The Union Club of Cleveland’s Lawrence McFadden, CMC, GM/COO, shares the most valuable lessons he’s learned from his transition out of the kitchen and into general management.
My wife and I recently enrolled our twin daughters into a university with some sage advice: Pursue a degree in one of the future demands of a global economy then follow your hearts if your “calling” emerges.
Yesterday, a good friend retired due to the pandemic from his position of Global Corporate Chef with Ritz Carlton. Rainer Zinngrebe was extremely talented, intelligent and perfectly suited for his role. He often stated via social media that it was his perfect job and, based on his pictures, he was living the dream.
This got me to thinking about the cost and risk of following your passion.
I was blessed to be a young cook, living, sleeping (if at all), and dreaming work. The craft was my hobby and I never questioned the long hours, low wages or absences of birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. It was my “calling” and I was very fortunate to have found it so early.
Twenty years later I arrived at my final culinary position, Corporate Chef of Ritz Carlton in 2003. This was the same position Chef Zinngrebe just retired from. I rose to the title in my late thirties, so my future options were either retire as Corporate Chef or reinvent myself for more opportunities in the future.
After several years in the role, I chose to leave my “calling” and chef’s coat for a business suit and front of house opportunity. I left behind professional satisfaction for uncertain waters and the cautionary quote rang in my head: Be careful what you wish for.
The first four years were miserable. I felt lost and I lacked confidence in new leadership roles. At times, I felt out of place at traditional meal periods accented by nervous interactions with our customers. I even had crazy thoughts like what would I do with my hands, the ones that always found purpose in the kitchen?
Chefs don’t have idle time. They physically work often and always. A culinarian’s thinking, planning and creativity is established while on their feet. They finish tonight’s dishes while eyeing the next menu change.
I also found myself reminiscing about the guest’s greetings of, “Hi, Chef” as they walked past me on a hotel’s property.
In my new role, even the staff didn’t know what to call me. Mr. McFadden sounded too formal for me and Lawrence was too casual for them. Many guests greeted me with, “Where’s the beach?” while not even breaking stride. Supporting my theory that I was just another manager in a suit, certainly not recognized as Certified Master Chef with a toque in hand.
I then wondered if this perceived “planned fall” was going to work for my ego and confidence. Did I make the right decision? Was I going to be as successful as before?
After four years, I finally had my feet under me and strategies were taking shape and paying positive dividends through a meaningful schedule of actions.
Another few years later, and my salary was doubled. I was leaving work at a reasonable hour and participating in family activities. Even hobbies weren’t out of the question now that I had a renewed personal calendar.
Still, the question lingered: Am I happy and fulfilled, or just better compensated while physically working less?
That answer would not come for another five years which would put me a total of ten years invested in this transition.
Now, almost thirty-years later, my career into general management includes a documented history of running successful businesses and I am finally creating some of the same memories once found in the kitchen.
I am currently relishing the challenges of CV-19, which are deeper and more complex than most of my culinary memories, while keeping the doors open for both members and staff. And while we certainly didn’t know what our daughters’ potentials were eighteen years ago, I am thankful to have reinvented my talents in order to maximize my potential and allow us the freedoms to choose our family’s future.
So, looking back, what advice would I give young culinarians today?
- Follow your heart. If you love what you do, you will be good at it. different from my words to our children
- Don’t worry about salary in the beginning. Instead focus on knowledge and growth.
- Take the advice of a mentor. This person will always have your best interests at heart.
- Learn new techniques. Education and knowledge is power.
- Reinvent yourself every five years. When you do, you will add value to your current organization as well as the ones in your future.
And finally, when you do these things, and you continue to push yourself and evolve, you will find that it’s much more satisfying to turn down the job, then to have never been offered.