Last Friday we celebrated CFO, Ghazi Akailvi on his retirement from Living Well. But in truth this was his second retirement. How is this possible, you ask? Turns out even a sea couldn’t separate him from our mission the first time he tried to retire.
Ghazi first joined Living Well in 2012, then set off to retire in 2016, even moving to India. But he was still deeply involved and worked on projects after he left. He would jump on calls in the middle of the night in India or call COO, Rod Calson in the middle of the night here, and they would get to work on details and have conversations that were essential to projects. Then Ghazi moved back in 2019, and he magically made his way back into his previous job without missing a beat. Even with a break he was always part of the team, which makes this retirement harder to swallow. People keep joking with him, asking when he will be back for this third trip though—but this time he is off for real and has fun things planned.
So, what exactly does he have planned? He is going to spend time with his family and travel. Lots and lots of travel. And to make it even sweeter, he is going to travel with his son. A father of two grown children and a wife of 35 years, Ghazi is not going to be bored. He looks forward to getting out there and seeing the world and spending quality time with his people.
Coworkers will simultaneously celebrate his travel stories yet miss his gentle manner and quick wit. Nancy Schmidt, Accounts Payable, says, “Ghazi’s favorite artist is Bob Dylan who sings ‘Like A Rolling Stone.’ They say a rolling stone gathers no moss, which sums up Ghazi, who is always on the go and getting the job done.”
How big of a Dylan fan is Ghazi? Big enough that his coworkers know about it, and if Bob Dylan ever performs live again—chances are good he will get one or more of his family members to join him at a concert. Just like his kids did in 2018 when they joined their dad for a show in New York at the Beacon Theater. A fan since he moved here from India to attend the University of Minnesota, Ghazi is a huge fan of one of Minnesota’s most beloved and prolific music makers. Ghazi considers Dylan’s music to be poetry and likes that he is not a traditional singer. Ghazi remembers seeing Dylan out and about in Dinky Town when he was in school. He loves that his music is accessible to many, and that his lyrics are pure storytelling. To fans like Ghazi, it is no surprise that other bands want to perform on the same stage as Dylan.
And it is no surprise to us that Ghazi’s coworkers all have amazing things to say about him, as he is also someone that people enjoy being around. Another member of his team, Nancy Elfering, Accounting Manager, enjoyed working with Ghazi and says, “Ghazi is very proud of his family. He is very supportive of his sons in their chosen careers and would share links to his oldest son’s talented videos and had some of his art available at one of our Galas. He now works at Kare11. He had also worked for Living Well in our Communications department and at Paul’s Place as a DSP.”
Devan Heinsen, CDO, says, “Ghazi’s leadership and thoughtful strategies have reinforced Living Well for today and the future. He will be deeply missed across the organization not only for his heart for our mission and financial expertise, but also his ability to always make others laugh with a great joke. His quick wit is truly unforgettable. We wish him all the best in his next chapter!”
Beth Tollefson, Senior Director of Program Service, says, “We are really going to miss Ghazi. He has been such a wonderful asset to our organization and his knowledge and expertise have greatly benefited Living Well. He possesses such a helpful skillset needed for budget planning, management, technical skills. But what stands out for Ghazi is that he also has a huge heart for the mission of our organization. I am excited for him to enjoy his much-deserved retirement.”
Rod Carlson, COO, says, “For someone working as a CFO he has a true balance of focus. While his attention is on the best financial outcomes of the organization, ultimately his primary concern is the people we support. And that makes him unique in many ways.”
Heather Lake, Regional Director, says, “Ghazi has a calm demeanor and is easy to work with. Ghazi is kind and cares about all people from Living Well employees to people we support. He gave Living Well the push we needed to get technology into more hands so we can be more efficient in the work that we do.”
And CEO, Tom Gillespie, says, “Ghazi’s unique ability to view financial operations through a caring and compassionate lens has resulted in several accomplishments during his tenure at Living Well. During his time at Living Well, we have come to own all of our homes outright, we have developed strategic reserves to ensure the long-term viability of the organization, we have built a forward looking approach to IT to ensure our organization will have what it needs now and in the future, and most of all we have built a collaborative culture that values and cares about our services and our financial stability. Additionally, it was because of his doing that Living Well pursued and successfully received millions in COVID-related support that have kept our organization healthy and strong despite all the turmoil of the last 5 years. We will be forever grateful for all the contributions Ghazi has made, as well as the positive impact he has had on our organization.”
Not one for public acknowledgement these words are likely to make him blush. But when someone can so beautifully lead with both left brained logic and language, and right brained creativity and intuition—it is obvious to all that he is one of a kind.
What does Ghazi himself say he will miss about his retirement? When asked he said, “The people absolutely, and my work. I loved what I did here. And the mission, being able to help people is wonderful. This is one of the best places I have ever worked. Here we are doing well, and helping people that nobody helps. There is no political gain in helping, we treat them as we treat each other.”
His dedication to the mission is truly beautiful, and we will miss his dedication and commitment to helping people and being of service to others. Best of luck, Ghazi!
Meet Pete Koehn, Interim CFO: Pete joins the team with decades of experience in the business world. He has had a career focused on finance and leadership. His experience includes national and international positions ranging from entry level to CFO and CEO positions in the for-profit sector. In addition to these experiences, Pete has a passion for the work we do. He has served on the board for some of our peer organizations and is also very involved in the care of a loved one who is receiving services in a group home.