First Line Manager: Firing Chef Bart Got Me a Job
My first Chef at the Admiral Benbow hotel in Birmingham was Bart. He set up the kitchen and planned our daily luncheon buffet. The buffet was a great success. We had a full house almost every day. Mr. E, the owner, took a disliking to Bart. Bart is a short, little man from Maryland and spoke with a northern accent. Mr. E being from Arkansas, to mention this today seems strange, did not like Yankees. I think this had something to do with Mr. E telling me to fire Bart. I had no choice. I liked Bart. Bart intended to open a restaurant of his own in a small town south of Birmingham. He had been working on this restaurant in his spare time.
I wanted to handle this situation in a human way. I asked Bart into my office; informed him, as of late, he let his duties slip. I told him I thought this was because he was more concerned with setting up his restaurant than managing our restaurant. I thought it would be best for both of us if he left to devote full time to his business venture. I told him how much I appreciated his service to the hotel. He understood. Bart’s wife and two boys worked in the restaurant. I walked out of my office, he and his family walked past me leaving the motel. I still remember the look on his wife’s face. Bart and I parted on good terms; I hated to see him go. We had worked together to establish a good repetition for our restaurant. Bart knew I was sincere about not wanting him to go. I have found that if you are not sincere don’t fake it. This was in September of 1973.
Fast forward to June of 1974, I was looking for a job. Emily and I decided to get out of the motel business. I invited Will, the personnel manager for UPS in Birmingham, to lunch at the Rodeway Inn. As the General Manager of the Admiral Benbow, I handled several meetings and luncheons for Will and UPS. Will said, “Jim are you sure you want to drive a truck for UPS?” Will saw me in my role as a General Manager, he could not see me driving a truck. He said, “Come by and take the entry test.” I could see that changing fields was going to be difficult. Starting at the bottom again is not going to be easy.
I heard that the Ramada Inn Crest motel receiver was looking for a General Manager. The motel was in Bankruptcy. I left the Rodeway, drove to the Ramada Inn, just to see if the receiver needed a motel manager. When I walked in to the lobby the first person I saw was Chef Bart. Bart said this was his last day; he was opening his restaurant next week. I met Cecil Gaines the receiver. We talked a few minutes about the General Manager position; Cecil said he hired a General Manger that morning.
I drove back to Tuscaloosa thinking how hard it is to find a job. The country was in a recession. In May, I was asked to resign as General Manager at the Admiral Bembow in Bossier City. Back in Tuscaloosa, Emily and I turned down a job with Mr. E in Nashville. Emily said, “You don’t want to go back to work with Mr. E, do you?” I phoned Mr. E; I turned down his job offer. Now, I was thinking maybe that was a mistake.
I was sitting at my Father in Law’s table after dinner when the phone rang. It was Cecil Gaines. Cecil said he phoned the manager he hired that morning to inform him he changed his mind. He offered me the job. Cecil said, “Jim after you left Chef Bart came into my office, he told me I needed to hire you.” I started as the General Manager of the Ramada Inn Crest in Birmingham on July 1, 1974. The month of June, 1974 is the first and last time I received unemployment compensation.
I never saw Bart again. I know this, firing Bart with human dignity led to me getting my last General Manager’s job. First line managers must handle all transactions with employees in a sincere and human way. This means we have to talk in terms of their best interest, not ours. To do this, we must know our employees aspirations. This is the key to being successful in our most human endeavor, managing people.