years ago, a skinny young guy in chef whites ran around the kitchens of
JWU’s Providence Campus looking for a “sheet pan stretcher” and a
“soufflé pump.” Needless to say, he never found them. Today that same
guy bills millions of dollars to companies that need advice on the
long-term growth of their business.
Back in the 1980s,
culinary instructors were fond of breaking in students by sending them
to hunt for fictional kitchen items. Although I was one of the gullible
young kids who fell for those ridiculous practical jokes, I will always
be grateful for learning to “take the heat and think on my feet.”
Although the lessons I learned extended well beyond the kitchen, I
never imagined that I would someday be focused on the corporate
Today I get paid to develop creative solutions to
difficult business problems. My team and I consult with the leadership
of dozens of diverse companies on their business strategies. It may
seem like I’ve come a long way from the kitchens of Providence, but in
reality, I’m applying many of the insights I gained back in the days when I wore whites.
a kitchen, a restaurant or a hotel poses many of the same problems and
challenges faced in managing a multinational company. There are three
specific areas where the hospitality industry serves as a great
training ground for business leadership. A hospitality manager learns
about strategic thinking, the importance of managing talented people
and the need to deliver on promises. These three skills are critical to
the success of any business. Here’s how:
Strategic Thinking: Plan
before you act. It does not matter if you are doing a dinner for 100
people or the marketing campaign for a $100 million product launch — a
solid plan is needed. Thinking through the opportunities, threats and
mitigation tactics is essential. Every great chef, banquet manager or
CEO always asks the same questions: “What if this happens, and what
will we do?”
Talent Management: Good help is hard to find.
Recruiting, engaging and developing top talent is a challenge in every
industry and company, large or small. If you can lead people in a
120-degree kitchen on a muggy May afternoon, you can probably make your
team feel good about the latest corporate cost-cutting initiative.
Execution: If you don’t deliver the goods to your clients in the
corporate world you could get fired. In the kitchen, careless
production can make people sick (or dissuade them from returning).
Setting up effective systems and processes to handle the details is
essential in either environment. A long way from the kitchen now, I
never imagined that I would find myself in my current role. One of the
best pieces of advice that I ever received came from a man who
continues to be my mentor. He said, “As long as you can come away from
an experience by learning and growing, it was a worthwhile venture.”
of us knows what life has in store, but if we learn from each
opportunity, we will be ready for whatever the future has to offer.
That’s why it’s helpful to occasionally head into the kitchen and
subject yourself to some extreme heat. You’ll be amazed at how well it
will help you think on your feet.