Wednesday, 15 July 2015

So, About the Last 40+ Years...

This one's for my kids.  It's my resume. But you can read it too, if you want to. Here's where I've worked and a few comments about some of my best experiences and takeaways.  Not counting my first paper routes, I've had 14 different jobs/employers. You may already know I studied Culinary Management at George Brown College in Toronto's Kensington Market in the first half of the eighties.

Here then is the full, uncut, unabashed, down and dirty truth of how I've been spending the last 40 odd years.  Some people claim to have 20 years experience when in reality they've had one year of experience, 20 times.  I have 40+ years of experience, one day, one year, one job, one human interaction at a time. Read on kids, I hope you'll agree.

Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Belleville Intelligencer - sparked my love of newspapers and early wake up calls, especially in the winter. On November 30, 1970 I delivered my first paper at 6am. It was dark outside and I was 11 years old and in Grade 6. I had to walk a mile just to get to the pick up point. I still read at least two newspapers a day as well as my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and newsfeed from professional sources. 

McDonald's - It was 1977. Sears at the mall wasn't hiring but I didn't want to work in retail anyway, I wanted to be a restaurant guy. I wasn't tough enough to work at Harvey's in Belleville, they only hired big strapping farmboys. Ponderosa had cool uniforms but you had to have a family connection to get in there. Oh how I envied them their cowboy hats and tasseled gingham shirts.  

My McDonald's experience led to my first management job, and it's also where I met your mother, who was and remains my boss to this day. 
Claim to fame: they launched breakfast when I worked there, throwing a serious wrench into the summer post-work all night partying 

Bemelmans Diner and Toby's Goodeats - part of the very trendy Chrysalis group in the early 80s. Yorkville was a happening scene and AIDS was an upwardly trending new disease decimating the waitstaff at the favourite haunts of the upwardly trendy.  For AIDS in Canada one could argue that Bemelmans was Canada's ground zero.  

But I wouldn't have traded my nights in the decadent decade of punk and new music, of trends and of nouvelle cuisine, of Beaujolais Nouveau in November, of 3am gourmet burgers and of just plain over the top excess every night under the watchful eye of a great chef while I studied in the kitchens and classrooms of George Brown College during the day. What a trip!
Key Takeaway: the parade of celebrities and wannabes was endless. We were almost the only place open past 1am. I met so many celebrities from Robin Williams to the upstart MuchMusic VJs to aspiring comedians after their gigs at a new comedy club up the street called Yuk Yuks to most of the Leafs to whomever was in town.

And then going corporate seemed like a good idea.  The chain restaurant biz had begun to explode in Canada.  

Red Lobster (1) - I was in the first of a number of classes of management trainees who took the chain from 3 to over 60 locations across Canada, mostly in former Ponderosa restaurant locations - how do you like those cowboy hats now, boys?  Many of the Red Lobster management from those days went on to become the significant influencers and execs in today's restaurant biz in Canada. I'm not one of them, but I can get them on the phone.

Kert Chemicals - my first professional sales job, selling dishwashers and chemicals to restaurants, bars and hotels in downtown Toronto. 
Key Takeaway: I have saved untold thousands in plumbing expenses and preventable back-door thievery because of what I learned and observed from my view underneath the dishwashers in the best restaurants in mid-80s Toronto. 
Claim to Fame: Chef Susur Lee once offered to cook and serve me an omelet after I was finished tuning up his dishwasher at Peter Pan but I declined. I was too shy to accept.  Me = idiot. 

Baskin Robbins / Yogurty's Yogurt Discovery - oh man, who hires a guy in his late 20s to be a District Manager?  This was at the time of the first corporate layoffs we now think of as normal, that signified the end of employer/employee loyalty. My franchisees ranged from bored housewives whose husbands bought them a little ice cream shop to keep them busy, to laid off bank execs who invested their entire severance and all their savings and remortgaged their houses (this was exactly the time house prices began to skyrocket and it became necessary to have two incomes to own a home with mortgage rates in the high teens). These desperate people actually believed in our team of child execs, we the District Managers not yet 30 and our head office c-level suite of the young and the entitled. Franchisees trusted us to teach and guide them in more than how to scoop ice cream, polish shoes or pour a coffee, whatever the franchise sold.  Newcomers to hospitality and retail needed our wisdom and expertise and knowledge borne of experience.  The trouble was our employers had hired us because we came cheap and naïve at that age, inexperienced and hard working but in the end of little value in the strategic thinking department. 

Franchising was just taking off in Canada in the late eighties and I spent a lot of time in and out of malls across Canada with my associates from all the other franchisors riding the wave. Tim Hortons at about 100 stores in Canada, was the best deal that even Tim's themselves didn't recognize. So buying and working one's own franchise wasn't always a bad deal for all laid off execs but seriously, did it ever make sense for a white collar VP to be shining shoes at a Moneysworth and Best, a franchise basket in which he had placed every last one of his eggs?

