CEO worked his way up after being homeless

One of Gabriel Bristol’s first memories is of being outside a small, brick police station in Texas, standing alone in the light of a single streetlamp looking out into the darkness that surrounded him. His mother had been arrested for heroin possession and prostitution, and the police wouldn’t let him in the building. He was 3.

Now, the east valley resident is president and CEO of Intelicare Direct, 4330 S. Valley View Blvd., Suite 114, which provides customer service on behalf of other companies, but it wasn’t a job he expected to have, and it wasn’t an easy journey to get there.

“I was raised in a series of foster homes,” Bristol said. “Then I was adopted by a very religious family, but they were extremely abusive. I was hit nearly every day. I’ve been homeless a couple times in my life.”

It was the job that helped bring him off of the streets.

“When I was a young man in Flint, Mich., I was dating someone who was working at a call center,” Bristol said. “I said I would never do telemarketing. You know the kind of reputation those people have. The funny thing is that at the time, I was homeless. I was giving blood for money, and I didn’t think the job was up to my standards.”

Eventually, he did take a job there, thinking it was just temporary while he looked for something better, but a strange thing happened. He found he had an affinity for the work. In a few days, he was told he was the best in the office.

“Flash forward, and I’m overseeing some of the largest call centers in North America,” Bristol said. “Flash forward a few more years, and I’m president and CEO of a company growing by almost 100 percent each year.”

A little more than three years ago, the business was housed in a former auto repair shop with no air conditioning

“We had a swamp cooler, but you know those don’t work very well,” said Kevin Simpson, the company’s member services manager. “It was so loud, we’d have to turn it off because it was hard to hear the calls. It had a roll-up door, and when we had big rain storms, we’d have to push it back out with a broom to keep the place from flooding.”

The company began expanding and moved to its current location. Three months later, it needed even more room. Bristol is already eyeing the walls and trying to figure out which spaces are available and which walls can be knocked down for the next expansion.

For Simpson, the job provides opportunity. Before working at Intelicare Direct, he was in construction, and he believes that because many people assume construction workers are less intelligent, he might have been unable to make the transition to an office job.

Many of the company’s operating practices are informed by Bristol’s early challenges. Along with break rooms, training rooms and a nap room, the company has a children’s play area.

“A lot of the people who are attracted to call center jobs are single parents and people who are struggling,” Bristol said. “Often, they have to decide if they’re going to leave their child at home alone or go to work. It helps to retain employees when they don’t have to make that choice.”

In a former job, Bristol had to make that choice, and he feels that his decision to stay home with his children when other care was unavailable negatively impacted his position.

Not only are children allowed at work but so are pets. There is an an employee who is charged with creating weekly employee appreciation events whose title is “head of the fun committee.” The break room has table tennis and Netflix.

“The job is awesome,” said Hilario Reyes, who has been with the company since February. “You get to talk and interact with so many people. We’re all united here.”

Bristol believes that by keeping the staff happy, it improves output. He doesn’t like that some companies try to succeed by being faster or cheaper or outsourcing the work to another country where the staff speaks marginal English with a heavy accent, adding to communication problems. He doesn’t have a set time limit for how long the staff can deal with a customer’s issue.

“When we talk to our customers, we will be on the phone until the problem is resolved and the caller is happy,” Bristol said. “If that takes one minute, great. If that takes an hour and 15, that’s just as well. I believe we provide some of the best customer service available.”

Bristol hasn’t talked much about his past until recently, as he didn’t think it was a pleasant conversation, but he began to let his guard down on the issue, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive, he said. He’s been told by enough people that they find his story inspiring, and that’s prompting him to open up even more about it.

“I’m passionate about being able to come back from a bad situation, and I let my employees know that,” he said.

Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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