Episode 287 – James Laing

Jim is a Regional Controller & Former Pro Hockey Player

Jim Laing talks about his lifelong passion for hockey, and his time as a professional hockey player as well as being drafted into the NHL! He also talks about how his pro hockey experience serves as a great ice breaker in the office and how his company promotes an open work environment for their employees!

Episode Highlights

• Getting into hockey
• Being drafted into the NHL
• Skills he learned from team sports that apply in the office
• Talking about his hockey experience at work
• How both an organization and individuals can promote sharing in the office
• How LDX Solutions promotes an open work environment


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Throwback to 1985

National Championship


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    Welcome to Episode 287 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “And” those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiates you when you’re in the office.

    I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book’s being published in just a few months. It’ll be available on Amazon and a few other websites. Check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show and changing the cultures where they work because of it, and the book will really help to spread that message.

    Please don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week, and this week is no different with my guest, Jim Laing. He’s the regional controller with LDX Solutions outside of Seattle and now he’s with me here today. Jim, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Jim: My pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.

    John: Oh, absolutely. It was so fun meeting you at the Sage event a couple of years ago that I spoke at and so I’m excited that we’re able to make this happen. We do the 17 rapid fire questions right out of the gate. Get to know Jim on a new level here. Start you out with an easy one, favorite color.

    Jim: Favorite color is blue.

    John: Nice. How about a least favorite color?

    Jim: Mustard.

    John: Mustard. Yeah, that’s a good answer. That’s a good answer. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Jim: That’s tough to choose. I like them both. Let’s go with Star Trek because I liked that first.

    John: Okay, okay. All right. How about your computer, more PC or a Mac?

    Jim: PC at the office, Mac at home.

    John: Oh, fancy, like ambidextrous. I don’t even know if that applies but sounds good. How about favorite ice cream flavor?

    Jim: Chocolate chip mint.

    John: Oh, solid. I love how you put the chocolate chip first.

    Jim: That’s stange?

    John: Because some people say the mint chocolate chip and it’s like, mm.

    Jim: Yeah, I don’t get that one.

    John: Yeah, there should be more chocolate chips in there than mint. That’s awesome. How about a favorite movie of all time?

    Jim: Nothing comes at the top of my mind, but I would say anything from Clint Eastwood in the early ‘70s.

    John: Oh, okay. All right. That sounds good. How about what’s a typical breakfast?

    Jim: Typical breakfast is coffee and lots of it.

    John: Okay. Fair enough. There you go. How about financials, balance sheet or income statement?

    Jim: You know all the way.

    John: All right, all right. How about cats or dogs?

    Jim: I have both, but I’m more of a dog guy.

    John: Okay, all right, all right. How about a favorite number?

    Jim: Number four, Bobby Orr, and that’s also the date of my birthday.

    John: Oh, fantastic. That’s probably why Bobby Orr chose the number.

    Jim: It might be.

    John: Yeah, but what a legend. How about a least favorite vegetable?

    Jim: Oh, that’s easy. That is going to be cucumbers or celery.

    John: Really? Okay. All right. That’s interesting. I guess they are pretty similar because they’re just full of water and not a whole lot of taste. It’s like you have to dip them in something else in order to eat them.

    Jim: Yeah. Some people don’t like cilantro. I don’t mind it, but cucumbers and celery, to this day, still don’t like them.

    John: That’s interesting. Interesting. How about pens or pencils?

    Jim: Pens.

    John: Pens. There you go. No mistakes, I like that. How about puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?

    Jim: More Sudoku.

    John: More Sudoku? There you go. How about chocolate or vanilla?

    Jim: Chocolate.

    John: Chocolate. Yeah. You’re like, that’s not even a question.

    Jim: No.

    John: Right. How about, do you have a favorite comedian?

    Jim: Oh, there’s so many.

    John: Yeah, rattle them off if you have more than one. That’s good.

