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Hiring and Firing Your Way to Greatness by James A. Cusumano

Recruiting and inspiring the best people makes the difference between a good company and a great one.
by James A. Cusumano, PhD - Chateau Mcely - Prague, Czech Republic


Right Person, Right Job, Right Time

Over the years of founding and leading the growth of public companies, I have experienced two critical factors for transitioning from a “good” to a “great” enterprise. After you and your team are very clear as to your company’s vision, mission, values and strategy, the
 first factor is hiring the right people for the right jobs at the right time—and expeditiously, graciously and compassionately exiting those who are mistakes. And you will make some mistakes, no matter how hard you try. Following this guideline is one of the most difficult things to do. 

In startups, entrepreneurs often hire friends, family, and others who may not be the right persons in their positions as the company grows. Or, sometimes we are misled by the input of a candidate during the interview process, and we make an inappropriate hire. 

The leadership must face reality and help these employees find a more effective and rewarding job within the company, and if one is not available they should be asked with all due respect to find a more appropriate position elsewhere. Everyone, including the employee, benefits by taking care of these issues sooner rather than later. Allow me to share an example.

When we first hired waiters for our restaurant at Chateau Mcely, one of our hires was an intelligent gentleman named Milan.  It was only three weeks into work with us when it became clear that Milan was not enjoying his job and seemed to be distracted.  Our Manager of Guest Relations told me that Milan seemed to spend a lot of time on the computer, and in fact was able to solve some of our difficult IT issues. 

I had lunch with the Milan and asked him what he thought of his capabilities as a waiter.  After hemming and hawing and a few false starts to his answer, it was clear that he really didn’t like his job. I asked him if he ever thought about working in the computer business.  Apparently not, though he had played with computers since childhood and could even repair them. 

Although we were not legally required to do, we decided to give Milan a four-week termination notice, and told him that he could take off work whenever necessary for job interviews.  I advised him to look for employment in the computer industry. Today, Milan is a successful computer technical serviceman for a large multinational company.  I usually get a call or e-mail from him once or twice a year, thanking me for firing him!

To minimize such situations, it is best to expend considerable effort in hiring the right person.  This is not easy, and most companies falter in this area.  At Catalytica, a public company I co-founded in Silicon Valley, and which grew to more than 2,000 people, we became known for our rigorous hiring practices.  We tried never to settle for a candidate if the individual was not the best person for the position, even when we were growing at double digit rates. 

Under pressures of rapid growth, it is tempting to fill a position with someone who may not be the best candidate.  Furthermore, we found that keeping an unproductive employee was orders of magnitude more painful for all concerned than exiting that person as soon as it was clear that it was the best decision.

We put together multidisciplinary teams to interview each candidate, whether it was for a position as a receptionist or the vice president of sales.  A list of key, open-ended questions was developed and each of the interview team members was assigned an area of focus for the candidate. 

Open-ended questions are important because they assure you of a more accurate picture of the candidate. I want to hear answers to questions such as “What are your personal dreams and aspirations?”  “What’s the most exciting thing that ever happened to you?”  “What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you, and how did you deal with it?”  “What special skills do you believe you bring to our company and why would you want to work here?”  The manner in which candidates answer such questions will speak volumes about them and whether they will fit your company values and the position you are trying to fill.

We usually arranged at least one dinner with the candidate and then one with the candidate and his or her significant other.  The input of a significant other can be quite telling.  Much can be gleaned from the candidate’s behavior under these circumstances.

The interview team would then meet as a group and go over the answers to all questions and the candidate’s behavior in a social setting.  The team would vote on whether or not to hire the candidate and the results of the decision, with detailed comments, were presented to the senior manager in the department for which the candidate was interviewing.  In the end it is still a risky process, but we found our approach minimized the number of “mis-hires.”

The Usual Model is Not Necessarily Best

second critical factor and a common attribute of all the “right” candidates is high emotional intelligence (EQ). Yes, IQ is important; however, in my experience, all of the successful employees I have encountered had high EQ. They had the capability to tune into the needs of others and uncover constructive means to harness the power of a team. They also tend to be highly receptive to an exciting vision and mission.

An example—when my wife Inez and I launched Chateau Mcely as a leading five-star castle hotel and spa located just outside of Prague, we decided not to hire highly-experienced employees, who by definition would have come out of the communist era, which had ended in 1989 with the Velvet Revolution.

We instead hired young, passionate men and women with limited or no experience in the hospitality industry, but who had an apparent high EQ, were excited by our vision, and wanted to make a positive difference in the world. We trained them with our common-sense ideas of super service, even though neither Inez nor I had any experience in managing a hotel, a spa or a restaurant. True, we had been successful entrepreneurs, but not in any business remotely resembling hospitality.

Seven years later, Chateau Mcely has become one of the top brands in Central Europe and our Team has won numerous awards for its achievements.

Shortly after opening in September 2006, Chateau Mcely was named 
The Best Hotel in the Czech Republic by Dolce Vita Magazine, and chosen by the Czech Real Estate Board as the Best Hotel Project in the country. In 2007, Chateau Mcely was designated by the European Union as the only five-star Greenand Eco Chic hotel in the Czech Republic and only the second in all of Europe. In 2008, we were voted by the World Travel Awards as The World's Leading Green Hotel. In 2012, our spa was awarded the Best Luxury Destination Spa in the Czech Republic. And in 2014, Piano Nobile, the castle’s restaurant won the Mauer Grand Restaurant Award as the Best Restaurant in the Czech Republic.

In addition to individual guests from around the world, Chateau Mcely attracts numerous international weddings, as well as executive teams from multinational corporations such as Pfizer, McKinsey & Company, the Young Presidents’ Organization, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Exxon, among others.

I think much of our success stems from hiring high EQ people who are passionate about our 
vision, which is to make a difference in the world by making a difference in yours. We have not followed the standard hotel business model. In fact, our mission transcends hospitality. We are in the business ofenriching the lives of all of our stakeholders—employees, guests, investors, suppliers, our community and the world. And we take that mission very seriously.

Our projects reflect this commitment. For example, Inez created Mcely Bouquet (
www.McelyBouquet.Com) a line of natural cosmetics, which is manufactured in our castle laboratory. They are used exclusively in our spa and marketed only on our E-shop and at several luxury hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental and Kempinski.

Our Princess Nely Project (, consisting of a popular children’s book, Nely: Princess of Chateau Mcely, written by Inez, a specially designed Princess Nely Suite, and supporting children’s products was created to encourage young girls to follow their dreams and encourage them to focus on growing into talented, fulfilled women, who could make an important difference in the world.

Chateau Mcely Forum™ (
www.ChateauMcelyForum.Com) was launched to provide courses and lectures on Inspired Leadership, Life Purpose, Work-Life Balance, and other topics to help business executives navigate the challenges of the 21st century.

We continue to enhance these projects and dream of others that fit our vision and fulfill our mission to make a positive difference in this challenged world.

I have no doubt that 
a primary contributor to our successes has been hiring the right people (high EQ) at the right time for the right job. Not an easy task, but well worth the effort!