Mentors come in many forms. The relationship need not be — and often is not — defined to be deemed a mentorship. Often, you may not fully realize the effect you’ve had on someone until, after years have gone by, a thoughtful thank-you note suddenly appears in your inbox.
At Puccini Group, we place a priority on instilling the mentorship bug in each of our leaders so as to carry the life cycle through to the younger team members who are on their way up their career ladder. We hope that by setting good examples as leaders, we’ll inspire the next generation to do the same for those to come.
I was recently down in Newport Beach for Larry Cano’s 90th birthday party. Most of you might not know the name, but he started El Torito — not the El Torito you know today, but the El Torito of 40 years ago. It was one of the first that ushered in the chain restaurant that was a 4-star restaurant experience. In those days Larry built haciendas, using the Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island near Victoria, Canada, as his model for how a garden should look. What was really most remarkable was that Larry introduced the idea of an experience to the dining scene — the same philosophy that still lives with me today.
All in all Larry’s party was great fun. While at the party I chatted with several people who worked with me and many who had come after me (I was hired on as a manager before later becoming a vice president at the company). At least two former CEOs of major national chains and quite a number of others had gone off to open restaurants of their own. While working for Larry, I was given the incredible responsibility and opportunity to, at the age of 30, open an El Torito office and find an architect, designer and contractor because Larry had a bet with Peter Grace (the Grace Co. had bought El Torito by then) that I could open five restaurants in 12 months. You know, I did do it, and that started what has been a long career of surrounding myself with people who have the right skills to get the job done.
There have certainly been others over the course of my career who have provided opportunity and support, but I have to say without Larry Cano I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet Bill Kimpton, who taught me how to understand hotel restaurants in order to develop the restaurant division for Kimpton Hotels during the 80s and 90s. Whether it’s a chain of restaurants or a singular hotel restaurant, I learned the key to restaurant success lies first in understanding the guest, and then in defining the restaurant’s concept, design and operations strategy to produce a story that leads guests to a memorable experience.
We never know for whom we may make a difference. I can tell you that most of the successful people I know probably have a story like mine — different characters, different opportunities, but always someone key in their life who was the turning point between wandering and focusing on one’s life’s work. I have been incredibly lucky to have met and worked with two unbelievably generous men who gave me great opportunities: Larry Cano and Bill Kimpton. If I am lucky, someone will say that about me someday.