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Dress Like Jim Ninivaggi Day.
It was an idea that came up nearly a year earlier. At Brainshark, on the third Thursday of each month, we have an all-company gathering. The departments take turns hosting the get-together, and there’s always a theme.
This time, the idea was that we’d all dress in Jim’s signature look: sports jacket, open collar, and a pocket square. Always a pocket square. Electric blue. Crimson red. Bright purple.
Jim Ninivaggi dressed well.
For one Thursday afternoon, we all did, too.
Jim passed away unexpectedly over the weekend. This is not an obituary of his life. There’s a more appropriate place for that, written by more appropriate people. His wife, children, friends and family knew him best, and his time at Brainshark captures only a small piece of what was a long and impressive career.
But there’s no denying that in his nearly 3 years here, Jim left an indelible mark on all of us.
He was our Chief Readiness Officer, a title he often joked about being the first person to ever hold. In essence, he was our company’s mission personified: to help ensure salespeople were prepared with the knowledge, skills and resources to be successful in their roles.
Over the course of his career, which included time as an account executive, sales VP, consultant and analyst, Jim had amassed unrivaled knowledge about what it means to be successful in sales, and he was passionate about sharing his wisdom and ideas with others.
He was incredibly generous with his time. If a sales rep needed his advice or for him to join them on an important prospect call, he was always willing. If we needed his input for a new marketing asset, or to host a webinar, or to speak at an event, he was always happy to contribute. Even during particularly busy times, when I’d sheepishly apologize for all the requests being sent his way, Jim would quickly tell me never to worry about things like that. “I love this stuff,” he’d say.
And he truly did.
He loved his work, and he enjoyed the people he got to do it with. He was inherently positive, unfailingly supportive, and always quick with a joke. He laughed. A lot. It wasn’t hard to crack him up. We’ll all remember Jim in our own unique, special ways, but I guarantee everyone will remember that laugh.
Jim had moved to Florida during the second half of his Brainshark tenure, and as you’d expect, wasn’t in the office as much. But he was always “here”. We’d speak often, and his energy and influence were always felt, even though he was now 1,300 miles away.
It was always a joy on the days this past year when he did come around, and to get to hear that laugh again in person. He was clearly enjoying life. I recall telling him more than once how he looked great – slim, tan and relaxed – and it was clear he enjoyed that people noticed. He seemed happy.
Jim was delighted on that third Thursday in October. He walked into the office to see a hundred walking homages to himself. Dozens and dozens of sports jackets, open collars, and pocket squares. Always pocket squares. We all even wore “My name is Jim” nametags and carried cardboard cutouts of his face to complete the gag.
The idea had been around for so long that I’m surprised we were able to keep it a secret. It was worth it. He was surprised; flattered that we thought enough of him to make him the center of the party. I remember that was the first and only day I met his wife, Barbara. I’m not sure if it was just a coincidence that she was there that day, or if he called her to come down to see what we all had done. I like to think it was the latter.
We laughed a lot that day. That same, signature laugh he always had. And that energy he always brought – even when he wasn’t around – was never higher than that afternoon.
I still feel that energy now. I expect we’ll all still feel it.
Jim Ninivaggi was our friend. We’ll miss him.