“All of my careers have been rooted in community,” says Gina Phillips, WeWork’s general manager for the Northwest. And while that may come as no surprise given WeWork’s values, Phillips has learned more about community and identity through ultimate frisbee—the passion she discovered as a teenager—than she ever imagined.
Today, Phillips oversees five of WeWork’s Northwest markets: Vancouver, Calgary, Seattle, Bellevue, and Portland. Her day-to-day workflow involves touring new real estate options, interviewing job candidates, and talking with the sales team about expansion into new markets, all while making sure the buildings are running smoothly, the members are happy, and the market is growing. In short, she ensures the community is thriving.
Phillips manages to find balance by thinking of her life as a Venn diagram. “I strive to address multiple needs at once by doing them together,” she says. For her, ultimate frisbee checks three boxes: exercising, spending quality time with friends, and satisfying her competitive spirit. She was introduced to ultimate frisbee the summer before she started college in Austin 15 years ago; since then, she’s competed in 14 ultimate frisbee championships—two world and 12 national championships.
Phillips, the daughter of a South Korean immigrant was a committed high school athlete in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. She rowed, played basketball, and competed in track-and-field, and always had a preference for team sports. But these environments were cutthroat, she remembers. “You were supposed to hate the other teams and throw elbows whenever you could,” she says.
So when she started playing ultimate frisbee, the differences between her newest sport and her previous athletic history were clear.
“There is a huge emphasis on sports-personship,” explains Phillips. Ultimate frisbee operates on what players call “the spirit of the game”; the sport is self-policing, and there is an exceptional amount of respect for the opposing team.
This collaborative environment helped Phillips mature from a moral standpoint; she says that her mind-set morphed from “I can only get better if you lose” to “We can all get better together.”
Ultimate frisbee offered her a tight-knit circle of friends on the University of Texas campus. And in 2010, when Phillips chased her roots to South Korea to teach English and learn Korean, she immediately felt at home with the “goofy and celebratory” frisbee community—one made up of newcomers and veterans, expats and natives. She eventually became the co-captain of South Korea’s national team.
Through ultimate frisbee tournaments, Phillips was able to visit cities like Winnipeg, Italy, and Shanghai and get to know the local culture. Each time she and her teammates traveled to a new city, the hosting country’s team would plan the social agenda for the weekend, showing visitors local spots and offering them places to stay, exemplifying the ultimate frisbee hospitality Phillips has come to love. This “frisbee tourism,” as she calls it, allowed her to see a new city through the eyes of those who lived there.
After roughly two years teaching English and both organizing and playing in ultimate frisbee tournaments in South Korea, Phillips moved to Seattle, where she was drawn to the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. She tried out for a local ultimate frisbee league that happened to be one of the best women’s teams in the world.
She was crushed when she was cut from tryouts. “It shook my sense of identity,” she remembers. “I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I had a habit of measuring self-worth in terms of accomplishments.”
In 2013, following initial disappointment from her first tryout, Phillips began playing for a different team while working for the online entrepreneurial community Startups in Seattle. It was here where she spearheaded Seattle Startup Week, a weeklong event showcasing the city’s up-and-comers. It was also here, in 2013, where she was introduced to WeWork when a few WeWork employees attended Seattle Startup Week while scouting a location in the city. With Phillips heavily involved in the startup scene, those employees asked her to grab coffee—and a few months later, Phillips was hired as WeWork’s first employee in Seattle.
Over time, it became difficult for Phillips to juggle her job at WeWork with the demanding schedule of club ultimate frisbee. Instead of giving up the sport and relinquishing that part of her identity, Phillips found an ultimate frisbee league with a more flexible schedule, allowing her to play when she can and keep up old friendships through nationwide tournaments. These tournaments make it so that ultimate frisbee checks multiple boxes once again.
She’s often reminded of the strong community that surrounds the ultimate frisbee scene. “I have no fear moving anywhere,” she says, for she knows that no matter where she goes, she will foster a community that will make her feel at home.