I Miss My Friend

NOTE:  For this month’s post I am hijacking my blog to share a tribute to a great man – Jamiel Saliba.  On January 9th, 2020, Jamiel was called home to be with the Lord and serve as one of his angels.  And on Saturday, January 18th, family & friends gathered in Birmingham, AL to send him off on this new journey.  Today I share my thoughts and reflections on this great man in hopes it is a small tribute to an unbelievable life, and to the impact he made on so many of us.  www.leadingwright.com is here in part because of that impact, so its only fitting that I post this. 

I MISS MY FRIEND

I remember the first time I met Jamiel.  It was sometime in 2004, and we had just completed the merger of COMSYS and Venturi Partners.  Jamiel was the head of their MSP program, vWorx, and I was running ours (COMSYS VMS).  We met at Don Shula’s Steakhouse in Birmingham, AL, but the initial meeting wasn’t instant friendship.  In fact, both of us approached it trying to show the other who was the “bigger man”.  I was on my phone, as was he, and we both gave each other the “wait a minute” finger to let the other know who was more important.  As we sat down for dinner, the topic of drinking came up immediately.  “You able to hold your liquor?”, he asked.  “I got a PhD in drinking from LSU”, I responded.  And then it was on.  Cocktails, bottles of wine, after dinner drinks – and somewhere around 1:30 am I called uncle and admitted defeat.  Score one for Jamiel.

I miss my friend.

Our work relationship was built from that point forward.  While I was given the nod to lead the new combined group, it was clear this wouldn’t be a one man show.  Our business debates and arguments were epic.  I was the dreamer, Jamiel the realist.  And it seemed every single idea I had would be countered with all the reasons why we couldn’t.  Thank God, as more often than not he was right.  But even when we didn’t, once it was decided he would step forward and make it happen as if it were his own.

I miss my friend.

In business, Jamiel was simply the best operator I have ever worked with.  He never missed a budget.  Let me say that again, he never missed a budget – EVER.  If you worked for him, you knew you had to perform.  Compassionate, yes, but he had expectations and you never wanted to let him down.  As I look across this audience, I see dozens and dozens of people who all worked for him and know this fact well.  He was the best.

I miss my friend.

His leadership meetings were unconventional but effective.  He would assemble the team in either Orlando or Destin (generally at his time share), and you would be asked to bunk up with your fellow co-worker as part of it.  The meetings themselves would be held at vacation resorts in their on-site activity centers, if they weren’t held in one of the rooms.  Dinners were routine – we would generally cook in.  One night was always spaghetti, and the other steak.  Cooking and cleaning were a group effort, and everyone was expected to do their part.  No fancy hotel conference rooms, no group dinners at The Palm.  That wasn’t how Jamiel wanted it.  No, this was about building culture, building a team, and creating trust.   Oh, and saving money to make budget.  And it worked.

I miss my friend.

When we were acquired by ManpowerGroup, Jamiel and I were charged with driving the TAPFIN program globally.  “The World Tour”, he used to call it.  Oh the fun we had.  Well, if you can call that fun.  From London to Paris, from Brussels to Frankfurt, we pushed forward to spread the TAPFIN way.  The Belgians were the first to come on board, the Germans followed shortly thereafter.  The French fought us for a good year before finally giving in.  And I’m not sure the Brits ever really complied.  But ever the soldier, Jamiel pushed forward.  “Attack in Force”, he used to say.  In the end, he helped build TAPFIN in to the world leader in MSP, with a geographic reach that is the envy of the industry.  The World Tour became World Dominance.

I miss my friend.

A creature of habit, he was ever the loyal patron.  If you flew overseas with him, you flew Delta.  Period.  The man must have achieved some godlike status on that airline.  Hotels?  You got it – Marriott or bust.  There was never a discussion – if you traveled with him, you stayed at his hotels.  And dinners?  Epic!  They were always the same – Bone’s in Atlanta (and it had to be Peter serving us); Amarone’s in New York; Orjawon in London (Fatima always ordered for us); Tuscany in Destin.  I’m sure many of you have a similar list specific to each city.  That’s just the way it was.

I miss my friend.

Our relationship was based on business, but it quickly became something more.  The man has a personality that was infectious, and I was infected from the first time I met him.  We had so much in common, and yet so little.  And in the end, that’s what made our friendship special.  Ever the Alabama fan, I had to endure the full force of his passion.  That’s not easy for an LSU fan, I assure you.  “27 SEC Championships, 17 National Championships, and the Greatest Tradition in College Football – This is Alabama Football” he used to say to me.  And to make matters worse, I had to listen to that every year as the count increased.  It would piss me off – and yet I’d look forward to his beaming face every time they won another championship.

I miss my friend.

