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Create an edge despite steep odds

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in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

You might not give a wine steward at a Disney theme park much of a chance of becoming a leader in his field.

That’s exactly what maitre d’ and sommelier Michael Jordan thought when Disney offered him a chance to run a new restaurant at its California Adventure theme park. Jordan figured he’d already eaten enough space burgers to last a lifetime.

Disney persisted, though, and when Jordan finally agreed to take a look, he saw construction under way for a big open kitchen, a custom-made wine cellar and a view of the Sierras.

But before he signed on, Jordan made Disney agree to his own ground-breaking concepts: A wine list of more than 1,000 vintages, and every employee—from bus persons to chefs—would train to become certified wine stewards.

Disney agreed.

Jordan designed a six-month course to prep up to 35 employees at a time for the Level 1 test given by the Court of Master Sommeliers. In six years, more than 200 employees have passed the exam and the restaurant has 42 sommeliers on staff … more than any restaurant in the world.

Jordan’s vision turned win/win.
  • People want to work for him because they’ll have a future.

  • Disney develops a reputation for dining that is anything but “Mickey Mouse.”

  • Employee retention is close to 100 percent.
And guess what? Educated waiters sell lots more wine. They know exactly the right kind to drink with every course. More than a third of the restaurant’s revenue comes from wine.

Lesson: If you have a grand new idea, don’t turn away from opportunity without first looking. Keep your eyes open.

—Adapted from “Oenophile in a Strange Land,” Mark Borden, Fast Company.

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