Alumni Spotlight: Elizabeth Skrzat

Elizabeth Skrzat (FPPA 2010) is currently the Executive Director at City Plants, a non-profit organization that works with the City of LA to plant and distribute 20,000 trees each year. She manages relationships with seven non-profit partners and several City entities to plant trees, uphold standards and guidelines, and identify and manage funds for early maintenance. Her goal is to grow a greener future for Los Angeles and works to ensure the program continues to raise the bar on performance year after year.  Elizabeth has played an integral role in raising $19 million for tree planting in the last five years.

We caught up with Elizabeth to reflect on her experience as a Coro Fellow, and how the Coro skills, relationships and knowledge she gained still play a key role in her life and career today.

Tell us one fun fact about yourself!
When I was born, my dad planted a Sequoia tree in the front yard to celebrate. It is now 40 feet tall!

How do you bring Coro experiences into your day-to-day work at City Plants?
The main skill I use every day is asking good questions. When I arrived at City Hall, I learned quickly that the information I needed was not searchable on Google or written in a book, but is rather walking around in people’s heads. When I was a Fellow, our trainers said, “The real answer is five questions deep.” That’s an understatement.

City Plants is a non-profit that works with the City to plant and distribute 20,000 trees a year in Los Angeles. The program is what stands between LA and a treeless future. We partner with seven non-profit organizations that plant trees in every neighborhood of LA, as well as another seven LA City Departments, Bureaus, and Divisions.

Since we work with so many partners, local community groups, and constituents, I do a great deal of work to uncover and address assumptions, which is the first step to getting everyone on the same page and building an effective team. Even now, I am surprised by the number of assumptions we run into on a day-to-day basis, and learning to check my own was a truly useful lesson from my year in Coro. Learning to check assumptions gracefully in conversation is even more important.

What moment(s) from your time as a Coro Fellow do you think back to most often?
I remember how our trainers grilled us at every opportunity. At first, I was taken aback by the abruptness of those interactions, especially since it was impossible to come up with the “right” answer.  Looking back, it was enormously valuable, because it happens out in the real world. It’s crucial to get over the idea that you can win the approval of some people. Essentially, it’s crucial to toughen up. The next time I experienced that level of grilling, millions of dollars were on the line. Afterward, I thought, “Thank God this wasn’t my first experience.”

If you could go back and give yourself some advice during your time in the FPPA, what would you say?
I would tell myself to focus building specific skills. Fellows are given amazing opportunities to interview people at the top of their profession. Even so, it’s impossible to remember all of what they tell you. I would tell myself to put the notebook away. The real lesson is about how to unearth the information you want. It’s about how to get people comfortable, establish a rapport, and ask specific enough follow-up questions to get those gems you will remember. Much of the purpose of the interviews is to learn how to do them in real life. It’s mental weightlifting.