Jim Wolford

The last 2 days, I have been thinking a lot about Jim. It has been 6 months since we missed Jim’s physical form and presence. As my Guru says, all I need to do is close my eyes to feel him and hear his voice but miss him every single day and every moment. There are some things that we are never prepared for or think that we will not have to deal with, and this was one such instance for me.

November is always a special month for me, because every year on my work anniversary on November 21, I always send Jim an email about the year and thanking him for the opportunity to be part of his team, irrespective of when I have talked to him before that. This year, want to freeze some of that in this format.

The day I met him

After my assignment at U.S. Bank Stadium, I was looking for next job and I was interviewing somewhere else and had finished 2 rounds of interview including an in-person interview. That is when Ted Mondale and Jim Farstad told me “After working in the Stadium business you cannot go back to a desk job. Go and talk to Jim Wolford and he may have something for you”. I vividly remember that day, I was all dressed up in suit, nervous and waiting for this unknown person and there walked in Jim with full of energy and clearly pronounced my name, asked if I wanted some breakfast and got some coffee for me and then started talking to me. I did not know at that time that I had just met one of the most influential personalities in my life.

I finished talking to a couple of more team members from Atomic the next day. That evening, I got a call from HR that they have already emailed me the offer letter. I reviewed that and talked to HR with some clarifications needed. I was updated that Jim will call me directly to discuss things. I am used to my previous jobs where my manager knows me and most likely his manager may know me, no one else up the chain even knows I exist. Here, the CEO was going to call me back. Within 30 mins, I got the call and the voice on the other side asked, “Hey Yagya, Jim here. I heard you had some questions and wanted to talk, what do you have for me”. I talked about the other interview status, immigration question and said that was important for me. He listened to me and before I could explain more, said “Yagya, you know that for the other job you are a number. When I hire you, I will make sure your family is my responsibility”. Immediately on hearing that I signed the offer letter.  Till his last breath he made sure that happened and even after he passed away, he made sure things were taken care of us.

First two years at Atomic

6 weeks after joining Atomic, it was my first project meeting at MNUFC and Jim ordered some lunch for the client and us. That was the first time I had been in a lunch meeting with him, and he did not know that I am a vegetarian. There were some fries, and I was good with that as I was more nervous about my first meeting and did not want to focus on lunch. Jim felt bad that he did not know this and immediately shared details with Admin team to make sure it is documented, taken care for all future planning to make sure there is vegetarian food available (he made it clear that egg is not ok). From that day to the innumerous travels, he always made sure there was vegetarian food available when we travel, go for events, host dinner with clients etc. He said, “you are taking care of my business and client, and I need to take care of you”.

One thing that surprised me from my experience was the trust he had in me to be able to deliver the implementation. He was not asking for weekly updates or monthly reports but was aware of progress. He asked me to reach out and talk when I needed some decisions or help in removing any roadblocks. The trust he had in me was much higher than what I had in myself of delivering the project. As my Guru has taught me, when you don’t trust yourself to do something, trust the person who is trusting you can do it. I sat in 3 to 4 formal meetings with him during the project and that’s it.

The day before the Inaugural Home Game at Allianz Field, he wanted to do a walk through with me at the Stadium to review preparedness. The walk through was planned at 4 pm. He was on his way to the Stadium and called me leaving our office “I know you better, I know have been there since the morning. Did you get any lunch, do you want me to get you any food or anything to drink on my way there. It is easy for me to get something and not think about that. Just let me know what you need”. I seriously didn’t know how to react as that was not in mind at all and couldn’t imagine my CEO asking me that.

At the end of the walkthrough, he hugged me and said “You should feel proud for what we have done here. This is just the beginning”.

Traveling with Jim

I can write a book about this topic 😊. Traveling with Jim is fun, exciting, sometimes unpredictable of what happens next when there is open time, eat more, more, and much more, challenging at times to keep up…

When traveling together, we carpool from house to airport and usually he is early from the planned time to meet to be ready. Everyone who knows Jim knows the fact that it is not easy to make him wait for something patiently, but it will be tested every time we travel together. I don’t have Pre-Check and will go through CLEAR line, and he will already be on the other side and looking to see if I am near and the fun joke, comments, and reaction from Jim – why cannot I experience that one more?

In one of our first meetings in Cincinnati, we landed the previous afternoon for the morning meeting. He decided to explore the city and we walked for over 45 minutes exploring different areas, came across a park – sat on the bench for some time and he looked at the maps and excitedly remarked – a block from here is the next stadium we will be building. We were at Washington Park and TQL Stadium was a big hole in the ground at that time. He was certain of the niche we can build in the Large Public Venue market and how that would be huge.

Cigar shop, Inner Peace massage, multiple Indian restaurants, steakhouses (yes, he will review menu to make sure there is vegetarian food), Japanese cuisines, BBQ joints, Airport restaurants and the list is endless.

Oh, Jim hates it when I book our travel with a flight before 7 am take off anytime. Just to hear him swear one more time, I want to do that for him.