    Jim: Sure. Mel Brooks, Fred Sanford. Those are probably two of my favorites going way back. Robin Williams, fantastic, love him.

    John: Yeah, those are all great, all great. Two more, two more. Early bird or night owl?

    Jim: I like them both.

    John: Okay. All right. Yeah. Just sleep during the day, I like that. No, I’m just… That’s why it’s coffee for breakfast. I can see what’s going on here. The last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have.

    Jim: I would say the championship ring from the Canadian Men’s Hockey. That’s probably the most cherished sporting thing that I have. Because when you play team sports, championships are very few and far between, unless you get extremely lucky to be on a good team, more than one opportunity in your life.

    John: Yeah, absolutely. That dovetails perfectly into your passion and just playing hockey and just being around hockey, I guess. When did you get started playing?

    Jim: I was five years old when a kid from Norway moved into my neighborhood, and we became fast friends. He was learning how to skate or continuing to learn how to skate, and he dragged me along with him. The next year when we were six, he came to me and said, “I’m going to play hockey, and my dad’s going to coach a hockey team. Do you want to come along with me?” I said, “Sure,” went back to my dad and said, “I want to go play hockey with my buddy, Tom, down the street.” My dad looked at me like I was crazy, said, “Hockey? Nobody plays hockey around here. What do you mean?”

    John: Right.

    Jim: To this day, he says that was the most expensive maybe he’s ever said in his life.

    John: That’s awesome. That’s exactly very expensive. Yeah, for sure. Hockey is not a cheap sport. That’s for sure. That’s awesome though. So, at six years old, playing and then obviously continued to play. Was it mostly rec leagues? Or at some point, I’m sure, it moved to travel teams.

    Jim: Yeah. It started off as rec leagues, house leagues and then the scene started to dwindle. My first organization folded and then the second organization folded, so there was only one other one. By that time, I’d really gotten to a point where I loved the sport over soccer or football or basketball. I loved all sports but hockey was the one that mined all of those together, for me anyway. So I moved to this last organization and was able to make their traveling team. That’s when things really took off for me.

    John: That’s awesome, and that’s an interesting perspective of how hockey is a combination of a lot of different sports. It’s something I never thought of before, but you’re totally right. You just throw it on ice because might well make it hard.

    Jim: That’s right.

    John: Type of thing. Yeah. That’s awesome. So then the travel team and, like you said, really started to take off. You’re a big dude. It’s not often that hockey guys, maybe back in the day, well it’s not even back in the day, but Chris Pronger, I remember as being just a huge dude too. Were you starting to grow then or did the growth spurt happen later on?

    Jim: I was big from the beginning, as far as my peers. Definitely when I got into sports, I was bigger than most people at an early age. I would say if you compared me now, where I was then, the kids now, I’m probably average-sized for professional athletes, but back then —

    John: Oh, wow.

    Jim: — 6’4” at 220, I was a big person for hockey.

    John: For sure. You were able to play in college in… Where did you go to school?

    Jim: I got a scholarship to play in upstate New York at a place called Clarkson University, near Lake Placid, north of Cornell, north of Colgate.

    John: Lake Placid, that’s where the Miracle — right? The Miracle on Ice?

    Jim: It was.

    John: Yeah. See, I watched the movie. No, I’m just kidding. Yeah, and then you played there. I think it’s just so awesome, drafted in the NHL. What was that like?

    Jim: It was, for me, shocking actually because professional hockey was off the radar. I knew I was getting noticed, but I had no idea that I would be drafted. Back then, only the kids that were playing junior hockey in Canada were really — had their finger on the pulse of what teams are watching them and where are they ranked. There was no central scouting or anything like that. Basically, I was at home in the summer. I got a phone call and said, “Hey, you’ve been drafted 51st overall.”

    John: Really? That’s awesome. That’s fantastic, man. 51st, yeah, that’s not chump change, that’s for sure. That’s incredible. You’re home. Your dad calls you in from moving the grass and says, “Hey, get in here.” That’s incredible, man.

