I have been in mourning the past few weeks, as most of you know. Through my sporadic social media posts, I have shared about the loss that I have experienced with the sudden passing of my direct supervisor at work, Joe Ashworth. In some ways, I know that there are some people out there who may not be able to comprehend the loss that I am experiencing; in a lot of respects, work relationships are simply that: work relationships. Luckily for me, I have had the pleasure of being managed by some exemplary people in my career –notably in my career with Hilton.
When I first moved to L.A. without a job—to escape the monotony of DC’s “government contractor” culture (no offense to my favorite “government contractors” –!!!), I was lucky to have landed a job with Hilton Hotels Corp. in Beverly Hills. One of my first supervisors on the job was Javier Fajardo. Javi, as we all lovingly refer to him as, was a good boss. He had our backs and was there to really guide us in our career journey. When Hilton decided to move east, and leave the BH history in the past, I was able to stay with the company. In that transition period, I was managed by several people in succession: Quang Nguyen and Bob Bibeault, and eventually, Greg Klem. Each of them were super supportive of me, and also guided me through the transition from BH to McLean, and through a new career in partnership marketing. Eventually, Greg moved on to bigger and greater things, and David Black came into my life. And again, I was privileged enough to have been guided by David, who did all he could to bring out the best in me. With David, I moved into my first managerial position within our department, and that was a testament to his guidance.
When I reached a crossroads in my career, it was David who encouraged me to go for a senior management position within our brand teams. I’ll never forget it either. He did tell me that—as much as it would hate for him to lose me, he knew that this was an opportunity that was meant for me. With that confidence in my pocket, I applied for the job, and eventually got it without knowing who I would report to.
Enter: Joe Ashworth.
Joe was appointed to the position of Sr. Director of Luxury Brands Marketing in late 2013, just shy of a month when I was hired for the job of Sr. Manager. When I learned that I would be reporting into Joe, I was both skeptical (because I had never met the guy), and excited (being a team player is one of my strengths—in case you didn’t know… haha). Needless to say, I met the guy once on Skype when I had just accepted the position, and after we met in person for the first time in late 2013, he and I became “The Team.”
What happened next was nothing short of remarkable. And I know I can easily say that on my part; from my view, he and I were ready to conquer the world. We clicked instantly when we first met, as odd as we were as a pair: me, the sometimes uptight & martini-guzzling Asian American, and Joe –the super laid-back and casual British northerner. If someone saw us on the street at first glance, they’d most probably think, “WTF is this?!” But to us, none of that mattered. We were a team, and we played off each others’ strengths like it was written by the gods before us.
Joe and I would do what we had to do to “get things done.” With my experience in the company, he knew that I had the relationships that would help us get things moving. And I “worked” this to the best of my ability—never owing all the glory to me and Joe alone, but always remembering those who played their part in getting our campaigns off the ground. When Joe won an award during our luxury team meeting last year, he came straight to me, and said: “This should be yours more so than mine. If it weren’t for you, none of this would be possible.” I never even skipped a beat, telling him that he was more than deserving of the award. All that mattered to me were his words, which was the validation I cared for.
We had some great times, and not so great times during our time as a team. We reached some very high “highs,” but also met some all-time lows. But he was always the strong one, ensuring me that we would get it right next time. I believed him.
When he and I traveled on business –what we did was “magical” in my eyes. We had such a “lock and key” kind of dexterity that seemed to manifest everywhere we went. Whether we were singing along to music in the car while driving (in full harmonies, mind you), or whether we were trying to ink a partnership with Saint Laurent in Miami—our chemistry made the best of these things happen. I would do my thing, and he would do his… and together we got things done.
I’ll never forget the day I shot him a text because he hadn’t come into the office when he usually did. When he didn’t answer me, I thought the worst. But never wanting to allow “the worst” to be an option, I let it all slide hoping that anything negative I was thinking wouldn’t become the obvious reality. In the end, a co-worker and I drove out to his place to find out for ourselves. When the police and fire & rescue weren’t able to give us the answer we wanted to hear, I retreated into grief.
Buckets of tears and countless barters with God ensued… and even now, I still “fight” with God about how unfair his passing was –not only for me, but for the family that he left behind. I was pissed… still am pissed, actually, and a part of me doesn’t think I’ll be able to bounce back in a way that will be right.
Joe Ashworth was simply too young to have left this world. With a loving wife and twin boys in Crewe (UK), and with a promising marketing career with Hilton Worldwide, he was on the up and up. He came to Hilton with extensive “luxury” experience with Bentley, and he had already began making waves in the hospitality industry. Supporting both the Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotel brands, he was so sure that experiential marketing was the way to propel both brands into a bigger stratosphere. And he had my full support.
