2018 Person of the Year: Jim Gandy

Once in a while, we have the privilege of knowing truly exceptional people who show us how embodying the values of hard work, determination, perseverance, belief, faith, vision, stewardship and determination is entirely possible. While noting the remarkable work and the good they have done in the world, we are honored to get a glimpse into what shaped them into who they are and the journey they have been on throughout the years. Regardless of whether or not every aspect of the journey was meant to be impactful, the individuals at the epicenters of those stories are the ones who have ultimately proven we can forever strive to be better versions of ourselves, as we simultaneously work to better those around us. It is not often we encounter those whose journeys inherently motivate us to be better, and it is even rarer that we are able to learn about a legacy that is intertwined with the recent history of Frisco and what it has ultimately become. 

Jim Gandy, Frisco STYLE’s 2018 Person of the Year, is Frisco’s own version of a man who has navigated his journey beautifully while impacting lives — helping to build our city and standing firm upon the ideals on which he was raised and Frisco was founded. Throughout the progression of his life, Mr. Gandy has overcome obstacles, grown both personally and professionally and has become an influential and integral part of the community. With a sweet, genuine smile and a calm, collected, quiet humility, Mr. Gandy’s hard work, leadership and stewardship are remarkable. Though Mr. Gandy and his wife, Jan, have built their lives in and currently reside in Frisco, when his journey began, as the band Journey fittingly sang, he was “just a small town boy.”

Mr. Gandy was born in El Campo, Texas, to Cecil and Jeanette Gandy, and ultimately grew up just down the road in Ganado with his two sisters, Sandra and Gail. Cecil Gandy served in the U.S. Navy and owned a Texaco service station. He ultimately retired from the Texas Department of Agriculture as a Weights and Measure Inspector, while Jeanette Gandy was an executive assistant to State Senator William Patman. Mr. Gandy looks back on Ganado as a small farming and ranching community of about 1,200 people with a quaint Main Street. He recalls, “Our Main Street was lined with about five blocks of businesses and reminds me of what Frisco was a long time ago. Ganado was a great, rural place to grow up. Everyone knew you and you knew everyone. The Ganado ISD was a 2A school and my graduating class included 58 classmates. After overcoming a childhood heart problem, I was released to play football in the sixth grade.” From there, Mr. Gandy’s sports career began and he never looked back, as he went on to earn letters in football, basketball, track and golf. 

While he excelled at many sports, football was his passion and priority. “As a high school freshman, I became the starting offensive tackle on the A Team, and I eventually went on to start as offensive tackle and defensive end for three years,” he says. “My senior year, I was recognized as the Most Valuable Lineman for the Ganado Indians.” While Mr. Gandy and his teammates put in plenty of hard, character-building work on the gridiron, they also put in hours of grueling work in the literal fields surrounding Ganado. “During our summers, my teammates and I worked in the fields harvesting cotton, corn, maize and rice. When football pre-season practice came around, all football practices were held from 7-9 p.m. because that was the only time of the day all the team members could make practice.”

Upon graduation from Ganado High School, Mr. Gandy accepted a scholarship to continue his athletic career playing football at Texas A&I University (now, Texas A&M) in Kingsville, Texas. His decorated football career only flourished from there, as he and his teammates went on to become two-time NAIA Division I National Football Champions in 1970 and 1974. He credits those years playing football as some of the highlights of his college career. Mr. Gandy explains, “We went undefeated 13-0 my senior year to win the NAIA Division I National Football Championship. In a come-from-behind victory, we defeated Henderson State University 34-23 on December 14, 1974, in Kingsville. That was an amazing ride.” Mr. Gandy and his teammates from the 1974 National Football Championship team were later inducted into the Texas A&I Hall of Fame in 2015. 

While football consumed most of his college career, Texas A&I is also where Mr. Gandy met Jan Pederson, who would ultimately become his wife the summer of their junior years in a ceremony held at the Officer’s Club of the U.S. Navy base in Kingsville. Mrs. Gandy graduated from Texas A&I with an elementary teaching degree and Mr. Gandy graduated with a degree in business administration before a short stint in Victoria, Texas. The Gandys made Edna, Texas, their home, and Mr. Gandy became the manager of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. “I did not know it at the time, but this was beginning of what would ultimately turn into a 43-year career in organizational management,” he says. 

