Industry Update
Opinion Article25 January 2021

Hospitality Financial Leadership - Brotherly Love

By David Lund, The Hotel Financial Coach

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I didn't start out in the hotel business with a plan or even any desire to be a financial leader. I was going to be a GM one day. Well, all that changed in 1986.

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The large downtown hotel was a big change from the youth-infused Rocky Mountain resort hotel where I had worked for the past three and one-half years. At the hotel in the Rockies, the food and beverage department and the front desk occupied most of my early time, and in the last year, I took a day job in the food and beverage control department. I took the job for two reasons: one the pay was better and two the schedule was Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. unless it was month-end. I had a new girlfriend and she was the secretary in the accounting department. I was at the time most interested in spending as much time with her as possible.

In 1986 a good friend of mine was the controller at one of the largest hotels in Toronto. He offered me a transfer to come and work with him and it included a promotion to assistant food and beverage controller. I took the job in large part to get a transfer east. At the time, it seemed like a logical thing to do given that I was engaged and we were planning on getting married in Ontario in May 1987. A free trip east and a job waiting for me. My version of the Canadian classic, "Goin' Down the Road," with a west-east angle.

The Toronto Hotel was corporate as could be in those days. It was just a few months earlier that the entire head office for the company was on the top floors of the hotel. The hotel seemingly was run by the mafia or at least the Italians. I distinctly remember my first department head meeting in the Library Room, a hotel meeting room. The big table, the suites, the Italians, and especially the rings. Every man at the table seemingly had a huge ring or three and these rings were laden with stones.

The contrast between the mountains and the city could not have been more profound. I felt like a duck out of water. None-the-less I made my way and my boss and I were determined to get the food and beverage leakage under control. Well, easier said than done. The food storeroom was the chef's domain and on paper, we were responsible for the assets inside the doors, but he and his squad of overly under-organized sous chefs all had keys and access 24-7 so our efforts to try and create a requisition and perpetual inventory system were doomed from the beginning. Even worse, in the beverage department the beverage manager not only had the keys, his office was in the center of the beverage storeroom. Most of the banquet set up and tear down including the billing was done in the middle of the storeroom. Talk about having the deck stacked against you.

Well, time flew by and I had some very memorable experiences that I had a hand or two in. To name a few; the female staff and manager from the pub, the missing $26,000 lobster shipment, the chef in the Black Night and his late-night beer escapade, the BEOs for costing with "meat on a stick," the storeroom "tequila and tenderloin" robbery, the Concert Hall food raid, the Imperial Room fiasco, I could go on but that's not the purpose of this chapter. I'm saving these stories for another book.

Early in the fall of 1987 I was newly married and seriously questioning my hotel career plans. I wanted and aspired to be a GM one day but the environment in those days in that city hotel was awful, to say the least. My experiences before that were resorts with youth and creative enthusiasm trumping age and conspiracy. I was not having a lot of fun; however, I was learning a lot and opportunity came knocking.

My office phone rang one morning in early October 1987. It was the hotel manager's administrative assistant. She politely told me the manager wanted to see me and could I come to his office now? What did the manager need to see me about? My head was spinning with the possibilities and most of them were rather negative: What have I done that I don't know about; what scandals have ensured that I am now part of? The hotel was a very dramatic place and I landed on the recent controversy with the F&B manager and our discovery that the evening chef was taking beer home only to be told to look the other way because he personally made sure the big boss was fed every evening before he went home. That's how the game was played in the hotel and our F&B control department was like the secret police with no teeth. I was sure I was being summoned to be let go for overstepping some invisible contradictory and hypocritical boundary. Oh boy, this was going to be fun!!!

I had to wait for 10-15 minutes to see the manager. He was the de facto number two in the hotel. Kinda like the US Vice-President, really powerless and left to take care of the mundane and necessary tasks that the big boss was too busy and too important to look after. Those minutes went by like a dentist appointment, I was pretty sure the beer for steak episode was the reason I was there, to get fired for doing my thankless job. I did recall the F&B manager's words the day following our discovery, "You're trying to put nails in my coffin," as he seemingly knew nothing about the steak for beer arrangement. Imagine the boss needing to have an under-the-table arrangement with the evening cook in his restaurant to supply him with food before he goes home? We had 24-hour room service to look after our guest's needs. The boss had a suite in the hotel and he could get fed anytime he wanted to. At the time it made no sense, whatever this man wanted in the way of legitimate services, in that hotel he simply needed to ask for, and then sign his name. What was the reason for the secret arrangement? Was I now in the middle of a scandal that would expose some other invisible goings-on? I learned later on what was really going on and the food was simply a conceivable excuse for the somewhat scandalous activities that took place. Enough of that.

Her voice was sweet and somewhat reassuring as she told me the manager would now see me. In his office I went, a completely foreign place for me. He smiled, somewhat revealing a certain uneasiness of a caged rat that needed to fink me out. What a prick, I thought to myself as I sat down. How was he judge jury and executioner? I was simply doing my job and following orders. What a bunch of b**** and this place really sucks.

He opened his mouth and said, "I bet you're wondering why you're here David," to which I replied, "Yes, you have my imagination running wild." He smiled again and I could tell it was curtains, game over for me.

"David, I have good news and bad news, which would you like first?"

To which I instantly replied, "The bad news."

He looked at me and said, "We have just hired your brother Chris to be the Hotel Controller and our company has a strict nepotism policy and you can no longer work here after the end of the month." Whoa, what was this and why didn't I know about it, I was pretty sure my brother had my phone number. None-the-less I was somehow instantly relieved, no food for free beer scandal to deal with.

So, I asked, "What's the good news?"

"The company is offering you a transfer to Vancouver Island, British Columbia."

"Doing what?"

He frowned and said, "That's a good question, I don't know, let see if I can find the memo." He looked through a small stack of papers and pulled out the envelope and retrieved its contents. He read it for a moment and said, "Staff accountant - revenue."

I went home that Friday evening and had a long talk with my new bride. We would be moving to British Columbia in three weeks. Was I going to transfer and be an accountant? This made no sense on one hand but it was a chance to get out, a chance to see a new place, a chance to start over, a new hotel, a new city, a new province, three time zones, away from the mafia and the bureaucracy.

Seems my brother was not aware of the nepotism policy. He was waiting to tell me about his new job until the paperwork was completed. No sweat, I said. My wife was not happy about the circumstances, but we were both excited and a little scared of the move all the way to the West Coast!

The moral of this story: Be open to new opportunities in life, even if they don't always look so good on the surface.

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