by Anika Jain (’22) and Nikita Senthil (’23) | March 21, 2022
Living in Silicon Valley, many Lancers have continued on to fulfilling professions in the biotechnology industry. Jim Kaspari (’80) is a Saint Francis alumnus and track and cross country Hall of Famer, who had a successful career at Genentech before retiring and starting his own business consulting company. Over time, he coalesced his business experience and knowledge into five books, including PEAK Profits: 8 Proven Methods to Exponentially Grow Your Business. This interview has been edited for length.
The Lancer: What led to your decision to attend Saint Francis?
Jim Kaspari: That is an interesting story in itself. I grew up in Portola Valley, and I went to Saint Francis from 1976 to 1980. Before that, there were drug problems at my local high school. I don’t think it’s like that anymore. But, frankly, I knew myself, and I wanted better discipline, better role models in my life, and definitely didn’t want to be exposed to drugs. I had a friend who was a year ahead of me who went to Saint Francis, and he absolutely loved it. I had heard about the sports programs and scholastic programs and did everything I could get in.
TL: During your time at Saint Francis, did you have a favorite teacher or a favorite class that still stands out to you?
JK: Yeah, I worked at Genentech for 20 years, and what led to that was Mr. Dozier, my science teacher. He was also the assistant coach for the cross country team, which I was on, and I just love science. I went to UC Davis; I got a degree in Biological Sciences, and that helped me get my job at Genentech. Mr. Dozier was a gentle soul—very kind, very supportive, and not a super dynamo, but he cared and taught well.
The other person who was instrumental in my development and life was Coach Tom Tuite, after whom Saint Francis’ track is named. He is another incredible man: he taught history and was a great coach who led by example.
TL: Can you share more about your experience with cross country at Saint Francis?
JK: I’d love to: that was a highlight of my life. I was a super shy child. I tried every single sport you can imagine—swimming, baseball, tennis, football, basketball, soccer—I just happened to be a good runner. Coach Tom Tuite was an alternate in the Olympics marathon, so he knew his stuff by experience, and he designed great workouts. He had us run farther than a lot of the other high school coaches did. In the morning announcements, if I won a race, I would have my name announced, and it allowed me to socialize because other kids would come up to me and congratulate me.
To this day, I still run. I live in Folsom, so sometimes I’ll run along the American River Trails. As a business consultant, I advise my clients to work out in some way. What I’ve found is whether it was at UC Davis or in my business or at Saint Francis, taking the extra time and energy to do sports actually gave me more focus, more efficiency, and I got more done in the remaining time than I would have if I didn’t do sports. I really condone that principle.
TL: You mentioned running track and cross country for UC Davis as well. How was the transition going into collegiate sports?
JK: Awesome. I varsity lettered eight times at UC Davis, so every year I was on varsity. The guys on the team and a lot of the women are still friends today. It’s been 34 or 35 years, and we still get together or go for runs. From a physical aspect, that’s obviously good, but again, it helped me focus on school and my social life.
I was a good runner, but the competition was pretty tough in college, and I only won one race during my senior year at the conference championships. Our team swept the first five places in 1984, I believe. That’s about as good as you can do.
After college, I ran for another 10 years competitively. I got to travel around, I got sponsored, and it was just a great experience. I tried to make the Olympic marathon trials qualifier. I believe I was in shape to do it, but I blew out my Achilles tendon from overtraining before I was supposed to compete, so that was a huge disappointment, but another life lesson was available there.
TL: Beyond track and cross country, you were also involved in the drama department at Saint Francis. What productions were you a part of, and what were your roles in them?
JK: I was cast as the Purser in Anything Goes, and I was given a musical role. I kept jumping octaves because I had no musical experience. It’s funny that that experience was my first venture into singing and acting in public; it was terrifying. But now I’m in a band and regularly sing in public, and it seems to be just fine.
I also played Zeus in a Woody Allen play called God. I swung out over the audience in Deus ex Machina. I didn’t have a lot of lines, but that was pretty spectacular.
TL: In high school, what were your favorite bands or musical genres in general?
JK: Probably the same bands I listen to today: The Eagles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Neil Young; I play a lot of that music. I play guitar and sing. I’ll listen to classical music sometimes. Jimmy Buffett has some great ballads and stories. I like songs that have good stories—Jim Croce, James Taylor.
TL: What inspired you to start your own consulting company?
JK: I retired young. People were coming to me and asking, “Hey, can you help me start this business, or can you help me with real estate investing?” In order to retire, I was doing real estate and investing on the side while I was doing my career. I didn’t go to business school; I just learned from books, from seminars, and from having my own coaches.
Saint Francis helped me have confidence that whatever I wanted to do, I could take it on, I could learn it. Why am I still doing it? I love it. Business, entrepreneurship, and marketing involves left brain analytical skills, right brain creativity, and understanding human psychology. It’s a multivariate puzzle, but the pitfalls and the success principles are common. I have written a bunch of books, which I’ve distilled from my experiences of coaching hundreds of people. I love helping people; it’s so cool.
TL: What would you say has been the biggest challenge career-wise for you so far?
JK: At Genentech, I either wasn’t mature enough or savvy enough to navigate the politics very well. It was later in life that I developed emotional intelligence. I use it all the time in my coaching and consulting. I came from a family of engineers, so I was more logical and scientific in my approach, and I was the kind of guy that would address the elephant in the room. It was not great for my career.
I learned a little bit from that, but having my own business, I’ve really had to gain those skills. Trusting my gut, intuition, heart, and spiritual connection helps me come up with the right ideas for my clients.
The other thing that was incredibly tough was I lost $1.8 million in 2008. That was a few years after I retired. I had built up my net worth, and the whole economy crashed, which was a blow to my ego. I gained humility from that experience.
TL: Do you have any advice for current Saint Francis students?
JK: I was hoping you would ask that. There’s a couple of things. Firstly, when I lost $1.8 million, my ego was quite bruised. I wanted to fix it because it was a painful experience, so I was focused on making money. But making money is not what it’s about. Money isn’t good or evil. It’s people that make it so. Money is a magnifier of who we are. What I tell people is if you want to make more money, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it should be a function of how many people you help and how much you help. That’s what matters. What matters is core values, integrity, honesty, and doing what you say you’re going to do. I’m a firm believer in that as a foundation. If you have a job and you’re part of a bigger organization, sometimes we lose sight of that. What are the company’s values? How do they support the local community or the world? What charities do they support?
The last thing I’d like to share is gratitude. You may have some horrible things going on; you may have deaths in the family or a painful breakup. Life has its ups and downs, but as Saint Francis alumni and Saint Francis students, we are so blessed with so many gifts.
I enjoyed reading this. You have done well.
Enjoyed the read and memories of the Davis track and field days!