Being the Chief Executive Officer for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games is about as much pressure as you can get. Jamie Link understands that and does his best to meet the daily challenge. Link has done much in his career and the many jobs he’s held have been a stepping stone to his current position. The only thing missing was hands-on experience with horses. And while that experience is limited, he recently took the leap.
“I have ridden twice and loved it,” he declared. “I recently went on a trail ride to view part of the endurance course. That was the first time I’d ridden outside a pen. Two weeks before that I had my first lesson at the Kentucky Horse Park.”
Like so many of us who have spent time in the saddle, Jamie’s first impression was what he witnessed. “The beauty of where we were riding, the Kentucky countryside, it was amazing. That feeling of being in the saddle walking along and talking to my horse and chatting with the people I was riding with was sensational. Beauty surrounded us and it was a great way to start the day.”
The 47-year-old (March 28, 1962) who lives in Versailles, KY, was very observant and even noticed the “great disposition” of the Palomino Quarter Horse he was riding.”
Explaining the appreciation he had for that ride, the communication that evolved and his attention to detail are all qualities that were visible not just on that trail ride but in how he handles his present job.
When asked to define his job Jamie used the first encounter with his staff to give me some insight.
“When I was introduced as CEO to the staff, the first thing I told them was that I work for them. Why? Because, my job is to make them successful at their jobs. My job is to be the conduit through which certain relationships flow to get them the resources they need to do their job. I also recognize that we have a lot of young people working for us and yet this job will end. I think there is an inherent responsibility that we make them successful so that they can move on to that next step in their career. If we make them successful, then the event will do well and we will succeed.”
That path to victory happens day in and day out and while riding a horse may not be the typical start of his day, now when he goes through his daily routine of getting up at 5:00 a.m. he is wistful about the memory of riding on the Kentucky Horse Park landscape. Instead Jamie’s exercise is spending 30 minutes on the treadmill after which he showers and shaves before heading out to the office. Once in the office his mornings are typically spent catching up on the previous day’s emails. It is around 8:30 that his real workday begins with meetings and various speaking engagements.
“The meetings range from in-depth daily to weekly planning sessions about individual days of the event.” Jamie explains that they take one day at a time. “We go through every minute of the day and how it connects to each functional area. Then we ask ourselves “what if something doesn’t go according to plan.”
The hope is that the many Test Events will help to answer those unexpected occurrences.
“The Test Events are what we feel will help to make us perfect,” he notes. The meetings are a mixture and include those details already mentioned as well as others focused on office operations, sponsorship, tickets, hospitality and more.
Once Jamie’s day in the office ends rarely is that the end of his day. He often has evening speaking functions. “We need to attend those from a public relations perspective. It’s important to make sure that our message is out there and people are engaged with what we are doing.”
Finally, by around 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. Jamie heads home often having had dinner “on the fly” and still his work day isn’t over. “Once home I am usually back on the laptop to catch up on emails and prepare for the next day. Finally at around 11:00 p.m. it’s off to bed with one more day checked off on the calendar. The day we spoke Jamie knew exactly how many days were left: 469.
A Brief Respite from Work
With such an intense workload I was surprised how seemingly relaxed yet focused Jamie was for our interview and while I knew he had his work schedule floating around in his head, I wanted to talk about other things as well.
I was curious to know how his parents influenced his life. His mom, Mary Lu, is 66 (July 09) and his dad, Jim is 69. Like so many others, their influence was integral to who he is today. “Tremendously,” was his response followed by “my mother was a stay at home mother. She raised me and my two sisters. My father was vice president of a local meat company. He is a very hard worker from a farming background. From both of them I learned work ethic and commitment to the job you are doing. “I truly value the dedication instilled in me when it comes to my career and my job. I define myself by the job.”
Jamie also learned the values of “honesty, integrity and loyalty to the people you work with and for, your employer. Here my employer is the event. So, my loyalty to the event is certainly paramount.”
Jamie recognizes even more so how important those values are as he thinks often of the staff he is proud to work with and who are loyal to him.
Jamie is devoted to the responsibility his job entails. “You try to keep up the best you can. I hate being unresponsive to people and delayed. And that is such a challenge with my other daily schedule.”
To keep him grounded, Jamie turns to his wife who he’s been married to for 23 years. “She is a great advisor and sounding board and a great supporter. She gets me back on track, gets my head back on straight if I get off the path.”
It’s obvious in listening to Jamie that his wife is important to him so I asked him to tell me more about Kimberly.
“My wife is very pretty,” he quickly remarked. “She is a career government employee, a Policy and Budget Analyst for the Kentucky State Government.”
