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I was too cavalier.
I made too many assumptions without validating with the experts in the field, which were [in this case] the executive chefs, the hotel managers. I relied too much on my talent alone.
It was 1992. I was at Disney at the time. Another person and I were tasked with hiring chefs for Pleasure Island. We flew all over the United States and France, and you name it. It was a phenomenal time, but it was my whole life.
I was hiring a chef de cuisine, which is the level just below executive chef. You want someone who has executive chef skills and talents, but they’re not quite there. I brought in a person that I was confident would be that person. And I was overconfident in my skills and overconfident in my assumptions of what other people would think about this person. And this person talked a good game. He looked like he had all the right skills.
And when I got this person to Florida, he was on the job for one week when the executive chef and the food and beverage director at the hotel pretty much told him that he was not the right person and he was let go. Then their next question to HR was, “Who made this hire?”
If you know food and beverage, they’re very candid. And I cannot tell you a few expletives that came out … honestly. There were some words. Ultimately, I had to raise my hand and say that was my doing.
Decisions like this cannot be made in a vacuum.
What came out was: Decisions like this cannot be made in a vacuum. When critical decisions are being made, there needs to be more collaboration. The decision needs to be validated. I had made these [types of] decisions before and most were positive. But you can have a false sense of reality.
What I recognized was that I had missed some steps. It was overconfidence. It was me assuming that they would take my word and my decision and not question it. When I ultimately thought back about this person, I looked at their resume again, I realized that, yeah, I’d made a huge mistake. But it was after the fact.
Part of that was me being a little cavalier about it. I walked away from that being more professional about my craft. When you have success young and early on, you skip a step here and there, and maybe don’t follow all of the guidelines.
This lesson has had such a big imprint on me because I don’t like disappointing people. Mistakes happen, right? And sometimes they’re out of your control. But this was on me.
So [today] my executive assistant, she has a word she uses. She says to me sometimes that I’m “persnickety.” And it applies. I agonize over almost every word of a memo because I want to get it right and I don’t want to take shortcuts. I want to back things up with data and facts. I committed to myself when I left that room that day that, if it’s up to me, if it’s on my watch, that will never happen again.
Photo courtesy of Tony Jenkins