    Jim: I was working at a car — I was a car jockey, and I got a phone call from…

    John: Yeah.

    Jim: The guy who owned it was the father of one of the kids I was playing with or had played with in junior high school. He said, “Come in here, I’ve got a phone call. Take my office.” I’m thinking, what? What did I do wrong?

    John: Right. Yeah. Totally. Then to find out you’re drafted. Then is it like, I’m done with school and I go play hockey now?

    Jim: No. That’s why I went to school because I wanted an education. Had I really thought that that was 100% guarantee, I would have played major junior hockey for the Portland Winterhawks because they were the junior team in the Canadian leagues that had my rights. Back in that time, they were really a powerhouse team, so I would have gone there. My dad helped me see the light and went to school instead. So I stayed in school.

    John: No, that works. Yeah. So then you graduated. What team did you go to be a part of their program?

    Jim: Calgary had drafted me. When they drafted me, they were mediocre, a couple of years out of Atlanta, moved to Calgary and were struggling to make the class. By the time I turned pro, as Murphy’s Law would have it, they lost to Montreal in the finals that first year, so they became a powerhouse for the next ten years.

    John: Yeah, yeah. So then you were probably on a minor league them then?

    Jim: I was relegated to the minors, training camp. I played in Salt Lake City, training camp in Moncton, New Brunswick and then shipped off to Salt Lake City in the international league and played there for a year and decided I was in the right place, just the wrong time.

    John: Right, right, but that’s such a cool experience. I would imagine that some of that carries over to now, your career has — do you feel there are any skills that you learned from, even professional hockey that carried over to your professional world now?

    Jim: First, for me, the biggest principle is life skills and all-around life skills from team sports. I can’t stress to other people that have kids, how important it is to get your kids in any kind of team sports at a very young age because it just gives them these life skills that they’re going to take with them for the rest of their lives.

    When you get into work, it’s a team. Everything is team-oriented. You have to be collaborative. You have to cooperate. You’ve got a boss that’s like your coach. You’ve got other people that act like the referees. You’ve got coworkers who are like your teammates. You may not like them, but you have to work together. You’ve got to pass the puck or pass the ball or collaborate on an assignment because you went over a customer or whatever. All of those skills you learned as a kid on team sports transfer to work. That’s the biggest principle I got from sports.

    John: Yeah. I grew up playing sports, never hockey but mostly soccer, baseball and basketball and a little football. Not everyone can score the touchdown or hit the home run or whatever, but it takes all the moving parts to make that happen.

    Jim: It does. Each part is important, and you learn that as a kid. As an adult, you get to look back and see, oh, yeah, I get it now. I now understand what the coach was talking about. Oh, now I get it because I’ve experienced bad calls from referees. Now I’m here in business, and I got a bad call from a regulatory agency or something like that. You get it. You have this perspective that helps you understand or at least step back and try to understand the other person’s point of view.

    John: Yeah. The only difference now is there’s no penalty box or five for fighting type of thing.

    John: You can’t just pull someone’s shirt over their head. Just like, what did you say, pull their shirt over their head and just… That’d be great. Chuck people into the wall while you’re walking down the hallway. Oh, didn’t see you, sorry, type of thing. No, but that’s such a great point. It’s cool that you’re able to see that translate over from playing as a kid to today. Is this something that — I mean, you still play now, right?

    Jim: Yes, I still play now on a couple of men’s teams. Now we call it the NHL nighttime hockey league.

    John: Oh, that’s awesome.

    Jim: Otherwise referred to as the beer league.

    John: There you go. That’s got an added degree of difficulty to all of it already type of thing. That’s pretty cool. In college we had a thing called, we called it wuss hockey. I forget, it was some acronym that it stood for, I’m sure. It was just basically people that could kind of ice skate but not really and had never played hockey before. All we needed was skates, any kind of gloves and a stick and a helmet, and the puck had to stay on the ground. We would go to the rink on campus where the real team played but at 11 pm or whatever.

