Mar 6, 2020
What do you want to be known for? At Wachter we’ve spent 90 years building lasting relationships and providing leading-edge business technology to clients across the country. We’ve built a culture where we do what we say no matter the cost, value others above ourselves, and treat one another like family.
But that culture lives and breathes through our employees. Individuals who choose to do the right thing, even when it’s hard; treat coworkers and customers with respect and dignity; are truly good people that live with honesty and integrity; and make it a joy to work with them. And none fit this portrait better than Brian Hoffman.
Nothing Seemed to Get Him Down
Like many young athletes, the first display of Brian Hoffman’s character begins on the football field. In an eighth-grade game in 1990, Brian lined up for the play. The center snapped the ball to the quarterback and Brian was on the move. But in an instant he planted his leg wrong, and the worst happened.
Brian broke his right ankle at the growth plate. The injury required surgery and a leg fixator device.
“He spent half of his high school career on crutches,” said Mike Halbedel, Senior Project Manager at Wachter. “But that was the thing — he wasn’t any different in high school than he was outside of high school and later in life.
“Nothing seemed to get him down.”
The injury kept Brian away from the gridiron for a few seasons.
“He just continued on,” Brian’s mother, Julie Hoffman said. “I remember one of his teachers commenting that he stayed cheerful through all of that. He didn’t let it bother him. He never complained.”
Brian played offensive tackle, defensive end, and even as a linebacker — though he wasn’t a big guy, according to his younger brother Greg Hoffman. But it was his tenacity and natural strength that showed he could hold his own against larger players.
“I was on the JV team when he was on the varsity team and we were the team for the varsity team to beat up on in practice,” Greg reminisced. “He was a great example of making that commitment and dedicating yourself to it.”
That work ethic followed Brian throughout his life, according to his family and his many friends at Wachter. Despite a rough setback that ended his playing career, that’s all it was to Brian — a setback.
“He was always one of those kids who was kind of a daredevil,” Julie said. “He would ride his bike down the hill or skateboarding and those kinds of things.”
But this thrill-seeker also had a charming personality. Julie remembers that Brian always wanted to make sure everybody was included in activities.
Halbedel experienced this nature firsthand.. He and Brian grew up in Weston, Mo., a town 40 minutes northwest of Kansas City. They became good buddies in high school and eventual lifelong friends.
Outside of the classroom, they worked at the restaurant at Snow Creek Ski Area just outside of Weston.
“There was a pretty good group of us friends that worked there so I’m sure there was a good share of goofing, but we got the job done and didn’t cause any problems,” Halbedel recalled.
After graduating from West Platte High School in May of 1993, Halbedel began working at Wachter during the summers and Brian enrolled at Benedictine College. Once Brian graduated college in 1997, he rejoined Halbedel at Wachter. Both served as “road warrior” technicians working in retail stores, industrial plants, hospitals, colleges, and other client sites.
It was here at Wachter that Brian’s potential, charisma, and infectious personality impacted the lives of so many at one company.
A Random Acts of Kindness Kind of Person
Brian was 22-years old when he became a Field Technician, and he grew a successful career — and impacted many others at Wachter — across a span of 14 years. He worked his way up through the company to serve as an Assistant Project Manager, Project Manager, Regional Manager, a Solution Design Team Leader.
Brian’s enthusiastic personality served him well. As his career progressed he got the opportunity to relocate and expand the company’s footprint by opening up the Wachter local business unit in Irvine, Calif.
Wachter promotes a family environment, generally through treating others like family. But often employees love it here so much, they invite their own family to join the Wachter family.
After graduating college in 2001, Greg Hoffman had a government contract job lined up in China. However, that job wouldn’t start for another 10 months. In the interim, Greg joined Brian in Irvine and helped him grow the office there.
The first technician Brian hired in Irvine was Reggie Orvin, now an Estimator II for the Wachter Nationwide Service & Projects division. After a few years working as a traveling technician, Orvin and his wife were expecting a child. He approached Brian thinking he had to leave for a new job that kept him stationary for his family.
He was opposed to moving closer to Irvine until Brian convinced him to take a stationary job there. Orvin, a native of Sacramento, joked about the rivalry between Northern and Southern California. But despite his original hesitance, Orvin says it worked out for the better.
“For me, Brian has affected my life more than any other person ever has affected my life in an absolutely positive manner,” Orvin said. “He was a good mentor in my life.”