Of her favorite memories with Mr. Gandy, Mrs. Gandy looks back on those early years of marriage as some of the most memorable. “A few that are the sharpest in my mind are our wedding day, the day our son, Lee, was born and he held him for the first time, and going down the road hauling our horses with the whole family. Good times and good memories,” she says. “He is a great husband and father. Throughout our life together, he managed to juggle family, a cutting horse hobby, family vacations (which, more times than not, involved traveling to cutting horse events, where all three of us competed throughout the years) and a career in organizational management. Jim is dedicated, loyal, honest, forgiving, caring and understanding.” 

After six years in Edna, Mr. Gandy’s career continued in San Marcos, where he was selected as the president of the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce. He also served as the president of the San Marcos Economic Development Council and the San Marcos Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “During my time in Edna, San Marcos and Seguin, I continued my education by obtaining a basic economic development certificate from Texas A&M University, graduated from the Southern Methodist University Organizational Management Institute and the Economic Development Institute at Oklahoma University and became a Certified Economic Developer by the International Economic Development Council, as well as a Certified Commercial Investment Member by the Certified Commercial Investment Real Estate Institute.”

Following 10 years in San Marcos, the Gandys moved to Seguin where Mr. Gandy was selected to serve as the executive director of the Seguin Economic Development Corporation, which ultimately allowed him to focus more on furthering his experience, education and career in economic development. Mr. Gandy’s fourth and final economic development position, that would eventually round out his career, landed him in Frisco, on January 1, 1996, where he began his service as the president of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Mr. Gandy’s celebrated and highly-successful tenure as president of the Frisco EDC ended with his retirement on March 31, 2018. Of his professional career, Mrs. Gandy looks back with nothing but pride. “On a professional level, there are not enough adjectives to describe his wealth of knowledge and ability to organize and ‘make deals.’ He is humble to a fault and does not seek being in the spotlight. He is creative. It amazes me the ideas he can come up with. I just know when I go places and people find out I am Jim’s wife, they sing high praises. It makes me very proud,” she explains. 

Having served in such a prestigious role for so many years, Mr. Gandy was at the forefront of many decisions that have ultimately made Frisco what it is today. Our city’s growth has made national news, and there is no doubt that anyone who lives here has an enormous amount of pride in all that Frisco was, is and is becoming. “When I started at the Frisco EDC in 1996, Frisco was a farm town,” Mr. Gandy remembers. “Now, Frisco is a boom town! While it was challenging, it was also very rewarding to grow personally and professionally as the city grew and the demands of the job became much greater and more complex. I have always enjoyed helping other people and their businesses be more successful. The more successful they were, the more success Frisco enjoyed. As the city grew, the pace of work increased dramatically. Our staff grew from one to 12 people, and our annual revenue grew from $600,000 to more than $21 million. We were recognized on various occasions as one of the best economic development programs in the U.S.” 

Of his favorite part of Frisco’s growth, Mr. Gandy admits that having the honor to be a part of developing a new city — a city where people want to live and enjoy raising their families — has been the most rewarding. Mr. Gandy’s pride for the city is undeniably insurmountable, and much of that pride lies in the fact that it has truly opened its arms and welcomed so many new, exciting and wonderful opportunities. He explains, “We often said Frisco is a ‘can-do and will-do’ city. We simply did what we said we would do. The foundation of Frisco’s many significant accomplishments was a team effort, which sounds simple, but is not found in many cities. Continuity and consistency often gave us an advantage to win. Frisco has been truly blessed with outstanding and dedicated people who remained committed to the greater good of Frisco and her residents.”

Though leaving such a large legacy was more than likely never Mr. Gandy’s intention, it is hard not to leave your mark after having served in an impactful role that has grown the city to what it is today. Just as Mr. Gandy’s does, Frisco’s reputation precedes itself. “In many ways, Frisco is often referred to as the ‘gold standard.’ We grew an EDC with a reputation of having exemplary service and a place known for making deals. Businesses want to go where they are wanted and appreciated. We delivered that service to all of our business clients. I am extremely proud of the many accomplishments of the Frisco EDC over the past 22 years. We assembled the No. 1 economic development staff and always had tremendous leadership and support from the Frisco EDC board of directors.” 