Key Takeaway:  it was at this time that I picked up a copy of a book by a guy named David Chilton. The Wealthy Barber helped me to understand my franchisees' point of view but also helped mom and I to keep our family goal in sight. That meant we stuck with the plan. Mom stayed at home to raise you three while I hammered away at my career. These were the beginning of the rough years but the lessons in that book literally kept us on the path when all hope sometimes seemed lost. 

Mothers Pizza
Two short lived District Manager jobs at exactly the wrong time. It was cool working in a pizza joint, I will say. 

And then I turned 30...  We had 2 kids by then, both of whom are now themselves in their thirties. 

Red Lobster (2) Round 2, in which Red Lobster moved me and my family to Windsor. Oh yeah, and then a year later they fired me.  "That wasn't easy to get over, but don't think I didn't try."  I quote The Joker, referring to his similar fate of being dropped into a vat of boiling acid
Key Takeaway: It was the best thing that ever happened to me professionally. It just didn't feel like it for the next 10 years.
Claim to Fame: I tell my friends I invented the famous Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits. I didn't. It's a total lie. But I'm insulted that they don't believe me anyway. 

So I called my friend Bob in Kitchener and told him I'd just been canned. He called his pal Ted the butcher who called his pal Chris who was opening up a new bar on the main drag in Windsor. Three days after being unceremoniously dumped, I had a new job. 
Key Takeaway:  if you get fired or laid off, reach out to your network immediately and ask for their help to connect you with your next opportunity. Don't waste time being embarrassed or ashamed. And when it happens to a friend or coworker in your company, immediately reach out to him or her and offer your help and support. Don't wait a day. It's lonely for the suddenly unemployed. If you're lucky and you've worked hard you'll have nurtured a strong marriage with a supportive spouse. 

Howl at the Moon Saloon, Windsor - a local copycat of a popular US chain. A rowdy, rough, loud and busy bar. I was a manager/bartender and I really enjoyed the action behind the town's busiest bar. 

And then one day the owner of several automobile dealerships called and was enquiring about renting the place out for a private party for his staff. Pre-internet, I promised to send him a copy of our menu in the mail. But instead I drove out to the dealership and asked for the dealer personally, went over the menu with him and learned all about what he envisioned. I can't remember if we ever did get the event, but I was offered a job selling cars. 
Key Takeaway: You owe it to your employer to go above and beyond. Always play full out. Sometimes it'll pay off for you in ways unexpected. You never know where your next opportunity lies. 

Saturn, Saab, Isuzu of Windsor - back in sales. I learned the sales stuff that makes me successful today.  Not only that but the money we've saved on auto purchases from what I learned with GM sales has been huge, and I am a Saab fanatic who managed to buy not only his dream Saab, but one for his wife too. 

Jose's Noodle Factory - a poor man's Casey's (I know what you're thinking. Isn't Casey's the poor man's Casey's?)  The Jose's restaurant I opened was described as the most profitable restaurant the partners had ever owned (their words). I'm really a very good restaurant manager and I make people money; it's what I do. But I'm not an entrepreneur, which is who these investors were looking for. So we parted company as friends; me a smarter, more confident and a seriously exhausted 40 year old. Them, richer.

I turned 40... 

Caesars Windsor - first into the bar and beverage biz on the gaming floor, then into the very busy Buffet restaurant and then into hotel sales but get this - sales in the hospitality industry!  The casino hotel and convention centre took me on as a sales guy, I did well and when the sales team grew I got a promotion. All of my professional paths - management, sales, culinary and hospitality became one.

And I was ready for more...

Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls- they took a chance on me and gave me a shot at the Director of Sales position. I took a chance on them and set off for the Falls without a safety net. It has been an employment relationship built firmly and deliberately on trust and mutual respect. I hope they'd say it's paid off for them, it most certainly has for me.  Venue management is very different from booking groups into hotels. I wouldn't have believed it and I'm glad I experienced it. 
Claim to Fame:  I was awarded a scholarship to 3rd years Venue Management School, and annual week-long retreat of intense studying at Oglebay resort in the hills of Virginia. What an honour. It was only the second scholarship ever awarded. Unfortunately I was not well enough to attend this year.  

And in these most trying times since my diagnosis of a life-threatening illness my employer, the board and my co-workers have been outstanding. Supportive. Compassionate. Fair. Patient. Generous. That comes from the top.
Key Takeaway: When you get to the top, be that guy. 

I hope your career is as fruitful and as fun and you meet as many cool people as this little guy, who only ever set out to have a little fun with a lot of people, some who have become very good friends indeed. 

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