    Jim: Yeah.

    John: Yeah. It was so funny because I was okay at skating forwards but outside of that. You’re on a breakaway and then all of a sudden the puck gets stuck. You’re like, oh. You can’t exactly just stop and go get it. You’ve got to do the big circle around. By then, everyone else has gotten there. It was hard because I’m sweating, but I’m freezing. It was quite an experience to play or try to play anyway. So, kudos, man. That’s really cool. Is this something you talk about at work?

    Jim: It’s definitely a conversation point when I get hired places. It somehow gets out that So-and-So who’s working here was a professional athlete at some point in their career.

    John: Yeah, I would imagine because it’s a cool thing. It differentiates you. You’re like, yeah, but I’m also good at accounting. Yeah, so was the last guy but whatever type of thing. I would imagine people probably want to talk about that more, a little bit more than the reports all the time.

    Jim: Yeah. It’s a good icebreaker for a lot of things.

    John: Is this something where coworkers come to games or even ask about games that you’re playing now?

    Jim: Oh, they ask me about it but —

    John: Or anything like that?

    Jim: — certainly, the caliber of the hockey that I play now and the time of the day that I play now is not conducive to anybody coming to watch.

    John: Right. That’s super funny. Yeah, it goes back to the night owl and the coffee for breakfast. I’m catching the theme here. How much do you feel it’s on an organization to encourage people to share that? Because it sounds like you’re at a place where that’s encouraged. Or how much is it on the individual to just create that circle in their little world?

    Jim: I think it’s both. From a corporate standpoint, corporations need and should value a good work environment and a collaborative work environment. That means people sharing their experiences and appreciating others and so you need to be encouraged to share. From an individual perspective, it’s nice to hear about other people’s activities and their accomplishments or their interests because that’s what makes us unique and yet also brings us together when there’s commonality at the same time as contrast.

    John: Yes. I love that. I love that. Yeah, because I would imagine that in the places you’ve worked, you are probably the only former professional athlete in the office, but that doesn’t mean that people still can’t relate to you. If anything, I found — I mean I was certainly the only one that did comedy when I worked in corporate, but I found that people almost gravitated towards me more because of that. I think that that’s a cool thing that you share that or that you at least talk about it or playing sports at all type of a thing. I feel like sometimes we think, oh, well I’m the only one. Well that’s more of a reason to share.

    Jim: It is.

    John: Is there anything else that LDX does to encourage this sharing or to break down the walls so people feel more inclined to learn about each other?

    Jim: We started a couple of initiatives here at our office just outside Seattle, in Redmond. Because we’re an engineering design firm, so, accountants, engineers; we’re more introverted than extroverted when you look at the average on the curve. So, to facilitate that, we have barbecues every other month where we roll out the grill cook and everybody comes together in the conference room and eats their lunch together. Then every other month on the alternating months, we have what’s called Wicked Wednesdays which are really a social, 4:00. You can have a beer or a glass of wine and, again, just share your experiences, get together, know each other, feel more comfortable about each other.

    Since I’ve been here just over two years now, it’s really helped in the environment, the office environment. I’ve seen the difference in the people that have been here for many, many years because we have a lot of long-term employees here, have really been receptive to it and say it’s made a huge difference in the atmosphere and morale.

    John: Those are great examples of just getting people out of their office, out from behind their desk, out of their cubicles. Because for some reason we behave differently when we’re not in that setting and then that really just breaks down some of the barriers that people have in their minds to, well, I have to behave a certain way or I can’t talk about certain things or whatever in the office. We include our hobbies and passions in that list which is crazy but for some reason it’s in our minds. Those are great examples that everyone can do for sure, and it’s cool to hear the positive feedback from that and that it’s made a difference. That’s really cool.

    At any point, did you ever think, hey, my hockey or the fact that I was in NHL, maybe I shouldn’t share that because people will think that I’m maybe not as good at accounting?