101711- Frisco Style Magazine. Business article. Frisco Economic Development Corp. Jim Gandy, Bob Warren, sam Roch and George Purefoy Oct. 17, 2011 in Friso, Texas.

Of his success and impact in his former role, Mrs. Gandy attributes his fortitude, accomplishments and commitment to making Frisco the best it could be. “Frisco was poised to be great simply based on location. That was a given. I feel that Jim impacted the community with his passion, vision, dedication and commitment to making Frisco a wonderful place to do business and live,” she says with pride. “His work ethic, knowledge, honesty and sense of fair play made developers and businesses gravitate here. Some of the creative deals he has put together still boggle my mind! He has been a part of a group of leaders who had a vision and stuck to that vision. Jim was very fortunate to have ‘lived the dream’ in doing his part. All the leaders of this community over the years are to be commended and congratulated.”

Leaders throughout Frisco have nothing but wonderful things to say about Mr. Gandy, as well. Frisco City Manager George Purefoy says, “Jim was a key member of the team which brought all of the signature projects to Frisco. Jim and I were in a lot of high-pressure meetings together. He always presented himself and Frisco in the most professional manner, no matter how tense the meeting became.”

Former Frisco mayors Mike Simpson and Maher Maso both greatly enjoyed working with Mr. Gandy. Mr. Simpson shares, “It was my honor to work with Jim Gandy, from my first year on the Frisco City Council in 2000 to the end of my second term as mayor in May 2008. During this explosive time in Frisco, Jim Gandy, as president of the EDC, was a leader in the campaign to build the business base of the city and make Frisco a destination location. He became the face of the City, working with City Manager George Purefoy and the many mayors and councils that put together an unbelievable map for success. From our sports venues to our successes in bringing major corporations and developments to Frisco, Jim represented the Frisco EDC, the City and the entire region with professionalism, dedication, creativity and a business acumen that, for more than 20 years, set Frisco on the path it enjoys today. I am proud to have been able to call Jim a friend, business creator and pioneer in making the city we live in one of the best places to live in the country.” Mr. Maso says, “It is an honor to know and to have worked alongside Jim Gandy to help make Frisco what it is today. Jim is truly a dedicated, focused and well-respected professional in the economic development world, locally and nationally. Jim works tirelessly to put deals together. The Gandy game plan was finding the highest and best use for Frisco, from helping land Stonebriar Centre to the Dallas Cowboys’ world corporate headquarters. Jim never failed to execute Team Frisco’s vision.”

While it is easily said that Mr. Gandy’s legacy will live on in Frisco, it is even easier to see the impact he has made on Mrs. Gandy’s life through the years. “Success is not defined by hours and punching a time clock. With that being said, some of the best moments are sitting down with Jim and hearing his excitement about a deal he has helped put together. There is nothing better than being married to a man who is passionate about what he does. Sure beats the alternative!” she jokes.

Since his retirement in March of this year, Mr. Gandy has not slowed down one bit, as his passion for helping others continues to drive him personally and professionally. However, he does get to enjoy time with Mrs. Gandy and participate in some of his hobbies. “Since I retired, I am now doing work on the private side that I was doing on the public side at the Frisco EDC. My time has been consumed by several real estate developers who have asked me to help them develop their projects. These projects include retail, restaurants, hotels, corporate offices and mixed-use developments in numerous cities in North Texas. I am looking forward to slowing down a bit, but still working with a few developers on these projects. I am excited about the opportunity to use my Texas real estate license, which I obtained in 1976. My plans include obtaining my real estate broker’s license this summer and perhaps starting my own real estate company. For now, I am representing buyers and sellers in numerous real estate transactions in North Texas. To start my work as an economic development and real estate consultant, I recently launched a new company, JLG Investments, Inc. I look forward to spending more time with my family and working on a few select projects.” When he is not in the middle of deals and takes time to truly relax, Mr. Gandy loves spending time outdoors fishing and hunting with his family and mowing with his John Deere® tractor.

