Groking the room with Wes Hall

February 04, 2022 · 4 min readAmbassadors

Meet Wes Hall

Approachable is the first word that comes to mind when you meet Wes Hall. Attentive, curious, friendly, youthful and intelligent are other characteristics one could use to describe the Memphis native.

Despite his celebrity status as "Big Wes" with a Nottingham Forest football club in England, his obsession with the Dave Matthews Band, and his comic book collection on black superheroes permanently archived at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture, it was the subtler side of Wes's personality that stood out to grok. That and his quilting, of course, but more on that in a minute.

Reading (groking) the room

Wes has an uncanny knack for absorbing ideas without derailing or dismissing them, a gift only the grok-worthy possess.

Reading the room isn't easy, but Wes has taken a lifetime of experiences, some harsh, some quirky, some downright profound, and turned a task many see as daunting into a super power, a super power he was able to break down into some simple steps and habits.

We had him put those tips in a template if you want to try them out in your next meeting.

Growing up in Memphis

Wes describes the Memphis neighborhood where he spent his childhood matter-of-factly as “hood.” And when he talks about his stepfather, a charismatic entrepreneur known as “Craft," you can hear him shift from admiration to caution, then back to admiration again with his signature measured pragmatism.

“He was into marketing and distribution,” Hall says with an implied wink. 

Preceded by a long line of communicators and facilitators (Southern Baptist deacons and preachers), Wes’s natural charisma and intuition is a trait passed down for generations in his family.

At the height of the crack epidemic in the 1980s, Wes saw the highs and lows of fast money. Craft sold drugs, and Wes makes no bones about the doors that financial success opened for him. From video games to private schooling, Craft spared no expense on Wes and his sisters. 

“I was the first kid in my neighborhood to have a computer,” says Wes. 

Generous though they were, Wes’s parents were not immune to the misery that took hold of the American inner city in the ‘80s. Crack destroyed entire communities, laying waste to once vibrant cultural hubs. And both parents became frequent users of the relatively inexpensive, but highly addictive drug, as paranoia and unpredictable behavior became the norm in the Hall household.

Their relationship with drugs left little time for parenting, and Wes, the oldest sober person in the house, had no choice but to take care of his little sisters. Still a teenager, his new role as “guardian” understandably put a dent in his education. 

As his sisters got older, and his parents began to surface from their addictions, Wes went back to school. More mature, and keen to make use of his latent intellectual gifts, he became a model student, and his early exposure to technology (the aforementioned Radio Shack TRS-80) Wes was offered a computer science scholarship at  the historically black college LeMoyne-Owen in Memphis.

He appreciated college but, not unlike the majority of college freshmen, was uninspired and bored by most lectures. He wound up teaching himself code, simple fundamental languages like HTML, asp.net, and JavaScript made perfect sense to Wes. He was (and is) a tinkerer, and that proclivity made him an instant expert at coding.

But there was another talent quietly driving his success, a talent teachers didn’t necessarily grade for, but rewarded in other ways. After all, the classroom is where the best cut their teeth in room reading.

He could join a meeting or conversation, listen for a couple of minutes, assess the tone and objective, and know exactly how to  carry himself without losing sight of the big picture.

“I became a real chameleon,” he says. “I learned how to put myself in the shoes of whatever group I happened to be surrounded by at the time.” 

Equally comfortable with intellectuals as he was ne'er do wells, Wes’s ability to adapt and prosper transcended racial lines too. He listened hard, and found a way to empathize with an array of perspectives, sometimes happily, other times as a survival tool. 

People across social, economic, and racial strata listened to him when he spoke. And their trust and respect deepened when they saw his hard skills.

As school started to wind down, Wes decided to put his “tinkering” to work. He found a job listing that required basic coding skills, and thanks to his familiarity with HTML, he was able to cobble together a website for his portfolio; that website got him an interview and ultimately his first job in tech—which kickstarted a long career in tech and analytics leading large teams at Home Depot and Mailchimp. 

He’s helmed thousands of meetings over the past 30 years, and has seen the evolution of their dynamics play out, more recently with the shift to remote work and hybrid culture. He’s honed those hard skills too, and can “out query” any DBM you put him up against, but he says that part was easy. 

As a team leader, and proud grandfather, he’s learned that he doesn’t have to have all the answers. He surrounds himself with smart people to solve problems now, and is very comfortable with discourse. But the problems he likes to solve on his own these days have very little to do with tech, but there are still rooms to read and meetings to attend.

An avid reader, Wes picked up a copy of  “Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad,” a few years back and couldn’t put it down.

According to the book, “the code” was a function of the Underground Railroad and served as an unspoken way of giving direction. The authors, Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard described it in an article published in National Geographic

“A plantation seamstress would sew a sampler quilt containing different quilt patterns. Slaves would use the sampler to memorize the code. The seamstress then sewed ten quilts, each composed of one of the code's patterns.”

Wes devoured the book, and true to form, he immersed himself in the modality of quilting. 

“So now I quilt,” he says. “And I take classes on quilting with lots of people who look nothing like me, so the meetings have changed again, but I think I’m getting the hang of these too.”

If you’d like to see one of Wes’ custom groks on reading the room, look no further: Wes Hall grok

And if you're looking for a custom quilt, we can help you out there too. Go to bigwes.com for more details.

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