The Union Club of Cleveland’s Lawrence McFadden, CMC, GM/COO, explains how by saying yes he achieved most of his successes.
Saying yes is empowering, accommodating, and satisfying if one understands the responsibility behind it.
Young professionals often ask me to share my career path. My response is always, “I did what I was told.” This turns hopeful expressions into blank stares of disbelief.
My first job was at the local Ramada Inn. The Executive Chef had just graduated from a local culinary program. During the interview he mentioned if I agreed to enroll, he would take me on without experience as a dishwasher. To get the job I said, yes, and enrolled on the school’s waiting list.
When school sessions opened months later, Chef had left his post, but my application was accepted, and my culinary career was off and running.
After the first year, a valuable internship with a local chef came available. He doubled as a pastry adjunct instructor. During class, he demonstrated short dough. After class, and for several days, I perfected the dough, unpacking my finished product for his critic the following week.
During my internship interview, he explained those who practice without being asked are the most successful. My pie crust example was mentioned as the offered me the job. I said yes.
After college graduation our instructor mentioned the Greenbrier had a world class apprenticeship program and he knew the director. A few months passed and we were off to interview for following season’s class. I said yes to the contract without a guarantee of position. Six months passed before confirmation.
When my apprenticeship concluded, graduation judge Chef Handke noted he was impressed with my work. He asked where I was going next.
Prior to my graduation date I had been asked to join the Everglades Club for the winter with a promise to return to the Greenbrier. I said yes.
Arriving back in spring, Chef Handke was the new Executive Chef of the Greenbrier. We can say fate stepped in for me, by simply honoring my “yes”.
During these years Chef represented the hotel as part of the Olympic Culinary Team. I was asked to accompany him on practice trips to the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park. I said yes. Two previous apprentices did the trip, but flaked for unknown reasons.
The opportunity seemed magical until the details were discussed. That’s when the horror stories of forgotten ingredients and speeding tickets came into focus. But I already said yes.
His request required leaving at 10pm on Friday night after a twelve-hour day. I had complete ownership of packing the car and being a designated driver so chef could be fresh for practice. After Sunday’s practice, I had to repack the car, drive us home and arrive in time for my 6am morning shift.
On the way to New York, while driving eighty miles an hour non-stop, chef said, “Lawrence, we pay our own speeding tickets.”
When I decided to leave the hotel, a manager at the Greenbrier mentioned a position at the Waldorf Astoria. He recommended me. I said yes. And, despite having accepted sight unseen, with just an agreement if the interview went well, I was on my way. There was no salary, benefits, moving costs, or negotiations on a start date. I just showed up.
Later, with the Ritz Carlton, Chef Handke called recommending the Certified Master Chef examination. He said I would be one of the youngest if I was successful. I said yes. I started the process of application and studies, with all systems go until a call came from the corporate office.
One night, while helping with dinner service, I answered the Terrace kitchen phone. On the other end was a Ritz Executive who suggested I transfer to Naples. He told me I had 30 minutes to answer. I said yes immediately.
A few years later, I resumed my prep for the master chef examination. The five extra years of wisdom and maturity certainly added to my success.
Soon after, the Ritz Carlton corporate office called to offer me their corporate chef role. I said yes. No salary discussions, no package negotiations, and no timelines were discussed. Even as a corporate officer, I knew that if I said yes, they would take care of me.
While this seems like a normal progression, at some point, had I said “no” instead of “yes” I might have stopped the journey.
At the conclusion of my corporate chef role, they offered me a move to the front of the house, and although my heart was in culinary, I needed to say yes.
The next five years were professional hell. I second guessed my “yes” and even reconsidered saying yes to the next appointment. My confidence was in a free fall from master to apprentice. I simply underestimated the position. As a mature executive, I did not want to start over. I reminisced over my entrusted culinary wisdom and career.
Before I took the front of house appointment, Ritz President advised, “One should start in a mid-level job and then advance to General Manager.” The same advice was given to young cooks on their way to Executive Chef. It’s logical, but hard to endure.
Five years turned into ten. Now I’m a General Manager and by saying yes all those years ago, I have been provided with limitless opportunities.
The challenge in explaining my career is that unconditional yeses conflict with the advice of many leadership gurus. It does not scream independence or trail blazing.
Society likes when its members think outside the box, lead independently, or even be the boss.
When children fall into a challenging situation, parents tell them, “Do what makes you happy.” But how does one grow and learn if immediate satisfaction supersedes the wisdom born out of struggle?
My greatest inflection has been seeing that these suggestions were always in my best interest, regardless of how I saw it at the time.
We often side steps wisdom when we do not understand that there is learning is in the request. We often question the interpretation, only to reflect later the reasoned meaning of the greater good.
Book sellers hype the rebel iconic thinking of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or even Dale Carnegie. But volumes are written on generations of leaders who were mentored by others before gaining their own reputations as free thinkers. Often great professionals have the confidence in accepting challenges thrust on them, not chosen for or by them.
My guess is years later, all those young minds who listened to my advice would agree I had their best interests placed before my own.
This brings to mind the service mantra here at The Union Club: “The answer is yes. Now what is the question?”
Next time you want to say no, try saying yes and see if you feel better and arrive in a better situation.