“Servants don’t know a good master till they have served a worse” ― Aesop, Aesop’s Fables.
The Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, saw massive renovation in 1988. The renovation was so big the hotel was closed for six months. One man died in the construction falling down the garbage chute and it is said that the hotel rose six inches taller as so much weight was taken out of her. The Indian gum wood piles expanded giving the old girl a lift. I have said many times, you have not really worked in the hotel business until you have worked in a hotel that’s closed. We take for granted the little things like the cafeteria, the laundry, the washroom! At one point, we had to walk up six flights of stairs to get to our office and six back down to go to the loo.
Eventually, the hotel emerged from its renovation and physical transformation and the results were amazing. The renovation costs more than doubled the budget. Once you start peeling back the walls what you find is usually not what you bargained for. None the less, the job was done and the old lady had a new dress and shoes. So, it’s the summer of 1989 and the hotel is back on line and were hosting our first big conference: The Canadian Pacific Presidents Conference. Back in the late 1980s, Canadian Pacific was a huge conglomerate of companies sewn together. Coal, gas, paper products, food, hotels, ships, trucking, credit cards, lumber, chemicals, railway, airline, power, telecommunications, consulting, securities, and real estate were all part of the conglomerate at one point or another.
“I don’t think we are too diversified. We would be if we didn’t have a plan. You look closely and everything fits. You know, we didn’t try to diversify just to look good” – Ian Sinclair, President and Chairman of the Board, CP Limited, 1966.
While the conference dates had arrived and it goes without saying that we were pulling out all the resources we had to give these folks a great time. Each division of the company would send its president and executive team along with their spouses. These folks came from all over the world and they were captains of industry. As a management team, we were assigned extra duties to help with the conference, especially with the arrival process. I remember having sketchy photocopied black and white pictures from past annual reports to use as clues to who these people were and our job was to find them upon arrival. Each of us was assigned key individuals to meet and greet, escort them to their room, make sure they were welcomed and happy with their suites. Normal stuff.
Our hotel company President was one of the first to arrive and his wife arrived a bit latter on a separate flight, only to have the airline misplace her luggage. The hotel company President was back and forth between his hospitality suite and the front door, welcoming his fellow company presidents and having a few cocktails. The biggest arrival by far was the current Chairman and President, William Stinson. He had grown up inside of Canadian Pacific since the mid-1950s and he had quite the reputation. His nickname was ‘Old Ironsides’. When he arrived, the hotels’ General Manager (GM) took him directly to his office as Stinson had business to attend to which meant he needed a phone to use. In 1989, we had cell phones but not many business executives were using them. The land line was still king.
So now it’s getting a little later in the afternoon and most of the company brass was in house. I was at the front door and our hotel company president came back to the lobby and asked me how things were going. I said: “We have three more to arrive and I am told they are all on schedule.” A bit of b– but he was happy to hear this. Funny thing was he had a “lime vesicle” sticking on his upper lip and the fragrance of gin was ripe. None the less, he was in a good mood and as we chatted our hotel GM came to the front door as well. The words that came out of their mouths next were incredible.
Hotel President to our GM: “Where is my wife’s f– luggage?” GM: “Mr Stinson is using the phone in my office.” Hotel President: “Haven’t you got another f– phone in this hotel!”
So, all of this unfolds two feet away from me. I see our GM, who is a powerful man in our eyes, melt. He was speechless. Having been called to the ground in front of me by the President. I felt so embarrassed for him as he retreated to the other end of the lobby to get someone to call about the President’s wife’s luggage.
This story reminds me of a saying often repeated by an old GM I used to work with: “We’re all busboys, get over it.” And that is so true. No matter how important you think you are there is always someone seemingly more important. So, the grand lesson in all of this is: treat people the way you want to be treated because that’s the right thing to do and don’t treat others the way the treat you. Don’t go there. Rise above. Be the leaders that stands above.
By David Lund
David Lund is an international expert who has been branded ‘The Hotel Financial Coach’. Just as any great hotel is true to their brand, so is David. His client commitment is about exceptional service. And his #1 focus is to help his clients gain a fast Return On Investment from his workshops and personalized coaching. David’s background includes over 30 years as a regional controller, corporate financial director, hotel manager and controller throughout North America.