The Coachella Valley was a very different place when Judy Vossler moved here in 1980.
Now senior vice president of the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, she has participated in the development of the area for more than 30 years, while experiencing her own evolution as a businesswoman.
There were nine distinct communities in the valley when she first arrived, separated by expanses of open, undeveloped land. “You could very easily feel [it] when you left one city and drove across the desert and then came to another city,” she said.
In addition, the valley was “very seasonal,” she said. “Everything closed after Easter.”
But that began to change after 1980, and Vossler began a professional course that positioned her as a central figure in the growth of the valley for both its residents and its worldwide visitors.
From the mid-South to the West
Graceful and statuesque, with a soft Texas drawl remaining from her Fort Worth upbringing, Vossler, 63, said she had originally intended to work in retail management. After attending Oklahoma State University, she went to work for the J.C. Penney Company in 1968 in Oklahoma City’s first shopping mall.
Soon she was invited into the store’s management program as the first female recruit and was assigned to oversee the junior fashion department. “I loved the retail side of the business,” she said.
If she’d stayed in the field, she said, “I probably would have ended up as a human resources manager in a big corporation like that.”
But change came about in 1972 when Vossler was introduced to the Coachella Valley through her father’s business involvements. Professional golfer Ernie Vossler played on the PGA Tour and participated annually in the valley’s Bob Hope Classic, now called the Humana Challenge.
Subsequently, he became senior vice president of Landmark Land Co., Inc., which specialized in golf course master plan development. Among the firm’s local developments were La Quinta Resort, PGA West and Mission Hills.
Vossler, the family’s only daughter and oldest of five siblings, said she and her younger brothers all eventually joined the company as well, and she made repeated visits to the valley as a result.
“I spent a lot of time here between 1972 and 1980, and that made me want to move here,” she said. All her brothers moved here as well.
She relocated in 1980 with her 9-year-old daughter, Lisa, and began working with La Quinta Resort, learning the scope of its business. Three years later she was named manager.
By the time she left the resort in 1993, she had overseen the expansion of the facility’s hotel rooms from 76 to 640, plus its additional retail and restaurant outlets.
Development across the valley
La Quinta Resort was just one of the valley’s entities experiencing rapid growth in the 1980s. More apartments were being built, more streets and other infrastructure were being put into place, and hotels and resorts were becoming year-round establishments.
“It was like everything in the valley was booming in the ’80s,” she said.
Yet, while businesses and communities were growing at the time, Vossler was observing relatively few women involved in leadership roles during the expansions.
“There was a lot of development, but there were really not a lot of females involved, and I thought it was my duty to get involved,” she said. With about 1,000 employees at La Quinta Resort, Vossler thought it was important for her to set an example for both men and women employed there.
“I didn’t really find my voice to speak up until I was about 50,” she said. “Before that, I would just listen and watch and try to figure out where a female executive fit in. So to set that example and lead them, I ended up getting involved in a lot of things.”
Chief among her new activities was serving on the governing boards for some of the growing number of nonprofit organizations forming across the valley, including the La Quinta Historical Society and the Boys & Girls Club of Coachella Valley.
Vossler left La Quinta Resort in 1993 and spent the next five years in fundraising, community relations and real estate marketing capacities for KLS Recreation, increasing her management skill range and community involvement.
In 1999, Vossler returned to the family business, becoming vice president of an offshoot of Landmark Land Co., Inc., called Landmark Golf. Her responsibilities included tournament management and marketing for such events as the Skins Game, the Betty Ford Invitational Pro Am, the Giddings Cup and the Frank Sinatra Golf Tournament.
A blending of experiences
All of her personal, professional and civic experiences intersected in 2010 when Vossler was hired by the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, the valley’s leading tourism resource.
Vossler saw that her prior work and volunteer involvements “ended up being handy because I got to meet a lot of community leaders, and that was directly related to convention bureaus and their activities.”
In her capacity as senior vice president of administration, she is primarily responsible for human resources management, with an employee force of about 40, along with other projects.
Her hospitality and human resources interests may come naturally. In her teens, she said, her friends pegged her as a people person. “When I was growing up, all my friends told me I would either become a sorority house mother or run an orphanage,” she said.
She attributes much of her easygoing disposition and determined nature to her upbringing. “I had the beauty of this athletic father and this girly-girl mother,” she said. “It all worked.”
But, no less importantly, the wisdom of age and experience counts as well. “I’ve loved having some age behind me,” she said, adding with a smile, “and I don’t feel old — I feel like I’ve matured to about the level of a 32-year-old!”
Wisdom has taught her that in business, every detail counts. “If you don’t take care of everything from the ground up and keep your staff happy,” she said, “the whole thing doesn’t work.”
After beginning work for the CVB, Vossler remained with Landmark Golf until 2011, but she continues to serve on nearly a dozen local boards for such organizations as the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation/Healthy Family Foundation and the Desert Town Hall lecture series.
She is also on the Museum Associates Council Board of Directors for the Palm Springs Art Museum, where her now grown daughter, Lisa Vossler Smith, is deputy director.
For her extensive personal and professional contributions, Vossler has received numerous recognitions, including being named twice by the Desert Sun as an outstanding community and business representative, and by Palm Springs Life as one of the valley’s most notable woman leaders.
With 12-hour workdays devoted to the CVB and her civic involvements, Vossler said she likes to keep her personal life simple and relaxing, and spends her vacations traveling.
“But I’m not a resort traveler,” the Palm Desert resident said, “because there’s no place better than here. Give me a big old city and I’m really happy.”
With decades of experience in the hospitality industry, Vossler said she is very observant about any hotels or resorts she stays in. “When I walk in the front door of a hotel, I can’t help but see what the public sees.”
She also wants to look behind the scenes, into the banquet areas, the kitchen facilities and the conference rooms.
“It’s in my blood,” she said, “so I’ll always be this way.”