During those travels, we get a lot of time and  I discussed a lot with him on philosophy, history, culture, spirituality, my experiences and learning from my Guru, his experiences, his learnings in life, politics, family, etc. Every single trip with Jim was enriching.

As I travel to cities that I have been to with him, there are memories of Jim on everything I see – right from the table in sky club we sat, to the restaurant we ate, to the walk we did to brainstorm the presentation, to the cupcake vending machine that we both liked, the comments he made on presentation and more importantly discussing feedback and joking about the indian accent when I talk fast.

He never told me how to take care of clients, but he showed it to me every time on our trips. Just having been with him to see him take care of the client is how I learnt how to take care of the client.

Birth of Game Day Technologies

It was on one of our earliest flights back from Cincinnati, he wrote a document and outlined what services we want to provide as Game Day Technologies department within Atomic Data. He saw the clear market potential to the business we do, expanding to provide more services for Stadiums and Large Public Venues. He saw the potential and detailed it clearly before anyone here could see what this became.

After Jim’s passing, I thought about the incident I heard happened at Disney World. Disney World opened 4 years after the death of Walt Disney. His older brother Roy Disney led the efforts to make Disney World a reality. When asked if he misses Walt seeing Disney World after it was built, Roy said – Disney World is a reality today because Walt Disney already saw this in his vision. It took us 4 years to see what he saw as a vision.

Jim gave some clear goals and direction for Game Day Technologies, and it is our responsibility to make that a reality.

Not just work

If Jim was just a manager, CEO I would have felt bad, but would have overcome the loss, but he was much more than that. He had stopped by our house on some weekends when he was biking with kids to stop by, see our kids, spend some time with them and check-in on how they are doing.

Last Christmas, we were in the basement of our house and my wife saw Jim’s car pull in the driveway. Before we could head up to the front, there were a couple of bags of gifts for the kids and he gave a flying kiss to my son and said he had to run for some more trips and will catch up later.

During one of my travels, he found out that my flight was delayed, and I had to stay an additional overnight trip in Cincinnati due to snowstorm in Minneapolis and called me to check-in how family is doing and if they needed anything – any supplies, food or any medicines that he can drop by and make sure they are good.

On another short notice trip, he made sure to get team to order some food for my wife and kids to make sure he can do anything to reduce the family disruptions.

Learnings from Jim

As I think through all of these, what are things that I learnt from Jim to make me who I want to be.

  • Speed – Jim was super-fast in responding to emails or messages. There was not a gap between what he thought, what he processed, what he said and what he meant. The response can just be “working on it and will get back shortly”. I am nowhere but have aspired to be there, but now taking it on myself to see if I can do better on this.
  • Taking care of clients – If you take care of clients, they will take care of you – Jim would say this and lived up to this to demonstrate and show it to us.
  • Passion in everything – When Jim gets involved in something, he is all in. He’s fully involved and passionate about making a difference that he alone can do.
  • Make the presence felt – when Jim is anywhere his presence is felt. There is energy, there is enthusiasm, there is positivity, there is caring, there is the objective to make a difference and yes there may be swearing but it’s out of passion.
  • Speak truth to power – Jim never hesitated speaking truth to the power. He’s straight forward and want to call things out as it is irrespective of to whom he’s talking to. He’s brutally honest and that’s helped us a lot.
  • Read, learn, research – Jim waited till we opened Allianz Field to be able to talk about our experiences and the results of what we achieved. In the meantime, he researched a lot on sport teams, technology, discussed with a lot of stakeholders to understand their experience in technology, issues, shortcomings to be able to come up with things we can offer with superior experience.
  • Listen to your gut – I experientially saw Jim do this. There are times when we saw things differently than Jim, but he listened to his gut and would go with that. That proved to be the right decision, and this is something I am learning more. Trust your instincts. People may convince you otherwise but if you feel something is not going to be right – change things.
  • Be a Fan of client team – I remember the comment Jim said when asked if we will be a supporter of FC Cincinnati. Jim said, “You will be the team we support till you play our home team in which case we will support MNUFC”. This became our foundation for supporting teams. As games were going on Jim would be messaging his contacts in the clubs to just chat about the game and thoughts and that was his way of staying in touch with them and supporting the team.
  • Think about the team – both client and ours – whenever I travel with Jim to a club office, he will make sure to visit the team store and get some merchandise – that’s his way of continuing to support the team and making sure there is enough swag to bring back to the hard-working team in Minneapolis without which any of this would not be possible.

Jim, there are some people who come and make the world a better place in every aspect and then leave. It’s right that in Hindu scriptures it’s written that when a noble soul passes, nature sheds tears and on your funeral service the rain proved that. You made a difference in everyone’s life that crossed with yours and I am blessed to have these treasured memories to think about. Yes, God took you away from us, but those memories are mine to keep and will be treasured every single moment.

Even when you are not here, as I write this, I am starting to think – what can we do to be a Jim in someone’s life? It is a tall ask, but that is what we need to do, to do justice to have shared years with you. Thanks, Jim. You live forever through a lot of us.

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