listening to music until it’s time to head home is a highlight. Our oldest son usually spends the night, which is a big treat for momma on Christmas morning.”
Favorite gift: “One year, my husband spent weeks gathering up all our photo prints—easily hundreds that span over decades—and separated them in beautiful leather boxes with a theme of pre-high school, high school, college, post-college, marriage, and kids. It was awesome!”
On this year’s wish list: “We found a fabulous photographer based out of Chicago one year at the Deep Ellum Art Festival. I would love one of his pieces of a member of the Rabari tribe in India for the family room. It’s intensely beautiful and powerful. That being said, the best gift I could receive this year is the ability to be with my sisters, brother, parents, and extended family all in one home. It’s the little things I used to take for granted that have become hugely important now.”
Down-time tips: “We work incredibly long hours prior to Christmas and New Year’s: We do two months or more of work within only a few weeks. Between Christmas and New Year’s, is really one of the only times we get some sort of a break in the PR world—barring breaking news coverage or crisis management—because we never can totally take off in this business. Balancing work and family is even more critical. I always set aside time each day for my clients, but also work to be present with family and enjoy the time without stressing about deadlines. Some years are harder than others to allow myself to ‘take off,’ but I do think we all deserve it this year more than ever. Go easy on yourself and allow a reset. If we aren’t good to ourselves, we cannot be good to others.”
Other leaders I’d like to see fill out this Q&A: “Michael Miller, owner of Stablemade Group.”

Evan Stone, far right, with his extended family.

Evan Stone
Partner, Goodwin Advisors

Holiday traditions: “I have always loved this time of year and its focus on family. Things usually slow down and us parents get to have our kids around the house a bit more. Those are precious times, as kids grow up, drive, and spend more time with their friends. As for holiday treats, I do love a Greenberg Turkey, but unfortunately, no one is having them this year!”

Favorite gift: “Some of my favorite holiday memories are with my father and how happy he was to have all of his kids around him on Christmas Eve, and watching It’s a Wonderful Life with my brother Jeff.  With my kids, it’s lighting the Menorah and Christmas morning; we were a multi-religion household, and our kids made out like bandits with gifts!”

Favorite gift: “My stepsister, Elizabeth, gave me ELO’s “Out of the Blue” record when I was 14. That album really fueled my love for music and is one of my all-time favorites.”

On this year’s wish list: “My kids are in college, so time with them is usually in short supply. Spending time with them, real quality time is always the best gift I can receive.”

Down-time tips: “I think it is difficult in many aspects of commercial real estate to completely walk away from work during the holidays. These 10 days or so should certainly be family-focused, but getting in work here and there makes kicking off the new year much easier. I think the best advice is to cover what you need on the work side, but make sure you spend quality time with your family. That is what you are going to miss most when the kids are grown.”

New Year’s resolution: “Eat more veggies, up my cardio, and take a real vacation!”

Alvaro Luque
President and CEO, Avocados From Mexico

Holiday traditions: “As Latinos, our big holiday dinner is Christmas Eve, not Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, because of COVID, we are not traveling back to Costa Rica for the holidays as we always do. But I am looking forward to having a nice dinner with my family in Dallas and having all of our traditional treats, like port, sweet potato casserole, and tamales.”

Favorite gift: “More than the gift is the surprise. I like surprises, and I’ve had a lot in the past years and wish I have many more in the years to come.”

On this year’s wish list: “The end of COVID—period.”

Down-time tips: “I always associate the holidays with travel, so it is easier to disconnect and enjoy your time with family and friends. This is a unique year, but that should not be an excuse. Keep an eye on your important work projects, but take the time to plan so you can enjoy nice holiday evenings, short trips, or special activities with your family. Everyone needs time off and to enjoy the holidays.”

New Year’s resolution: “Use my Peloton bike more! And get back to normal life in 2021. I miss that.”

Joe Coniglio
Managing shareholder, Greenberg Traurig

Holiday traditions: “Going to Christmas Eve candlelight service and then coming home to eat shrimp, chili, and tamales. I grew up in Corpus Christi, so tamales are our South Texas tradition!”

Favorite gift: “The birth of our second of our four boys, Jackson, who was born right before Christmas in 2002.”

On this year’s wish list: “I enjoy doing yard work, so a leaf blower is on my list.”

Down-time tips: “Remember, it is more about quality time than quantity of time, and make sure you are in the moment so you can make lasting holiday memories.”

New Year’s resolution: “Find ways to be a better mentor and be mentored. Both are vital to success but are not achieved without intention.”

Other leaders I’d like to see fill out this Q&A: “Chris Morris, CEO of Main Event in Plano.”

Jared Pope
CEO and founder, Work Shield

Holiday traditions: “Having Christmas movie nights with the kids and baking goodies for our neighbors and friends. Also, one of my favorites is every Christmas Eve having dinner from Royal China. So much fun!”

Favorite gift: “My wife’s parents gave us a trip to the Aspen Food & Wine Festival, and I got to cook with Giada de Laurentiis.”

On this year’s wish list: “A range-finder for my golf game. It needs improving!”

Down-time tips: “It’s all about balance and focus. Set aside two or three hours in the morning to do any needed work/emails, then put the phone and computer down. This way, you can still focus on work as needed, then focus on the family the rest of the day without worrying or thinking about work. This usually allows for a more relaxed holiday and happy family!”

New Year’s resolution: “Personally, to run the Dallas half-marathon. As a former NCAA Division I runner with TCU, it’s time to lace up the shoes again! Professionally, Work Shield has an exciting 2021 in store. Most important goal: to grow our customer base by triple digits!”

Other leaders I’d like to see fill out this Q&A: “Shane Foss, CEO, and founder of Hooray Health, and Tim Powers, managing partner of Haynes & Boone.”

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