18 April, 2006

The Fran O'Brien's Mess: Why?

The petition to save Fran O'Brien's includes room for signatories to leave their comments. M. Eileen Higgins (who is apparently all-but-dissertation on her Doctor of Management degree at the University of Maryland) is signatory number 281 and adds some great questions for Hilton from a business perspective. She asks, is this a business decision or a leadership decision?:"

...I keep asking myself, as a Doctor of Management candidate, why the Capital Hilton would voluntarily throw out millions of dollars of goodwill and replace it, instead, with millions of dollars of bad will?

You (the Capital Hilton) have a premium brand (Fran O'Brien's) in your hotel; you have the war hero who owns the restaurant in your hotel; you have a transcendent event for the wounded troops every Friday night in your hotel. Don't corporations pay consultants billions of dollars each year to help them acquire premium brands, respected competent leaders, and transcendent work environments? Yet you have these already IN YOUR HOTEL without ever having to lift a finger.

...There is magic in your hotel via the mystique of the Washington landmark restaurant, Fran O'Brien's, and the transcendent troop dinners hosted by Mr. Hal Koster, who has loyal friends all over the world. Why on earth would a "business decision" supercede these treasures? Whoever is stubbornly hanging on to this "business decision" should be coached (new model; old model would fire him/her) on the tremendous benefits of social capital and goodwill-- intangibles that cannot be bought...or calculated on the bottom line,
I'm frankly too tired to add much more right now. I just have to say that I learned a lot about business image and PR from my mother who has worked for 20 years for a company that "gets it" in these areas and does a better job of practicing what it preaches than most others in its field do. So maybe I learned a lot just from hearing her talk about work. But it seems to me that any semi-succesful company should've seen this coming a mile away. What the Capital Hilton has done and how it has handled the repercussions of its action have been downright amateurish. I've never done anything more than clerical work in a business environment and even I could've done a better job than they have. I am disgusted and disappointed on both professional and ethical levels.

There comes a point where you have to ask, "Which one is it? Are they just stupid, are they uncaring (which considering the anger they've inspired is also stupid), or are they hiding something?" I don't know which one it is...

[Background on the Fran O'Brien's story here.]