KJT Celebrates its 15th Anniversary
KJT celebrated its 15th anniversary this week ‘under the stars’ at the Strasenburgh Planetarium in Rochester, NY. The company marked the special occasion at its annual employee awards ceremony with a formal tribute to company founder, Kenneth J. Tomaszewski and the legacy he has passed on to KJT’s employee owners.
Company CEO, Michaela Gascon kicked off the evening, describing the company’s 15-year journey as ‘somewhat miraculous.’
“To think of all the families, clients and patients we have impacted over the years, in a positive way, is quite humbling.”
Michaela called it a privilege to work with Ken from the company’s earliest days. “In the beginning, I didn’t know where we were going, but I knew it would be exciting, entrepreneurial and different from anything I’d experienced before.”
Michaela mentioned Ken’s abiding belief in the power of meditation and a balanced life, and similarly to other speakers throughout the evening, she spoke to his influence in pushing her past her pre-existing boundaries, helping her and the company ‘achieve more than I ever thought possible.’ According to Michaela – from entrepreneurship to employee ownership – no goals were ever too aggressive by Ken’s standards. She also described his altruism and desire to share in KJT’s profits as a driving force in becoming an ESOP (Employee Share Ownership Plan) company.
She ended by saying, “You’ve been with us every step of the way. You have and will always be our fearless founder. For all you are, all you’ve done and all you’ve given, we thank you Ken.”
Amy Allen, KJT’s VP of Qualitative Research, the company’s third hire – and Ken’s sister – was next in the speakers’ lineup. She shared her perspective regarding Ken’s influence on their family, citing his hard work, altruism and role as an inspirer. “He blazed a path – even in his teen years!” Amy went on to recognize Ken for setting KJT up for success – and said she looked forward to the new ways in which her brother would positively impact the world.
Dan Wasserman, company COO, spoke about Ken as a mentor, repeating the sentiment that Ken pushed him to take more risks in his career. “He also taught me about personal wins – and how different people are motivated by different things, including clients, colleagues, friends and family.” Dan went on to say the biggest lesson he learned from Ken was the importance of self-awareness and the value of observing oneself through the eyes of others. “Being intentional and being present in every interaction, including the words you choose, is really important. This is something that has helped me improve how I interact with everyone in my life and has made me a better father and husband.” Dan went on to share a quote from Sun Tzu (author of The Art of War), passed on by Ken: “’If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the results of 100 battles.’ That’s something every parent should be able to relate to!”
Like many that evening, Stuart O’Connell, KJT’s VP of Solutions Consulting, recognized Ken as a mentor and for his generosity of time. “There’s nothing really average about Ken. Our mentor meetings became mentor hikes – and during those walks we explored many different topics. My admiration and respect for Ken is hard to put into words. He is a great teacher and inspirer – as well as a great leader. I’m so grateful for all he has invested in me.”
Several speakers referenced Ken’s predilection for strumming on a mandolin or guitar at the most unexpected of times. According to Jessica Spillman, Senior VP of Research, Ken’s strong passion and talent for music was apparent from the beginning. “I had just finished my first interview and was walking to my car. Ken caught me in the parking lot and encouraged me to go check out his band that was playing that night. This was before I had even received a job offer!” Jess referenced vintage KJT tees decorated with Grateful Dead lyrics, and stated, “Ken, you brought the music to KJT. You made our company culture paramount. You created an environment where everyone enjoys strong personal relationships and you implemented strong values that I truly believe in. I’m so grateful for the legacy you’re leaving us.”
Tim Brewer, VP of Strategic Accounts, related his own interview experience with Ken – a phone call at 6A, where Ken – calling from Europe – did most of the talking. Tim also credited Ken with teaching him to relax on client pitches, and stated (tongue in cheek), “That’s probably the reason I didn’t prepare as much as I should have for my speech today.”
Lynn Clement Executive VP of Solutions Consulting, was the final speaker of the evening, stating how much her personal and professional relationship with Ken has meant to her over their 19 years of working together (a partnership that pre-dates KJT). “Quite simply your presence over those years has had a profound impact on who I am today. I’m so grateful you saw potential in me all those years ago.” Lynn said she loved Ken’s energy right from the start. “I also thought he was a little crazy – and both of those first impressions proved to be true!” She shared that her decision to leave her corporate position 15 years ago to join KJT – while pregnant for her first child – was something she never questioned. “I believed in you [Ken], so I never thought twice. It’s been a completely fulfilling adventure. You are brilliant, honest (sometimes to a fault), you are fun, you are incredibly generous – and I have enjoyed our time together so much.” Lynn finished by counting off the critical lessons she has learned from Ken over the years: “Confidence is so important to success, and I became more confident just being around Ken; Sometimes your best work is done after a drink – especially in an airport; A company needs to be profitable, but not at the expense of its culture; Integrity at all costs, which Ken demonstrated every day; Never stop learning and growing, and never shy away from a challenge – you must address each one with gusto; You have to have fun every day at your job; and enjoying the people you work with is so important, which is why KJT started as a family and remains a family.
Ken, I see how much our company’s core values represent you and reflect the best version of KJT. You have laid the pathway for our successful future. Thank you for the role you played in my life, and for this beautiful gift of KJT.
Now you have the freedom to explore your passions and enjoy your beautiful family. You can be free from worry about KJT. We have got it from here, and I mean all the employee owners in this room. You set us all on this path for success. Now, it’s our turn to nurture this company and grow. We have the culture and our values to guide us – we’re up for the task.”