Having such a supportive partner is important but Emmy and Timmy also help put some sunshine in their lives. While at the moment they don’t have any kids, their cats bring them joy. And while the cats are home lounging both Jamie and Kim take on each day with a vengeance.
With so much pressure on him I wondered if Jamie could clear his mind up enough to focus on what he considers to be the highest point in his career and life. He pondered for a moment and then said, “I am pretty tempted to say that I have reached them both here. Professionally this is the greatest opportunity in my life career-wise and the greatest honor professionally to be in this position.”
Jamie even feels that this job has created achievement at a personal level as well, “because I’ve been exposed to some of the greatest people I’ve ever worked with or been around. With a staff as small as ours obviously there is a professional element but I consider all of our staff to be friends. And the numbers of people I’ve met in the equestrian sport and industry has been phenomenal. Having worked at the Horse Park I had known some people earlier but I am getting to know them in a whole different light and it has been very gratifying.”
With so much enthusiasm for this high note in his career I wondered if there are low times in his life. Not surprisingly it related to his impact on others and how well he does his job.
“Those lows come when I feel like I am not doing the job I need to be doing because that is how I define myself. If I feel like I am falling behind or I look back and say I should have done this today instead of… or I should have done it this way instead of that way. I will critique myself. There are days that I get stressed mostly because I feel like I haven’t lived up to my own standards and what I should have gotten accomplished today.” That said Jamie does feel that those occasions are rare and that “most days I feel like I have given the event my utmost effort.”
Back to Business – Getting from There to Here
So, what was it that helped him to be able to offer so much insight into how to achieve putting on an event as huge as WEG 2010, with eight disciplines and all the ancillary things that go with that? In fact, it is pretty much his entire life that set him up to today, starting right from school.
Jamie graduated Anderson County High School in Lawrenceburg, KY in 1980. From 1980 to1985, he attended the University of Kentucky as an accounting major and immediately began his career working for the Kentucky Department of Parks with the title of Resort Park Business Manager.
He worked with the Department of Parks for about eight years in various different capacities culminating with his position as the Accounting Supervisor for the entire Department of Parks which encompassed 45 parks across the state.
From 1994 to 1997 Jamie worked for the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet. “I was chief fiscal officer of the Kentucky infrastructure Authority that managed state loan programs for infrastructure projects from waste water and drinking water to recycling and solid waste disposal. That has helped me from a financial perspective.”
Jamie then moved on to the Kentucky Department for Facilities Management from 1997 to 2004. “I began as an administrative branch manager,” he noted and in jest added. “I am a career government boy all the way through.”
He started there as Administrative Branch Manager (budgeting, finance, personnel, human resources management) and then in 1999 became the Assistant Director of the State Capital Construction program. He spent the next two years managing capital construction projects (contract procurement, contract administration, capital construction planning and execution). Here he spent a lot of time making sure he got the best value for the dollar (something that serves him well now).
From 2001 to 2004 he went from Assistant Director to Executive Management as the Deputy Commissioner and then Commissioner of the Department for Facilities Management where he continued overseeing Capital construction but also did property leasing and all the building management of State buildings and historic properties.
Wow, my head was starting to spin and as Jamie continued to outline his career it was becoming clearer and clearer why he had been chosen for the job. I quietly made mention of that fact, but Jamie, who never misses a beat was quick to react to my subtle comment. In his usual humble way Jamie said, “I hope I am the right guy.”
Yet, we weren’t done with the career that led to where he is today. From 2004 to 2006 he worked for the Office of the Secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet in the administrative services offices, where his focus was human resources, accounting/purchasing, budget, fleet management and postal services.”
Then from 2006 to 2007 he became the Deputy Director of the Kentucky Horse Park, which was when he was first exposed to equestrian sports.
Jamie didn’t even have to make his next statement of “that brought me to here and prepared me for what I am doing now,” because it was obvious to me how all of his previous jobs are intertwined with what he does now and also gives him an understanding of how to work with the government to expedite things under their protocols, which can often be very detailed and tedious.
As clear as it was to me that he is the right man for the job, Jamie proceeds with caution and feels that he’s “been very fortunate to have had such a diverse career. I joke sometimes that I can’t hold a job. I have been exposed to so many different types of jobs and careers that have brought me to this point.”
Jamie specifically pointed to his job of Resort Park Business Manager. “There I was the financial officer where you learn customer service, the hospitality industry from food service to lodging, to recreation with golf courses, to camp grounds and marinas. You learn how to treat people because tourism is so important to Kentucky and WEG is going to be a big tourism event.”
