The Passing of a Family Member, Friend, and Force in Our Community: A Tribute to Wil Agatstein

It is with an extremely heavy heart that I write this blog entry. Yesterday I learned of Wil Agatstein’s sudden and unexpected passing.  

 A Tribute to Wil Agatstein

Wil Agatstein was the Executive Director of the Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, taught various classes in international business and innovation at the GSM, and sat on several start-up advisory boards.  Prior to his tenure at the GSM, Wil was Vice President of Emerging Markets at Intel for nearly three decades.  In that position, he literally changed the way the world communicates by developing small, rugged and affordable laptops for developing regions.  For his truly impressive biography, click here

Wil’s passing leaves a painful void in the GSM community.  I write this blog entry today because Wil was a good personal friend of mine and I want to take a moment to write about the kind and wonderful man he was both inside and outside of the classroom.

In 2011, I took a class from Wil as part of the Executive Leadership Program at the UC Davis Extension.  Wil taught a module on planning start-up business initiatives, and for eight hours straight, I was fascinated.  I have always wanted to go into business consulting or create a start-up venture of my own someday, but it always seemed like just a dream.  In eight hours, Wil completely changed my frame of reference from dreaming to reality… and he realized it.  He kept me after class that night, discussed my background and career goals with me, and talked about some of the innovative features of the UC Davis MBA program that were right in line with what I wanted to do.  As I write this two years later, I remember two things that stood out about that night:  1) I walked out of his class truly believing in myself and my goals in a way that I never had before, and 2)  I was truly humbled that someone as accomplished as Wil took so much time to help me explore my future.  In the fall of 2012, I took my seat in UC Davis’s Daytime MBA program in large part because of Wil’s influence.

I mentioned Wil’s impressive biography above, but it is tough to get a complete sense of a person through a biography, so I am going to attempt to do that in the words I am about to write.  Anyone who talked to Wil felt instantly accomplished and important.  I was always fascinated by Wil’s humility when I talked to him.  My classmates did not have a chance to take Wil’s classes because they are electives offered in the second year, however, I am fascinated by the rememberings of him on our “UCD GSM Class of 2014” Facebook page.  Just based on small conversations and introductions, many members of my class have been influenced and inspired by Wil’s encouragement and keen interest in their lives.  On that same vein, posts are coming in from around the world on a collection of Facebook groups about the way Wil touched people’s lives.  It is clear that when Wil walked into a room, everyone in that room felt truly amazing about themselves, the world, and its possibilities.

In feel extremely lucky to have known Wil in the capacity that I did.  I was fortunate enough to have many wonderful conversations with him and I’ll never forget what it felt like to stop by his office at the GSM.  No matter what he was in the middle of, he would jump up with his warm smile, arms outstretched for a hug, and ask you how things were going. Wil always had time for others and many of my fellow students, colleagues, professors and friends have had similar experiences with Wil.

On this blog, we often write about what a close knit community the GSM is and how wonderful it is to form such close relationships with fellow students, faculty, and staff.  Unfortunately, this is one of the only moments I can think of where those close relationships can be painful, but I wouldn’t trade the confidence, inspiration, and kindness I received from Wil for anything.

As a tribute to Wil, I will never think anything is impossible, and I will never expect anything less than excellence from myself and my fellow classmates.  In fact, in honor of Wil, I think we should all pay tribute to him in that way.  To my fellow GSM community… just as we laugh, collaborate, and study together, we will now grieve together, and take this moment to commit to the kind of innovation and excellence Wil would be proud of.  As I picture telling this to Wil, his warm smile and outstretched arms flood my memory…