Career Services


ARTICLE: Pick Up The Pencil

“This Much I Know for Sure” is a regular feature in BoardRoom magazine beginning Fall 2022. Dick will share some of his reflections based on his 50-plus years of working in the private club business. 

It was a hot, humid August Saturday night in St. Paul, MN, and the club was hosting the wedding reception for the daughter of one of our most prominent members.

The father of the bride had asked me two weeks earlier to make sure the air conditioning units were serviced and working properly, which I failed to do.
And then it went from bad to worse.

Three of my best dining room servers were in a car accident on the way to the club. While they only had minor injuries, they were unable to work. Our executive chef had called in sick, and while we had a fairly good culinary team, our club member had made it clear that he wanted Chef Bob to oversee the dinner preparation.

The pre-dinner outside cocktail reception was hastily moved inside to the grill lounge bar when a severe thunderstorm with pouring rain and high winds demolished the tented patio area. Wedding guests mixing with the golfers who had fled the storm to the shelter of the lounge did not make for a pleasant scene.

The wedding dinner was poorly executed because of a lack of staff and poor communication with the culinary team and because it took place in the dining room, where the temperature was almost 90 degrees; in short, a total disaster. I wanted to hide in my office for the rest of the evening. Before leaving, the club member said he would be calling me to “discuss” how the evening went.

On Monday morning, my assistant told me Mr. Robbins, true to his word, was on the line and wanted to talk to me. I told her to tell him I would call him back when I finished my meeting. I didn’t call him back. On Tuesday, he called for me again and I didn’t call him back. Wednesday and Thursday he didn’t call. Friday he called for me and I didn’t call him back.

Saturday at 9 a.m., our club president, Mr. Rosenbaum, walked into my office for our weekly meeting. Immediately after sitting down in front of my desk he said, “Dick, I understand Mr. Robbins has been calling you repeatedly regarding his daughter’s wedding reception last Saturday. Is that correct?”

I responded, “Well, yes that is true, and I have been trying to call him back.” Without hesitation, Mr. Rosenbaum said, “Dick, do you see that pencil on the floor?” I answered, “Yes.” And then he said, “Either you pick up the pencil or don’t pick up the pencil. You don’t try to pick up a pencil! And you don’t try to call someone. Now, here is Mr. Robbins’ home phone number. I know that he is waiting for your call. Dial the number now!

I called while Mr. Rosenbaum was observing me, and I listened to a rather severe critique of the wedding reception. I agreed with every point Mr. Robbins made and apologized as best I could, and we obviously made a significant adjustment on the final bill.

Mr. Rosenbaum then schooled me on a very important business tactic: always return calls immediately, not the next day, not even at the end of the day, but
immediately. It was a great lesson learned and one I shared on a regular basis with our management team at that club and every club I managed.

One of my previous assistant club managers, who now owns a very successful real estate company, shared with me what he believes were the two most valuable lessons he adapted from his time working with me in the club business: 1) Always be 15 minutes early and 2) Always return phone calls immediately. Jeff told me his clients always remark on how he always arrives before they do when viewing a home. But he said they are even more impressed with how responsive he is and how he calls them back so quickly.

I will always be grateful for the lesson Mr. Rosenbaum gave me, and the metaphor is even more relevant today. Either you pick up the pencil or you don’t pick up the pencil. You don’t try to pick up the pencil.

This much I know for sure!

THE BOARDROOM MAGAZINE – November/December 2022


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