Rob La Gesse’s resume reads like a Hollywood script.
Navy veteran. Mayor. Wi-Fi development team member. Author.
A man of many talents, La Gesse credits his accomplishments to working with great leaders and innovators of technology. That, and caring about others around him.
“My life, from being a medic to a vice president in a publicly-traded company, has been about how I can empower other people,” La Gesse, 59, said. “I call it compassionate leadership. Everything that happened to me happened because I was nice to someone.”
He grew up in Papineau, Illinois, one of six boys. At 16, his family moved to Corpus Christi. He said it was a memorable trip because they drove through traffic-jammed streets of Memphis on the day of Elvis Presley’s funeral.
College wasn’t a financial option. In 1979, after La Gesse graduated from Mary Carroll High School, he enlisted in the Navy.
La Gesse trained as a respiratory therapist and deployed as a combat medic with the Marine Corps. The medical training he received has enabled him to perform life-saving CPR on many occasions in more than a few unexpected places, including a boat, plane and at a hardware store.
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In 1984, La Gesse married Diane, an Army nurse who was stationed at Fort Sam Houston. He separated from the Navy so they could stay together and not be assigned to different duty stations.
When she was transferred to San Francisco, La Gesse, now a civilian, went with her and worked 18 months at Letterman Hospital tending to crack babies, AIDS patients and people who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. Seeing sadness every day prompted him to leave the health care field.
“I was losing more than I was winning,” La Gesse said.
His next career started the day he stepped into a Radio Shack in Novato, California, to order a battery and saw a help-wanted sign.
La Gesse asked the manager what qualifications the job required.
“Can you count money?” the manager replied. La Gesse took the job.
Three months after La Gesse was hired, he became the store’s manager at age 23. The store drew in Hollywood legends such as Francis Ford Coppola, Robin Williams and Steven Spielberg. Coppola, a frequent shopper, gave him a bottle of wine from his winery before La Gesse left the store when his wife was reassigned to San Antonio.
“I’ve just been dropped in places where I’ve met these interesting people,” he said. “It’s pure happenstance.”
About the author
A 22-year veteran of the Air Force, Vincent T. Davis embarked on a second career as a journalist and found his calling. Observing and listening across San Antonio, he finds intriguing tales to tell about everyday people. He shares his stories with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.
La Gesse repaired print shop equipment and sold computers while he picked up a new hobby — running a multi-line, dial-up bulletin board system that allowed users to connect with each other . He taught himself how to program, a move that resulted in a job with a local, small engineering company developing wireless networking technology.
“Look at WiFi today. People don’t think about it. It’s there, it’s like oxygen,” La Gesse said,adding that it wasn’t like that when wifi was first developed. “Nothing was more exciting than taking your laptop outside and to still be on the Internet. That was unthinkable.”
In 1995, his wife was assigned to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, where he became a Red Cross volunteer. They lived at U.S. Army Fort Shafter, in Hau’oli Heights, overlooking Honolulu.
La Gesse, a stay-at-home dad, volunteered as mayor of the community to improve living conditions for thousands of military families. It wasn’t a political appointment, but had some of the same duties as a regular mayoral position. But not all, he was quick to add.
“I wore the white hat,” La Gesse said. “I built a super playground and championed daycare. It wasn’t like being a Ron Nirenberg mayor.”
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A stint with his old company moved him to Melbourne, Florida, 20 miles from Cape Canaveral. Four hurricanes within four months left his home without power, water or internet service.
Then the company downsized and he lost his job in Florida. La Gesse’s employers moved him on an executive relocation package back to the Alamo City. He had been divorced for several years and as a single father sought to spend more time with his children, Derek and Lauren, who were in his custody.
From 2005 to 2008, he worked as an independent technology consultant and became a customer of Rackspace, the internet hosting company.
At one point, he worked with Rackspace on an event involving several companies and was pleased with the results. At the end of the event, Graham Weston, Rackspace co-founder and then-CEO, stopped by. After a series of meetings, Rackspace recruited Le Gesse as director of software development. And another career was born.
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Nan Palmero, director of marketing at Office Furniture Liquidations, said his friend has a magical way with words. He said La Gesse’s matter-of-fact style helps him share a gentle word with those that need a pick-me-up and then deliver a bold message to leaders with conviction.
“Where others would wring their hands, Rob speaks with courage,” Palmero said. “He’s so open to speaking to anyone, he regularly publishes his cell phone number publicly on social media inviting anyone anywhere to call and talk. It’s a good thing he doesn’t sleep.”
Now semi-retired, La Gesse has embarked on his latest career, sharing lessons he’s learned in a book titled, “Replace Yourself: The Tech Geek’s Guide to Navigating Leadership.”
Proceeds go to dog rescue rescues in San Antonio, Denver and Boulder, Colorado. His humanitarian gesture is a tribute to the canines in his life, especially his rescue dog, Yoshi, a border collie he said rescued him during a time of need.
“Everything in my life has been about the people around me,” La Gesse said. “I’ve been lifted by so many shoulders.”