William Skelnik has always combined passion with an eagerness to learn—two qualities that have served him well. After graduating from Kendall with an associate degree in culinary arts in 1998 and a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management in 2000, he honed his skills first in catering sales and next by becoming an assistant general manager at Beau Jolie Banquets, where he helped oversee 350 weddings and numerous other events in two years. “This is where I learned all facets of the business and what it really takes to produce an event. During the week, I’d help cook and prep,” he says. “I did everything from selling and cooking to setup and execution.”
When a fellow alum contacted him about an assistant general manager position at Wynstone Golf Club in Barrington, Illinois, he knew it was a great opportunity to further his career and applied for the job. This position, he shares, is where he first began learning the skills he needed to be a successful manager.
When he was brought on as general manager of the Hawthorn Woods Country Club several years later, he began expanding his vision of what it means to be a general manager. He says he has to continually reinvent how he approaches his work, not simply to stoke his own creativity, but also to inspire his employees. To inspire fellow alumni and students alike, he explains a few of the best practices he follows:
Be passionate. Happiness is a must, he says. And, it’s infectious. Remember that your mood translates to your employees. “I like to have fun and use a lot of humor, which creates a great team culture,” says Skelnik.
Motivate your employees. Ensure they know and understand the company’s vision. Ask for their input and encourage them to offer feedback. “Earlier this year, we hosted a cardboard boat regatta for the kids,” he says. “The event allowed me and my staff to be creative and offer a more personal experience to our guests. Plus, the staff was so excited that they built their own boats and raced as well! They were laughing and having a good time.”
Be willing to sacrifice. For example, if there is a shortage of cooks at a certain point in the year, know you may need to step in, especially if you’re also asking more of your staff. “People think that when you get to the top of the ladder, it’s different, but it’s not. I have had to jump back in a chef coat on many occasions to help out when we’ve been down a man and my staff respects me for that. A nothing-is-below-me attitude goes a long way,” he says.
Hire slowly. “You have to bring in the right people,” he explains. “I’d rather hire based on personality than skill, because you can always train new employees, but it is difficult to instill passion.”
Continue to hone your skills. “You’ll learn something new every day,” he explains. “Be humble and work hard. Learn every position. It’s a compliment to me when members say ‘You’re everywhere; you can do it all.’ ”