EAGAN, Minn. — The tweed jacket and bespectacled look that Kwesi Adofo-Mensah once envisioned for himself as a professor of economics was nowhere to be found Thursday morning.
Instead, Adofo-Mensah strolled into the Indoor Practice Facility at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in a blue suit with a sheen and blue shirt accented by a solid purple tie, patterned pocket square and Norseman lapel pin.
Rather than a lecture hall with economics students ready to soak up information from someone with degrees from Princeton and Stanford, Adofo-Mensah spoke in front of an attentive audience filled with media members as Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf introduced the team's new general manager.
"Kwesi has a strong leadership presence, a unique background and brings a variety of strong football experiences, which we believe are significant strengths as he assumes this role," Wilf said. "He immediately stood out to us in his interviews because of his vision for long-term success, his complex information-gathering and intentional decision-making processes. He's a tremendous leader who believes in connecting people, building consensus and having strong communication throughout the organization – all of the traits that we spoke about when we began looking for new leadership a few weeks ago.
"Every conversation we had with our contacts around the league led us to believe we were on the right track with Kwesi," Wilf continued. "He's widely respected and well-liked, and people strongly believe he will make an immediate and positive impact, and has a high ceiling, for this organization, the Minnesota Vikings, to evolve and grow. Kwesi is already deeply involved in our conversations around a head coach, and we're excited about moving forward in that process. Kwesi, welcome."
Ten days prior, Adofo-Mensah had participated in his initial interview with the Vikings general manager hiring committee and felt "an immediate fit" during the virtual interview.
"It just felt right," said Adofo-Mensah, who told his "big brother" Browns General Manager Andrew Berry (and now former boss) about the interview.
"I said, 'Man, they were so detailed-oriented. So process-driven.' And he said, 'It sounds like you found your people.' And I was like, 'Yeah, I think it made sense.' "
Snow in Cleveland had prompted Adofo-Mensah to conduct the interview from his apartment's study instead of his office at the Browns facility. When the meeting ended, he went downstairs and "was kind of like skipping."
"My fiancée [Chelsea said], 'What's wrong with you?' I said, 'I don't know, there was just this energy from it.' I felt energized from it and we joked — she actually went on Etsy at that moment and bought a vintage Vikings hat that she's wearing over there right now. I think she knew before I knew that I would be here."
Chelsea was on hand, rocking the vintage purple corduroy hat Thursday as she sat next to Adofo-Mensah's mother Emma, whom Kwesi refers to as his "superhero."
Adofo-Mensah thanked them both, as well as his late father, older brother and younger sister. Vikings.com will plan to tell more of the family's story soon, but today, Adofo-Mensah's official first full one with Minnesota, we'll focus on the relationships that have impacted his transition from a career on Wall Street to becoming a general manager by age 40.
"I know my background's unique, but when you think about this job, the job is about making decisions. Building consensus in the building. Combining different sources of information into one answer and having everybody behind it," Adofo-Mensah said. "Along those lines, I don't think there's many people more qualified than I am. Just my background on Wall Street, having the emotional stability to make those decisions at a high level, be accountable to yourself, and kind of learning and growing from that standpoint. That's an education that I'll never fully appreciate.
"And then, really, in my experience in the NFL, I've learned from some great teachers," Adofo-Mensah said. "I went in not thinking I knew anything, and I think a lot of times an impediment to learning is trying to affirm what you already think or just not really being open-hearted, open-minded, about learning. I approach it [as], if I'm going to be around great ones, I'm just going to listen to everything they say. So I've built a really strong foundation through that, an ability to really be in every room, talk to every person, really communicate in their language. And that gives me that faith and confidence to make those decisions."
View photos of new Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah during his first day as a Viking at the TCO Performance Center on Jan. 26.
Berry, 34, just completed his second season as Cleveland's GM. He participated in a video conference Thursday afternoon with Twin Cities media members and "vividly" remembered the conversation after Adofo-Mensah's initial Minnesota interview.
"One of the things I told him, even last year when he was going through the process for the first time, is that the interview process, really, is a two-way street," Berry said. "There are a number of good – whether it's a general manager search or head coaching search – a number of good candidates across the league. But just as much as it's about competency and capacity to be in one of those two leadership positions, it also is about fit. Because the role is different, and the characteristics are different, from organization to organization.
