By Romi Carrell Wittman –
2016 Tucson Woman of the Year
Cristie Street was feeling a bit grimy.
She’d spent all morning on her hands and knees at the Leo Rich Theater setting up the technology for the Social Venture Partners Fast Pitch dress rehearsal. When she returned to her office at Nextrio, she was surprised when a staffer met her in the parking lot. She was even more surprised when she entered and was greeted by what she calls “the prize patrol.”
Kasey Hill of Greater Tucson Leadership was on hand to give Street the news that she had been selected as GTL’s 2016 Woman of the Year.
Street was a bit overwhelmed. “All the company partners were there. The staff wrote me a wonderful card,” she said. “I was very honored.”
Street’s humility and giving nature were just two of the reasons she was selected for the award. Her visionary approach to leadership and community involvement also were reasons for her nomination.
As co-founder, CEO and managing partner of local tech firm Nextrio, Street leads a team of 45 professionals who provide extensive information technology services to more than 1,000 local organizations.
After graduating from North Carolina State University, Street relocated to Tucson in 1995 and began work at RightFax, a tech startup. Street had technical expertise, but she was drawn to language and technical communications.
“It was a combination of marketing and technical writing,” Street said of the job. “It was a great training ground for left-brain and right-brain work.”
Street soon became a driving force within the company and frequently traveled all over the world to meet with clients. She learned how to negotiate contracts and to manage a tech company.
Eventually the RightFax founders sold the business and Street discovered she wasn’t happy with the new management. “They didn’t value the talent in Tucson and it became very cumbersome to do good work,” she said. “I questioned my purpose.”
She and two RightFax staffers, Oscar Fowler and Bill Street, Cristie’s husband, left the company and formed Nextrio.
“The name started as kind of an inside joke. Three people doing something new,” Street said. “It gave us flexibility to do what we wanted.”
Since that time, Nextrio has flourished, providing IT services to businesses across Southern Arizona. As the company has grown, Street has become active in the community.
“My mom’s family used to say that a good Southern woman could have a conversation with a brick wall,” Street said with a laugh. “I love to talk to people and hear their stories.”
That love of collecting stories, as Street calls it, led her to reach out and get involved with several local organizations. She has served on the boards of Ronald McDonald House Charities, Arizona Public Media, Social Venture Partners, the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Small Business Association, to name a few.
In many cases, Street provides much-needed IT support to local nonprofits.
Betty Stauffer, executive director of Literacy Connects, said in a letter of support for Street’s nomination: “Cristie Street played a huge supporting role for Literacy Connects shortly after our merger in 2011. None of the five merging organizations had the IT equipment or know-how to create one seamless system for our new organization.”
Street found the right solution for the organization and, through Nextrio, made a significant donation to make the implementation affordable. “Nextrio continues this financial and IT support for Literacy Connects,” Stauffer said.
Female executives in IT are rare and Street is often sought out for her expertise and advice. She frequently mentors young people and is involved with the University of Arizona Eller College of Management.
“The students need to see that women can aspire to lead in that industry,” said Nancy McClure, first VP at CBRE. “She is a brilliant example to others…she shares her skills and makes STEM careers visible to girls who often get lost along the way.”
Street is characteristically humble about being named Woman of the Year. “I have to give credit to a whole network of supporters who help me do what I do,” she said.
She’s also looking forward to continuing her work in the community. “There is a huge opportunity,” she said. “I have 900,000 more people to meet!”