At this new office, Brian wanted to be sure his employees were connected. He accomplished this, in part, by organizing several events in and out of the office — from a happy hour after work at the Pied Piper in Laguna Beach, to an Angels baseball game in sunny Anaheim, or even a trip to Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort.
Much like how he was growing up, Brian worked to make sure everybody was included.
“Brian was definitely a random acts of kindness kind of person,” Julie said. “He would call them miracles in our family, and he liked to provide miracles for people by surprising them with concert tickets that he was going to go to because he knew that they couldn’t afford to go and he’d want to take them with him or something.”
He continued this tradition at Wachter and the Hoffman family continues this tradition today.
Brian Always Cared About How Your Day Was Going
Brian touched several lives in Southern California, including that of Nationwide Rollout Support Specialist Sharon Cusick. Brian interviewed Cusick through a temp agency in 2000 and kept her at Wachter.
“It always puts a smile on my face when I hear his name,” Cusick said. “Brian always cared about how your day was going, whether it be during work, or outside of work. If there ever was an issue at work, he always made it aware that his door was open for me to talk about anything.”
The most memorable story Cusick shares of Brian stems from aday Cusick had terrible stomach pains.
“It was so bad that I was walking bent over. Brian was kind of making fun of my walk to make light of the situation. He sent me home and I ended up getting my appendix taken out that night,” Cusick said. “He felt pretty bad.”
Not only was Brian described as a great boss to work for, but a memorable person to Cusick and many others at Wachter.
“I think he definitely left a mark on people with whom he has worked,” Cusick said. “When Brian opened up the California office, he truly made that office feel like a family. And I feel like I owe a lot of it to Brian. He showed me how dedicated he was and how fun it was to work at Wachter.”
Unfortunately, this story is not just a celebration of Brian’s impact, but a remembrance of his life.
He Was More Concerned About How it Would Affect Our Lives
Brian was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer in early 2008 and battled it until his death on September 16, 2011.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Carcinoid tumors are a type of slow-growing cancer that can arise in several places throughout your body. Carcinoid tumors, which are one subset of tumors called neuroendocrine tumors, usually begin in the digestive tract or in the lungs. Patients with this rare form of cancer are often misdiagnosed.
Before Brian was officially diagnosed, his doctor attributed his symptoms to Rosacea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and even Colitis. For a few years, Brian was treated for these conditions. Once when he returned home to Weston, Julie said she noticed his condition worsening.
“I remember Brian kind of requesting that we all get together over at my parent’s house and I really didn’t think too much of it,” Greg said. “He was always pretty calm and collected about stuff and so even breaking the news, I think he was more concerned about how it would affect our lives.”
But determination was a quality that Brian possessed his entire life. Like his cancer, Brian was a rare person and he was determined to not let cancer slow him down.
“I think the toughest thing was just knowing that they said it wasn’t curable,” Julie said. “They also said that the five-year survival rate on it was not good. He just kind of had the attitude that he’d be one of the people that survives it longer than the average diagnosis.”
Cusick said that Brian was “always the quiet type who didn’t really talk about himself to others. And when we would talk about him, he would always divert things on to other people. I felt like he didn’t seem to want people to know that there was something wrong.”
I’m Still Yellow
As the chemo treatments worked to slow down his cancer, Brian’s skin tone changed to a noticeable yellow hue. But his humor never left.
“I remember talking to him one day and I think I asked him, ‘so how are you feeling?’ and he said, ‘I’m still yellow’,” Halbedel laughed.
“But then he’d ask, ‘How are you doing, we need to get together, and we need to visit such and such.’ He’d always ask how somebody was doing before he was going to talk about himself, even during his sickness. He was always upbeat, easy to talk to.”
Even with his sickness and being nearly 1,600 miles apart, Halbedel and Brian kept in touch often. The two didn’t see each other much when Brian was in California. Later on, Brian moved back to Kansas City, but soon after, Halbedel moved to the Lowell, Ark. office. They still stayed in touch through it all.
Brian’s friends at Wachter rallied around him like he was a brother Dale Slinkerd, Sr. Project Manager of the Nationwide Service & Projects division, got to know Brian well in and out of the office.
“People were definitely devastated and probably a lot of people asked, ‘why him?’ You know, it always seems to be the good ones who get the wrong deal sometimes,” Slinkerd said.
“But yeah, there were times he’d be down here in Lowell. You could visibly see the jaundice in his skin and the bile ducts backing up, which obviously, you know, caring for somebody so much, it makes it even harder to process.”