Jamiel had many passions, but there were four that stood out above all else.  God, Country, Family, and Friends.  He was clear and steadfast in his religious beliefs.  He didn’t need to be a man of the cloth to do so.  Christ was his man, and he made no apologies for his beliefs.  No doubt he is sitting in heaven right now singing “Sweet Home Alabama” to the angelic masses attracted by that magnetic personality.  Heaven is better today because he is there.

To say he served his country would be an understatement.  Tours in Germany, Italy, and Bosnia capped a 23 year career in the US Army, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.  I could never do justice in speaking to his career as a soldier – I’ll leave that to his good friends such as Tommy Fricks and Al Lumpkin.  What I can say is that this country is safer today because he was there, and there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of soldiers whose lives were forever enriched after serving under his command.

What can I say about his love for his family?  In a short moment you will hear directly from them.  What I can tell you is that nothing was more important to him.  He adored his wife, Ellen (who doesn’t?).  His daughter, Jeannie, meant the world to him – and her passing tore him apart.  His two sons – Jamiel III and Jonathan – were his pride and legacy, and sharing his passion for BAMA football with them his greatest joy.  His life’s commitment was to raise his granddaughter, Shauna, in honor of Jeannie.  And his grandchildren meant the world to him.  I’m honored to be considered a small part of this family, and I have Jamiel to thank for getting to know them as such.

And last but not least were his friends.  I look around this room today and I see so many of those faces – so many people who’s lives he touched in profound ways.  Just to be in the same room with Jamiel was an experience.  Its like his energy drew you in.  And if you let him get to know you, you became one of those friends.  Dave McGonegal said it best to me recently – “I’ve never met a man who would wake up, walk down the hall, and meet three new people who would be friends for life.”  That was Jamiel.

I miss my friend.

But for all of that, I want to be selfish for a minute.  To me, he was more than a friend.  He was my brother.  My father.  My idol.  What defined him was his authenticity.  He was real.  He was present.  He was caring, compassionate, empathetic.  He was tough on the outside, and a big soft teddy bear on the inside.  I’ve learned so much about life, family, friends, business, and being a leader from him.  My life is SO MUCH BETTER having met him.

His departure from this world has left me shattered.  I am completely broken.  I am lost.  I ache.  I yearn to hear his voice again, and grieve that while I am in this world, I will never spend another minute with him.  Maybe one day in the future I will find a way to fill the hole he left in my soul.  But today….

God, I miss my friend.

14 thoughts on “I Miss My Friend

  1. Wow…what a touching tribute Kip. Brought me to tears. He was everything you described and more. I remember the first time you introduced us after an SIA event and him singing the the most amazing version of Sweet Alabama I have ever heard on a karaoke stage. He was a man of honor and you couldn’t help but love him. Heaven surely gained an angel and his legacy he leaves nothing short of amazing. What is even more incredible is that he would have never seen himself as touching so many lives the way he did. Forever grateful to you Kip for that one night in San Diego and will always remember him on that stage and the smile on his face and the love in his heart.

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  2. Kip. – what a beautiful reflection of Jamiel and what he has meant to so many people. Though I only spent a little time with Jamiel, he left on impression on me and I think of him every Fall when Alabama dominates in football. Though we met for business, we kept in touch for years to discuss our love for football (UT in my case) and family. We even met at the Rose Bowl the year that UT played Alabama for the national championship. He had that special something that is hard to define. Charisma – but more than that. I like the word you used – authenticity. He will be missed. Dave

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  3. Oh my heart aches to see this story and learn of the tragedy of Jamiel’s passing. It’s a beautify story Kip and resonated so much given my own expriences with Jamiel. I loved our time together while we were evolving the MSP through AdvancePCS to Caremark to CVS Health’s journey. He kept it fun and the bonding over food and wine were epic. I’ll miss him and ever so grateful for your beautiful tribute. Jennifer Lindsey Spriggs

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  4. Kip, What wonderful memories. hold on to them, cherish them and never forget them. Jamiel will be missed he was my friend.

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  5. WOW Kip! How genuine and true your words are! I only had the pleasure of meeting Jamiel face to face, one time but felt like he was leading me to be better and “attack in force” everyday! Thanks for sharing your heart and for allowing us to get to know the amazing man that he was, just a little bit more. ~ Melissa

    Reply
  6. Kip – That was the most touch tribute I have heard! You could feel it in the room from all the people he touched. Your word brought to life what many of us have felt and heard from Jamiel! Ever since experiencing Jamiel sing “Sweet Home Alabama” I think of him every time I hear it.
    Once more, “Roll Tide!” Attack in Force.
    – Rich

    Reply
  7. Oh Kip. This is so beautiful. Thank you for giving us a glimpse in to your deeply personal and beautiful friendship. I long to hear him tell me at the start of college football season…”Young lady, I’d choose the damn Russians over Notre Dame!” In life, I thought I was “special” to him, with the amount of time, love, support and coaching he gave me, but in death….I have learned that he offered that to so, so many people he called friends. I consider myself Blessed to have been one of them. I miss him too! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

    Reply

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