By this time I realized that if you had a wish list of the type of person and the background experience they had leading to this job you couldn’t have wished for a more perfect candidate. Yet it wasn’t because of this job that in 2007 Jamie finally retired from state government for greener pastures and lazy Sundays, something that was short-lived.
“I was ready to take life easy and that lasted all of three months. I came back to state government as Deputy Secretary of State Tourism Cabinet in December of 2007.” Agreeing to take the leap again into a government job was really what eventually catapulted him to his present position.
“The Games were awarded to the Horse Park in December of 2005. I came in 2006 and got to go to the Aachen World Equestrian Games. After that I was hooked and totally committed to the Games coming to Kentucky.”
Jamie explained that by virtue of his move to the State Tourism Cabinet he was a member of the Board of Directors for the World Equestrian Games. “So, I was reconnected back to the Games in a different capacity.”
It was in November of 2008 that John Long, CEO of the United States Equestrian Federation and Chair of the World Games Foundation, called to offer him the top position at WEG and Jamie once again took his career in a new direction and to me lightheartedly added, “You see that’s what I mean, I can’t hold a job.”
The Lighter Side of Jamie Link
While it is hard to get Jamie to focus on life beyond work, there are things he is looking forward to in 469 days and subtracting after the day we spoke. “I am a big fan of all different kinds of music from Classical to Country to Bluegrass to Classic Rock to the Carpenters,” he admitted. “I run the whole gamut of musical taste. Also, when I have the chance one of my lone escapes is entertainment television like NCIS, CSI and Law & Order. I am a Law & Order addict. One of my attorney friends jokes with me that I am a lay person when it comes to legal issues but I told her I watch Law & Order.”
For Jamie, entertainment TV allows him to escape and forget work for the duration of the show. “You can put your mind in the program and escape for a little bit.”
Jamie also enjoys talking with his wife and playing golf, something he has not done since October of 2008 which was right after the Ryder Cup was held in Louisville, certainly a high point for any golf enthusiast.
Jamie started the job the following January when he left his job as Deputy Secretary at the Kentucky Tourism Cabinet. Once he stepped into the WEG headquarters that pretty much nixed any of those free getaway moments in his life, “but for good reason,” he admits.
He’s had success on the golf course having had a handicap of 7 but he jokingly adds “right now I am probably about a 15. Golf is a game that you have to play. Not playing you lose your sharpness.”
And what is it about golf that inspires this devoted business man? “I think it is the personal challenge. It is not necessarily against the people you are playing with but rather you against yourself and the golf course in a way. You know you can hit the shots because you’ve hit them before but the challenge is to hit them every time you need to. I can probably drop four balls down and hit three on the green but I miss one. That is the challenge.”
I tried to dig a little deeper and see if there were any surprises hidden underneath that seemingly calm exterior but if Jamie was named president of the United States and had to go through the scrutiny that entails he assures me there is “nothing hidden. I am a very open and a very honest person; what you see is what you get. I really don’t have any secrets from anyone or anything. So I am who I am. There is nothing there in my background.”
And so that lead me into the question to which his initial reaction was “Boy that is an interesting question.” I wanted him to tell me who Jamie Link is. “I am who I am,” he remarked. “I think I am a hard and dedicated worker. I try to make decisions based on information. One of my favorite sayings is let me do the right thing today. It may not be the best thing for me. It may not be the best thing for someone else, but let me do the right thing, because if I do the right thing everything will work out fine.”
His answer to what brings him joy was no surprise. “Family, friends, and in a twisted sort of way work gives me joy; it’s that feeling of achievement.”
And sadness comes when “I have failed at something or I feel I’ve hurt someone (certainly not intentionally). It brings me down a little bit. Sometimes in this position you have to do things that may adversely affect others and I accept that responsibility but I also don’t take it lightly and I never get used to it.”
For someone who admired what Jamie has done and wanted to know how to achieve that success Jamie offered, “You better be able to multitask and know that there are politics in everything – it is not just in the government. Politics can mean many different things but it is managing expectations and relationships, working hard and being dedicated to what you are doing.”
We ended our conversation talking about goals for the future. Jamie concluded, “To know that the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games is coming to the Horse Park and that I am a part of it is hard for me to believe. It can certainly be intimidating because the bigger picture is what it means to the state of Kentucky. We put great value in the legacy we leave behind for the future of the Horse Park and by extension what that does for the tourism industry in Kentucky. With these Games we truly believe that the KHP has become the equine center in North America for sure if not the world. Right now my present goal may sound a bit idealistic but it is what I truly feel. Now I am purely focused on October 11th of 2010 and making sure that on that day we wake up and look back at the previous 16 days saying we did it and we did it well!”