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Babak Armajani ‘taught that change unleashes energy’

Babak Armajani
The Public Strategies GroupBabak Armajani

On June 3, 2013, Babak Armajani left us. We have lost a great partner, friend, teacher, connector and believer.

Known almost universally as “Armi,” Babak mastered the art of “friending” decades before Facebook. Any and every occasion was an opportunity for him to draw others into one of his many overlapping circles of friends. Once in, he connected one to another through an endless array of organized activities – annual canoe trips, ski weekends in a Winnebago, outings to Kicks or Twins games, holiday parties, golf trips, a multi-decade long men’s group, and many, many more.  At the center of each event was Armi – organizing games, laughing, embracing, caring.  He believed friendship was a commitment, one that he honored always.

Born to Yaya and Ruth in 1946, he was imbued with a Persian soul and a missionary’s zeal to change lives.  The loves of his life remain his wife, Sarah, and the three young people he guided to adulthood – Leah, Brook and Arjan.

Raised in St. Paul, he graduated from Central High School, Grinnell College and Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He taught at Indiana University for two years before returning to the Twin Cities in 1975 to work for Mayor Al Hofstede. He then joined the staff of the Governor’s Crime Commission, and following that spent several years doing management consulting with Ray Stave and Associates. 

In 1982 he joined the administration of Gov. Rudy Perpich where he served for eight years, first as deputy commissioner of administration and then deputy dommissioner of revenue.  In 1990 he founded the Public Strategies Group, which became his professional home for the rest of his life.

Babak had faith in government. He believed passionately in the power of government to change lives and the power of people to change government. He spread his faith by patiently teaching us that governments perform as they do by design and that if we want a different result from government we have to change its design. 

But much of the design is unseen. So Babak taught us to see the design and where to grab hold of the levers that would make change possible. He also taught that change unleashes energy — especially in opposition. He taught us to embrace that opposing energy and in so doing help harness it to make change possible.

In Babak’s mind nothing was impossible. He taught us to believe that, too. He created the first Transformation Partnership in the country with the governor of Iowa, orchestrated the transformation of the U.S. Office of Student Financial Assistance so that it out-performed its corporate counterparts, and turned back-office administration into “A New Vision For Managing Government” in his book “Breaking Through Bureaucracy.”

Babak lived his life with passion. His life was full to overflowing. We will miss that laugh, his warm embrace, the pure joy of being with him, the way he lifted us up. We will keep with us the lessons he taught, the example he set, and his belief in us.

A group of friends and colleagues of Babak Armajani got together to jointly pen this tribute.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by myles spicer on 06/04/2013 - 12:59 pm.

    memories

    Though I never met Babak, I do have a connection with him. As a student at the University of Minnesota in the early 50’s, I had heard about his father Yaya. As I recall, he taught Religion at Macalester, and had a reputation of teaching a fabulous course on the subject. (again from memory 60 years ago), I took his class outside the U’s curriculum, and it was wonderful — learning things about various religions most Americans do not study or generally care to study. There are some teachers that make an impact on your life; Yaya was one.

  2. Submitted by Steve Poulter on 06/04/2013 - 01:34 pm.

    I wish I’d known him…

    I wish I’d had a chance to know Babak.

    From you description (and the post by Doug Grow), he seems to have been an awesome guy.

    And, anyone who struggles honestly with the game of golf (while seriously pondering public policy) is a friend by default.

    Best regards and sympathies to those who actually knew him

  3. Submitted by Donna Koren on 06/04/2013 - 04:08 pm.

    Wonderful teacher

    Armi was one of a handful of teachers who inspired me to join public service. I admired his authenticity, commitment, and passion for improving government in a thoughtful manner. He respected the role that government plays in a civil, livable society and how necessary it is for us, citizens, to feel connected to our own governance. He believed that improving government effectiveness strengthens that connection, which inspired many of his students. And he had a great sense of humor and was a skillful teacher; his case studies class was one of my best at the Humphrey School, and I learned a lot from my summer internship at PSG almost 20 years ago.. I have always felt grateful to have crossed paths with him, his colleagues, and what he built at PSG; and I will remember him well. Sympathy to his family and many friends; his early passing is certainly a loss.

  4. Submitted by Kevin Burke on 06/04/2013 - 05:39 pm.

    Friending

    He mastered the art of friending is a great way to describe Armi. I was privileged to co author a short commentary for Governing Magazine with him recently. The idea for the piece was his although the subject (courts) was not an area of government where he had spent much time. Beyond being just an interesting and warm person Armi knew a lot about what makes organizations grow and thrive. He was a wonderful teacher who had a lot of impact. His untimely death is very sad.

  5. Submitted by Jonathan Scoll on 06/05/2013 - 07:54 am.

    Babak Armajani

    I first met Babak when I was a young lawyer, new to Minnesota, and he was the one of the brains behind Al Hofstede’s mayoral campaign. How many times, when things were slow in my law office, I would skip out and spend an afternoon at the campaign headquarters, where Babak ran the day to day operation, with shrewdness, insight, and clear purpose! He was my first-hand introduction to the practical politics of my adoptive city and state. A rare combination of brains, warmth and poltical savoir-faire. He will be missed.

  6. Submitted by Allison Bell on 06/05/2013 - 10:34 am.

    Connector

    I moved to the Twin Cities several years ago and Armi was one of the first people I met. He was incredibly warm and helpful. He introduced me to key people, helping me get my feet on the ground. I’m incredibly grateful for his guidance and so sorry to hear about his passing.

  7. Submitted by Randy Bauer on 06/05/2013 - 02:46 pm.

    Wise Voice

    I was Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack’s budget director when Armi led a PSG team that worked with us on a series of projects focused on state government transformation. He was the antithesis of all that is bad about consulting – he was engaging rather than egotistical, interested and interesting rather than an ’empty suit’ and more focused on tangible results than project invoices.

    I learned a lot from Armi – and I think we accomplished a lot in a collaborative, collegial way. Now that I’ve left the public sector and have spent nearly eight years in (gulp) consulting, I also like to think that I have taken his lessons and approach and applied them with my public sector clients.

    In that way – and countless others – Armi’s legacy will live on and on. Here’s to a life lived well, and well done.

  8. Submitted by Cynthia Daggett on 06/05/2013 - 10:15 pm.

    Can’t believe he’s gone

    I knew Babak in very different context than most of the people who have commented here. His extended family and mine have been close friends for over 50 years. When I was a young child, my mother and her best friend Janet Armajani would haul 6 or 7 kids to Thomas Beach on hot summer days to cool off. Babak, already a young teenager by then, would occasionally be the 7th. I had the great pleasure of getting to join many members of the family for Thanksgiving dinner this past year and enjoyed chatting with Babak as everyone shared the wonderful feast. I join with the others who have voiced the sentiment that it is hard to believe such a strong spirit is gone.

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