Mrs. Gandy knows all too well that his “retirement” does not mean much in the way of Mr. Gandy working hard for others, and in true “Mr. Gandy fashion,” he has hit the ground running. “With the start of his own company, he is already busy doing some of the same things in the private sector that he did in the public sector,” she explains. “He loves doing deals. It is what he is good at. It makes me happy that he is happy and engaged in what he loves. Life will continue, for a while, much as it has for the past 42 years we have been married. Our days will not be started with an alarm clock. That will be nice. As for Jim, as long as his health allows, I think he will always be working, to a certain degree. It is a part of his M.O. I will make sure he is enjoying some of his second loves — hunting, more time with family and friends and helping Lee in his landscaping business. Jim enjoys being the gopher, running equipment here and there, doing repairs and things like that. He loves to mow, too. He says it is relaxing. I say, ‘Whatever makes you happy, honey. You have earned it!’” 

Though they have not spent much time in this new chapter of life, the Gandys have been able to enjoy more time with one another doing things they love. They enjoy eating out, going to Minn. and spending some lake time together. The family is also very proud to be adding a new family member, Lee’s fiancé, Tiffany. Lee, is a graduate of Frisco High School and Texas A&M University, and is the proud president and owner of Southern Legacy Landscapes, based here in Frisco. “Lee has grown his company from the ground up and we are very proud of him for growing his business into a very successful company,” Mr. Gandy says about his son.

Throughout his remarkable life and career, Mr. Gandy looks back with pride on his accomplishments that have paved the way for his success and made him who he is today. Of the early years, Mr. Gandy says that winning two national football championships and the birth of his son are two of his proudest accomplishments, while receiving the 2015 Citizen of the Year Award by the Frisco Chamber of Commerce and his induction into the Texas A&I Hall of Fame are two that stood out in more recent years. 

“Frisco has been so fortunate in its success in making so many big deals that have changed the landscape of Frisco. Frisco did not want to be just another suburb. We wanted to generate unique things that would make Frisco an economically viable city. Looking back, the ‘game changer’ for Frisco was when we opened Stonebriar Centre on August 4, 2000. We knew it would be big, but I do not think we realized that it would be as big as it has become today! For us, it meant people were coming to Frisco for shopping, not leaving Frisco to shop. When you have that kind of critical mass, it is an incredible attraction for Frisco that has brought so many economic benefits to the city. It is the economic foundation of our city, and absolutely one of our biggest accomplishments,” Mr. Gandy shares. He is also proud of facilitating 350 economic developments during his 22 years of service as the president of the Frisco EDC, as well as naming the $5 Billion Mile and being a part of attracting seven (yes, seven!) professional sports teams to Frisco, including the World Headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys.

Though the accomplishments are many, the loss of Mr. Gandy’s mom was a life-changing experience that helped shape who he is today. He recalls, “I lost my mom after a long battle with cancer. It was a life-changing experience. I was still in college, playing football, but my mom made every game possible, even when she was extremely ill. She was a tremendous, loving person who gave her family all she had. From her, I learned so much, and I only hope I can live a life helping other people so she will be proud of me. She often told me when I was young, that, someday, I would have a job that enabled me to help other people.” 

It is safe to say Jeanette Gandy would be more than proud of the person her son has become through the years, as he has been able to touch the lives of many while helping them make their dreams come true. 

Looking back on his career, Mr. Gandy knows that much of it would not have been possible without his family. He says, “I want to express my greatest gratitude to my wife and son for their endless support and love that enabled to me to commit the necessary time and travel to get the job done at the Frisco EDC.” 

Mr. Gandy’s tireless work, leadership, vision and commitment to a greater cause have all played vital roles in helping him become who he is today, while simultaneously allowing he and his colleagues to build and grow Frisco into a premier city full of family, fun, sports and community. His legacy is all around us and will forever be ingrained in the truly amazing place Frisco is and is still to become. Leaving a legacy is about learning from the past, living in the present and building for the future, and with assurance, we can say that Mr. Gandy has. Thank you for everything you have done for your community, Mr. Gandy. Frisco would not be Frisco without you!

Allie Spletter
Allie Spletter is a wannabe foodie and lover of all things pink and crafty.