Slinkerd has more than 15 collective years of experience with Wachter, off and on, since 2001. “I can tell you out of being back with Wachter, from that point 13 years, Brian’s the best manager I’ve ever had, so yes, absolutely he was one of the reasons I came back to Wachter.”
Brian Showed Me What True Courage and Determination Is
In his role as Executive Vice President, Greg Sloan got to know Brian on a deeper level than when they first met in 1998.
“Brian was passionate about Wachter, he was loyal to himself and others, and he showed me what true courage and determination is,” Sloan recounted.
Sloan, a 33-year Wachter veteran, said he “never met anyone so positive and upbeat while surrounded by grave circumstances.” During Brian’s last two years of life Sloan got the opportunity to work with him closely.
“I found him to be a quiet person with a genuine smile, extremely kind and thoughtful, humorous, adventurous, patient, and understanding. Full of humility and strength,” Sloan said. “One of those people when someone said, ‘Everybody likes him,’ you thought, ‘Yeah, sure.’ Not with Brian though, he really was liked by everyone.”
Sloan didn’t just spend time with Brian in the office, but visited him several times in the hospital. One of Sloan’s fondest memories came from these hospital visits. Each time he visited, Sloan’s plan of action was to cheer Brian up and provide comfort during his toughest battle. But Brian didn’t need consoling, and each interaction showed the same personality he’d always had.
“I left each time being lifted up and comforted, amazed at his strength and acceptance of his own situation,” Sloan said. “I remember the last conversation I had with him, not knowing it would be the last. We talked about music, he asked me about how I was doing, and several others on his team. These were specific detailed questions about his team and you knew he really cared to know.”
I Am Where I Am Today Because of Him
Brian didn’t leave a model that our employees could follow, but a framework for being a great human being says Halbedel.
“He was going to treat every person fairly and you just didn’t see him getting upset,” Halbedel said. “We’d be a lot better off if we had more Brians out there. Just being around him was infectious, in the sense that he made you want to be kind and nice to others. I wish he was still here to spread that around.”
Slinkerd attributes his career success to Brian.
“I am where I am today because of him. I’d probably still be in the field if he wouldn’t have taken a shot on me. And here I am now a senior PM over 19-20 and $14 million for Wachter.”
Orvin agrees that Brian is who gave him a chance to do great things in his career.
“He took somebody that was on a downward spiral in life and that wanted to go up, that was trying to, and he just reached out and helped me do the rest, and he still does believe it or not,” Orvin said.
Brian’s brother Greg says he’ll never forget his time working with him in California and the legacy he leaves behind.
“I’d like to think it would be keeping your priorities in line as far as not forgetting to still enjoy life,” Greg said. “I think he really fostered kind of a family atmosphere in the office, which I really appreciated and I think a lot of people appreciated it.”
Determined to Make it to Zion
A couple months before Brian died, he had one last adventure to cross off his long list of goals. He went with his sister and future brother-in-law to Zion National Park in southwest Utah for a gorgeous and wild trek with steep red cliffs. The Narrows at Zion was one of the national park hikes that Brian always wanted to do, Julie said.
Still dealing with his cancer and sickness from the treatments, Brian was determined to make it back to Zion. There they also hiked to Angel’s Landing, a 1,488-foot-tall rock formation where the apex points straight to the heavens.
When asked what she would say to Brian if he were still here today, Julie said, “you’re the best and I love you. I love the man that he turned out to be.”
In the Old Testament Zion is one of two hills just outside the city of Jerusalem in Israel. The word itself in Hebrew means “marked” or “distinctive.”
And that’s who Brian was, distinctive and one of a kind.
An Ongoing Legacy
After Brian passed away Wachter wanted a way to honor and remember him.
Since 2011, Wachter has recognized one employee each year who demonstrates qualities that Brian had. An employee who demonstrates passion, loyalty, courage, and determination is awarded the annual Brian Hoffman Memorial Award.
Past recipients of the Brian Hoffman Memorial Award include:
- Deanna Gillet, CFO — 2011
- Rick Clark, Director of Nationwide Rollouts — 2012
- Renee Weaver, Sr. Director of Human Resources — 2013
- Lissa Brown, Director of Employee Services — 2014
- Kelly Jeffers, Payroll Specialist — 2015
- Matt Hale, Charlotte LBU Manager — 2016
- Ryan Kadoi, Operational Support Manager — 2017
- David Hughes, Lenexa Warehouse Manager — 2018
- Michael Earnheart, Business Analyst Manager — 2019