Virginia (Gina) Lodge has taken any opportunity that has come her way, including joining FSI, Inc. as CEO, serving as a cabinet member for former Governor Bredesen’s administration, serving as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, an appointment by President Barack Obama to serve on the board of directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority and sharing her passion for education through STEM Preparatory Academy, Nashville Library Foundation and Harpeth Hall School Board of Trustees. Her involvement in non-profits, politics and government is as interesting as it is diverse. As a Nashvillian, consider yourself lucky that Gina Lodge is an active member of our community. Take a moment to learn more about Gina and her work, and welcome her as today’s FACE of Nashville.
Tell us about your background.
Originally, I had planned to teach English literature at the college level. Between my Master’s degree and beginning to work on a Ph.D., I needed to save enough money to enable me to support myself while in school. I got a job on Scoop Jackson’s presidential campaign, and became hooked on politics and government service. Scoop lost to Jimmy Carter, but took those of us in the finance/accounting group (the only ones left on the campaign at that point) to the convention in New York. It was there that I met Pat Moynihan, who asked me to come to New York and set up the federal accounting operation for his Senate campaign. I don’t believe it could be done today, but at that time, June of 1976, he was just making his decision to run in an August primary for senator. Although no one thought he could win, I thought it would be fun to live in New York for a few months, so I said yes. Well, he won the primary and then won the general election. At that point, he asked me to go to Washington and set up his Senate offices. It was at an initial meeting for new Senate staffers that I met Dick Lodge, who had come to D.C. as Senator Sasser’s legislative director. We married a year later and moved back (for him) to Tennessee so he could return to the practice of law, and I could begin an MBA program at Vanderbilt. We’ve been in Nashville ever since and have loved being engaged in this community and raising our two children here.
What attracts you to politics?
The hope that you can help make the world a better place. I know that sounds idealistic, but I’m a child of the ’60s. It’s harder for me to be attracted to politics today. Not always, but much of the time, it doesn’t feel as though politicians are looking for real solutions. They’re looking to take a position, have a good sound bite and stay on the good side of whichever group is their major funder. Again, that’s too broad a brush, but I wish more people on both sides of the aisle would worry less about re-election and more about accomplishing something while they’re there.
In your role as cabinet member for former TN Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration you served as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services. What changes were you able to make to streamline this department?
Being commissioner of this department may have been the most rewarding position I have ever had. You have the ability to make decisions that impact so many people’s lives — I hope for the better. One of the projects we were able to take from a wish to completion was building and staffing Family Assistance Service Centers. These were large call centers strategically built in areas where jobs were badly needed. They enabled the people we served to receive the help and benefits they needed by phone and fax. So often the people most in need do not have access to transportation, and being able to call the center and often have a family member with them to help navigate the system was the difference between getting the help they needed or doing without.
What strategies, goals and objectives do you hope to establish for the Tennessee Valley Authority?
As a director, my overall objectives have been to encourage TVA to continue to work on transparency in all it does, to continue to work on reducing its debt so that we don’t trap future rate payers with higher and higher rates in order to continue funding increasing debt, and to work hard on increasing our use of renewables and energy efficiency while fulfilling our obligation to keep rates as low as possible.
Tell us about your work for FSI.
I have spent most of my life in non-profits, politics and government. When my time as commissioner ended, I thought about retiring, but a friend came to me with an idea that seemed a bit strange at the time: to join a supply chain company here in town. What I knew about supply chain would not have filled a postcard, but it intrigued me to try something new. Throughout my life, I have never had a very straight career path. I have just taken opportunities that came my way, often with fear, and trembling that I would fail. I’ve learned from each of these opportunities, and I realized I wasn’t ready to stop learning. After four years as CEO of the company, Chief Development Officer Brian Hadfield (an incredibly smart young man) and I decided that we wanted to grow this company, not just build it enough to sell. We were able to strike a deal with our investors and buy the company.
In your tenure as CEO, what objectives have you accomplished?
FSI had become a bit lost in its direction and gotten into areas where it really didn’t have the right expertise and was losing money. We moved away from that area of business and got refocused on what we are really good at doing. We will never be the very cheapest because we are not big enough for that, but we are exceptional at understanding other companies’ needs and tailoring a solution to meet those needs. We are now profitable, able to offer medical and 401K matching benefits to our employees, and have upgraded our warehouse to make it more efficient.
What is left on your to-do list to accomplish?
Finish the transfer to a new computer system, continue to grow the business and, hopefully, reach a point where we can implement meaningful profit sharing with our employees.
What about the Nashville community and organizations do you find so attractive?
It’s been said many times, but Nashville is an incredibly committed and giving community. The problem here is that there are so many fabulous organizations it’s hard not to want to get involved in more than is doable. I think that people who don’t get involved miss so much of the vibrancy of this city.
You are a champion for education. What are local organizations doing to increase access to and quality of education in Nashville?
I think we are fortunate to have had political, corporate and civic leaders who understand the essential value of education for the future of our community. Again, there are disagreements about the best approaches, but recognizing the value and the need are the foundation. When I was commissioner and had to cut parts of my budget in lean times, I always said I’d be angry if I didn’t know that the cuts were made in order to put as much money as possible into education. From my perspective, almost every other issue we deal with from poverty to healthcare to crime has its core in a lack of a strong education.
Where can we find you when you aren’t working?
Often at home with my feet up. When lucky enough, I get to Sewanee to enjoy the mountain. And now more frequently I am on the road to Memphis to see my grandchildren who moved there this summer.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received, and from whom?
You can’t control someone else’s response. You can only say or do what is true for you and be ready to deal with whatever response you get. That was a freeing thought that was given to me from a valued counselor.
Excluding friends, family and faith, what are three things you can’t live without?
Literally can’t live without would have to be air, water and food. However, if it’s wouldn’t like to live without, it would be coffee, wine and travel.
Thank you to Virginia Lodge for answering all of our questions. A special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s gorgeous photos of Gina!
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