Was it a Calculated Career or a Lifetime of Learning?

As one of the few CMCs to move beyond the kitchen, Lawrence McFadden, CMC, GM/COO of the Union Club (Cleveland) attributes his unique career path to his dedication to learning.

What if you could write your own career story? Would it limit your dreams, aspirations, and expectations or spur continuous self-reinvention? It takes confidence and courage to veer off your chosen career path, especially when seizing a new opportunity that requires a whole new set of skills. For chefs, new horizons often call for the removal of the protective breastplate which is our chef’s jacket. But while many of us multitask within the culinary cloth, there is a lot more to stepping out of the kitchen than merely dressing differently.

New career opportunities can be intimidating, especially when you find yourself behind the learning curve. That realization came to me in Hong Kong in 2004. I was staring out my hotel window at the Victoria Harbor, finishing up a grueling conference call concerning capital expenses.  The content of that meeting could not have been more foreign to my culinary ears and prompted some serious self-reflection. At that moment I realized that I needed to acquire new business knowledge if my desire was ever to move beyond the kitchen environment.

Throughout my career, I have had several epiphanies – such as the one in Hong Kong in ’04 – that have led me to where I am today. I entered our profession at the age of 18, accepting opportunities without financial debate, just packing my knives and heading off to work for the best chefs that would hire me. As my talent developed, more opportunities arose, and following a mentors’ advice, I sought out jobs in free-standing restaurants, clubs, resorts, and city hotels in various major cities, discovering what best suited my personality. I knew early on that entrepreneurship wasn’t for me. What was attractive to me were luxury brand vacation-style resorts, which ultimately led me to the Ritz-Carlton in 1997.

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While some say it’s better to be lucky than good, a successful culinary career takes hard work, dedication and responsibility, supported by natural talent. Fortunately for me, Ritz-Carlton’s management team provided the ideal environment for development and growth of intellect, talent and leadership skills.

Another career revelation came after several years as Corporate Chef at the Ritz, certainly one of the most significant growth chapters since my apprenticeship years. I was offered the opportunity to migrate fully into a management position as Hotel Manager of Operations, and at that moment I had to decide if my ego would allow me to trade my chef’s jacket for a suit and tie. I was reminded of the quote, “Place yourself in fear of failure to enjoy some of your greatest successes.” I eagerly jumped at the chance to alter my career blueprint.

To say there was a learning curve in this new position is an understatement. Operational accountabilities that never made it to the Chef’s attention now sat squarely on my shoulders.  But through guest interaction, I discovered the importance empathy, emotional intelligence and listening skills has on enhanced customer satisfaction. I also recognized that effective problem resolution skills made me a better brand ambassador. And after time, something interesting happened.  I began to enjoy “turning the guest around” for mutual satisfaction.

After 14 years with Ritz-Carlton, I moved on to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Learning from some of the best experts in the industry provided me with practical knowledge of strategic planning, audit procedures, various metrics measurements and a larger scale of operational oversight.

In 2015, my career path brought to my current position as General Manager/COO for the Union Club of Cleveland. The job description fit my background perfectly, allowing me to utilize the skills I developed along the way and giving me exposure to new areas of interest.

As chefs, we are all lifetime learners. The key to continued growth is diversification. Keep learning new skills and accepting new challenges and your career story will write itself.

For me, I wonder whether mine has been a calculated career or simply one of discipline, luck and amazing mentors.  My guess is the latter.