"I could just tell with the way that Kwesi was buzzing after the interview where, in my mind, I was like, 'OK, this is really the right place for him. It seems like it's going to fit like a glove.' "
Adofo-Mensah credited Berry for what he referred to as a "boot camp" in scouting over the past two years to expand his evaluative experience.
"Andrew wouldn't let me fall back on my skill set, right? [He said] 'No, you're going to watch the players. You're going to write reports and do all of those things.' What I loved about that was you get to do it your way," Adofo-Mensah said. "He's always like, 'Listen to everybody else, take what they teach you and apply it the way that somebody like you would apply it.'
"It's probably my favorite part of my NFL experience, kind of learning something I didn't know, which is my favorite thing, so that was really the big expansion, and obviously overseeing a lot of departments in football operations, … it's really just preparing me for this role, ultimately, that was the big step up when I got to Cleveland."
Prior to Adofo-Mensah's hire by Berry, he worked for the San Francisco 49ers from 2013 through the 2019 season that ended with an NFC Championship but a loss in Super Bowl LIV.
The final three seasons were under current 49ers General Manager John Lynch, who set aside some moments this week to reflect on Adofo-Mensah's time with the team.
In addition to relaying a great anecdote about meeting Adofo-Mensah for the very first time in 2013 in a broadcast booth at Candlestick Park, Lynch explained that one of the cousins on his massive text chain inquired Wednesday about Adofo-Mensah because that cousin's in-laws are from Minnesota. Lynch replied, "stud."
"I think the world of him. I think the Vikings — I don't think, I know — they made a tremendous hire," Lynch said. "How do I know that? Well, I worked with the guy, and I just got to see firsthand the breadth of all that he brings to the table. I think it starts with the intellect. Obviously he's well-schooled and all of that, Princeton and Stanford for undergrad and graduate, but more so than that, his work ethic, his curiosity to learn different parts.
"He was a trader who then got into research and development, analytics," Lynch continued. "He always hated when we called it analytics. He preferred research and development. Just a very forward thinker, but he wanted to learn about watching football and studying players and did a tremendous job of that."
View photos of new Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah during his introductory press conference with the media on Jan. 27 at the TCO Performance Center.
Lynch said Adofo-Mensah's contributions in research and development that began with the 49ers in 2013 remain helpful to the organization.
"We were crushed when we lost him, and fortunately he had picked really talented people and schooled them incredibly well," Lynch said. "He was proud of those people. He was emphatic that they were ready and that we didn't need to go elsewhere, and we didn't hesitate. We stayed within, and we think we do that side of things as well as anyone, and Kwesi is a huge part of that."
Lynch was equally proud to see Adofo-Mensah extended the opportunity by Berry. He had confidence Adofo-Mensah would thrive in that role and believes he will excel with the Vikings.
"I know he's ready. He's got to go do it, obviously," Lynch said. "Now it just starts, but I believe they've got tremendous people leading the team there in Minnesota."
"I really believe part of life, part of the NFL is leaving the league better, so we all compete against each other, but you love to see people you love and respect go out and do great things," Lynch said. "I think that's part of your responsibility. Bill Walsh was someone I was exposed to, and you can hoard people, or you can really wish them the best in the pursuit of their dreams. It just makes me exceptionally proud that I was around Kwesi for this time and hopefully got to help him a little. I know he helped me a ton. While we'll have to compete against each other at some point, I'm really pulling for him and always will be. I'm proud of him. I'm happy for him. I'm also confident that he's going to do a really good job."
Adofo-Mensah first described Lynch, the Hall of Fame safety, as a "culture setter" and switched to say, "He is culture."
"That's just who he is. He wakes up in the morning, and he is inclusive, [has] no ego for a person who has been successful and good at probably everything he has ever done in his life. I've never met somebody more humble," Adofo-Mensah said. "He could have eight million things going on is his life, and he'll remember that you took a vacation and wants to know about it. He comes in your office and wants to know what you think."
Although Walsh, a 1993 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrine who coached Lynch at Stanford, passed away in 2007, his legacy remains with the 49ers. Adofo-Mensah had a picture of the three-time Super Bowl-winning coach and innovator near his desk.
"So anytime I thought I was smart, that would just be there to humble me," Adofo-Mensah said in an interview with Vikings Entertainment Network. "You read about him all the time, and that's who he was. There was a very incredible thought and intent of everything he did at practice – how he scheduled practice, the teaching progression for his players – everything was so detailed. And that's the same thing [with research and development]. It's a different canvas, but it's still art."