As his Sr. Marketing Manager, I did what I could to get things into market. I worked my relationships, and learned as much as I could from him. Through much laughter and even some less happy times, he and I plowed through—together. He never let me feel that he was feeling down about one thing or another. Instead, he uplifted me, which encouraged me to always step out of the box to figure things out. And thanks to his energy and support, that is exactly what I did. Initiative after initiative, I gave him my full support… and he always ensured that he would give me his.
Joe’s body was finally brought back to home to the UK, and thankfully my vice-president and I were given the opportunity to attend his funeral. I hoped and expected to find closure in all of this by attending. I was able to meet his wife, his two boys, and his mother, sisters and many others. I was floored by all the people who seemed to “know” my name, because he had spoken about me a lot during his trips back to the UK. What I learned was that he always bragged about how he and I just “clicked.” And to some, he even noted that he was grooming me to be his protégé. Hearing these things only validated the one thing I had always wondered during my time reporting into him: “Am I doing enough to support Joe?” Hearing all that I have from his family, I want to believe that I had done all I could, and maybe more.
I also learned something that has helped me through this difficult time: Joe had, once upon a time, been managed poorly by someone, and he vowed to never be “that person” to someone else. I can attest that he was never “that person” to me. He guided me every step of the way, and cultivated my own perspective on many things. He always had my back, never letting me deal with things that I probably should’ve dealt with to begin with; he just cared so much about what made me happy that he protected me from things that he thought weren’t worth my worry.
He was never afraid to tell me “how it was.” And he was always willing to spin these lessons into something that was comical or hilarious—to bring things full circle. In the same token, I think he saw in me many natural capabilities that are conducive to managing campaigns within the luxury market. He knew that I wasn’t just about the “glitz and glam,” but I was more about the long-term relationships, and the long-term ramifications that would amplify our ability to reach the “right market at the right time.” He “got” it, in all respects.
Aside from work stuff, he was always sharing his life with me… His love for his wife and twin boys was apparent. His respect for his mother and sisters was also apparent. His zest for life was something I can only emulate. He never took himself too seriously, and he always put the needs of others before his own.
Now that he is gone, I am saddened for many obvious reasons. But the most critical is that I was not able to let him know in person how much of an impact he had in my life in such a small period of time. In 16 months, he showed me a depth of respect and collaboration that I had never experienced in my life. He shared with me so much of his own personal life that I feel like I know all those who have been with him since the beginning. He let me in, and I hope that I was able to let him in as well.
Being in the UK for his funeral has been surreal. Meeting his family face-to-face was unbelievable. I’ve had his in-laws and cousins tell me that they’ve heard my name from him. I’ve heard people tell me that he shared how well he and I got on. I’ve heard people say that he considered me a friend above all. ALL of these things help me know and understand that he appreciated me as much as I appreciated him.
I only want to be the best person that I can be when it comes to work. I’m not at the office for just a pay-check, or to go through the motions. I’m there because it’s a part of my day-to-day, it pays me to live my life, and because I am surrounded by some of the most supportive people from a work-perspective that there can ever be. Hearing so many of these things has been a blessing, but it doesn’t ease the pain of losing the person that was in my corner… the person who had my back.
I honestly don’t know what will come of me after this. I know that I’m a strong person, and that I am resilient. After all, it is said that God never gives anyone anything they can’t handle. But this loss is huge. I don’t know that I’ve ever been affected by any one person in my work career as I have been with Joe Ashworth. And not to discredit those who came before him, because I love them just as much. But Joe was exceptional; he is irreplaceable.
I only wish that each and every one of you who read this will share in this happiness that I have had in my career. I wish that you will have someone who is in your corner, and who will support you no matter what. I also wish that whoever this person may be will have a presence in your day-to-day that keeps you going. I only wish that my person was still here.
Eventually, I know that my grief will change. It may never leave me, but it will manifest itself differently in time. I only hope that Joe never leaves my side. If there is anyone that I wish were still here with me physically, it is him. And I know that his family feels the same way, if not stronger. All I can do now is hope that after all has been said and done, that he knows how much of a positive impact he has had on my life. Because of him, I have been changed. And I only hope that you encounter someone just as influential in your lifetime.
I miss you, Joe. As cheesy as I know that this may sound, you have to know that you were like the older brother I never had. You were everything “real” about corporate America that can ever be, and I hope you are laughing at my yellow Nikes, or my classic martinis, and singing along to One Direction from above. You were special… don’t ever forget that.