    Jim: No, that never crossed my mind. I had been a little bit more social just because I’d been involved in team sports for so long. So it was never something that I felt was a hindrance or something that I shouldn’t talk about or that it detracted from other qualifications I have.

    John: That’s great. It’s just sometimes that creeps in on people’s psyche I guess but, yeah, it’s I am who I am, take it or leave it type of thing. If anything, you mentioned all the team sports and all the different things that you’ve learned from playing hockey, if anything, that makes me better at accounting than others because I just have something else to bring to the table than just the debits and credits. That’s great, man.

    Before we wrap this up, do you have any words of encouragement for anyone listening that thinks that maybe they’re the only ones that have a certain hobby or passion and maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with their jobs?

    Jim: I would say open up, take a chance, share, and you’d be surprised at how much that facilitates relationships and conversations.

    John: Yeah. I’ve never heard of a story where someone’s like, I shared that I like to play hockey and then I got fired the next day. No. That’s never happened. Or I shared with a client or… No, that’s never happened where bad things have happened. That’s awesome, man.

    Well it’s only fair, since I started out the episode asking you rapid fire questions, to allow you to now be the host and let you rapid fire question me if you have a couple.

    Jim: Sure. Favorite place to go down on vacation.

    John: I guess two come to mind. One is Costa Rica. That place is amazing. Everyone’s so friendly. There’s jungle but also the beaches. Yeah, it was just a really cool place. The other one was Cape Town, South Africa was pretty awesome too. It has all the infrastructure of like a Western city for the most part, but it’s still got that raw Africa vibe to it. Just an hour away is amazing wine country like Sonoma or Napa here in the US or straight south is the Cape of Good Hope where the Atlantic Ocean curves around to go under. It’s just crazy down there. There are monkeys just around, baboons just hanging out down Cape of Good Hope. Yeah, it’s just a cool place.

    Jim: So different from what we know here, right?

    John: Exactly, exactly.

    Jim: Favorite food.

    John: Favorite food. I think ice cream is going to be high on that list if that counts as — I mean I guess it’s a food. I’m not sure it’s staple but, yeah, ice cream is definitely my favorite food for sure.

    Jim: What was your most interesting conference or stand-up gig that stands out in your mind?

    John: Oh, wow. That’s a really good question. So many, some that were really, really good and some that were terrible where you’re like, oh. I don’t know. Opening for Louie Anderson at the Borgata in Atlantic City.

    Jim: Wow.

    John: Was probably my first big — I mean it’s a thousand people. That was pretty huge. Then I opened for the band, Train, and that was in front of 3,000 people or so. That’s more than my hometown, which dawned on me as I’m walking on the stage. There are more people here than in my whole hometown.

    Jim: You’re not supposed to think about that when you’re stepping on the stage.

    John: Right. Also, there’s so many lights. They were so bright that I couldn’t see — I couldn’t even see the edge of the stage. They have it taped off. So I was just like, do not fall off because then I’d become Robin Williams. Hey, everybody, da-da. I was just like, oh, my gosh. Those were pretty awesome.

    Then there’s also when I was newer and coming up. There was a bar show I did where these two guys wouldn’t stop playing pool right in front of where the stage was, and there was an NFL football play-off game on, and they wouldn’t turn the TVs off. People were like, “Hey, can you guys turn down the microphone because we’re trying to watch this football game.” You’re just like, what? This is crazy. All kinds, mostly from the comedy world. I’ve done it all, man. I’ve done it all. I’m sure, going back to your hockey days, you have similar stories where some are just amazing.

    Jim: Yes.

    John: You wish everyone was there to see, and some where you’re like, I don’t even know why I do this anymore. This is weird and all of them in between.

    Thank you so much, Jim, for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”? This is really, really fun.

    Jim: It has been my pleasure, really enjoyed it.

    John: Awesome, yeah. Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Jim on the ice or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the pictures and links are there, and while you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture.

    Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, that who you are is so much more than what you do.


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