Lucky 32 — and QW — 25-Plus Years On (Part II) | Summer 2015 Rambling

A rambling by Dennis Quaintance, CEO & CSO (Chief Storytelling Officer)

(Also see our Summer 2015 Newsletter)

In the Rambling I penned for our last letter, I shared some nostalgic stories that centered on what has happened with this outfit over this past quarter-century. As promised, here is Part II. In it, I’ll take on the why and how of our short history … and our present.

So…why did we start this company, and what’s its “reason for being”?

Nancy—my wonderful bride of 32 years, my QW colleague and my business partner—and I have been incredibly lucky in a multitude of ways. For instance, we are really fortunate that we had the opportunity, right at the get-go back in 1989, to consider our values and beliefs and use them as the cultural cornerstones for our new business. Toiling with the nuts and bolts of getting our first restaurant up and running was a blast. Beyond that fun, we wanted to do a sort of experiment to see if we could blend our idealistic notions about camaraderie, sincerity, fairness, diversity and inclusion, and a shared sense of purpose with the practical demands of capitalism. We wanted to be practical idealists. Pragmadealists? We knew that we were on our “path of heart” when we settled on our plan. This was one of the reasons that we took the emotional and financial risks to start this company. If it weren’t for this desire, we probably would’ve opted to build our careers with other companies.

BTW, for those of you who don’t know, Nancy is a huge part of this company’s past and present. She is VP for the hotels, and she helps the culinary and events teams. Prior to QW, Nancy’s career went like this: Greensboro Day School, Johnson and Wales University, Cornell University, Marriott, Guest Quarters, then John Q. Hammons hotels, where she worked directly with Mr. Hammons, deciding where to build hotels and serving as regional director of sales for five hotels. My history: Hellgate High in Missoula, MT, and a bunch of jobs in hotels and restaurants. (See how we are a good team? Even on paper it’s clear!)

It was and is important to us that our personal intentions of being loving, compassionate and of service—without the patty cake, patty cake malarkey that often messes things up—form the basis of our life’s work. (We practice this gleefully and imperfectly.) Nancy and I dreamed, pondered and argued and eventually came up with an outline for the sort of team culture that we wanted to cultivate:

  • We wanted that wonderful, warm feeling of authentic camaraderie that one only seems to get when everyone is pulling in the same direction because they sincerely want to.
  • We wanted to create an environment where the reason-for-being (our mission) was to be of genuine service first to our guests, then to our colleagues, then to our shareholders, and also to the earth and her people.
  • We wanted to lead an organization where people’s behavior mattered, not their gender, race, eye shape, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or anything else.

Imagine our delight when Mike Weaver joined us as our partner in this adventure! And it was a great bonus that he was—and is—equally enthusiastic about this idea of blending our idealism with pragmatism.

BTW, we have always worried that we’ll goof this up. We know how difficult it is to serve someone else’s interests before one’s own. These idealistic bits all sound good over a brewsky, but when one feels an ego threat or cash gets tight or other stress enters the picture, it is typical to drop all the high-minded stuff and revert to our “learned first” sort of battle-ready instincts of how to survive. We are keenly aware of this problem, and we counter it (at least when we are mindful) by remembering that people really only know if they hold a value if they are willing to voluntarily inconvenience themselves in service of it.

Another angle of this why/intention discussion is that we’ve come to realize that all we really have or “own” is the moment we happen to be in. (We’re “momenteers”!) Nancy and I decided to make applying our intentions and values the dominant occupier of our moments in the professional/career dimension of our lives. We volitionally place ourselves subordinate to a set of ideas. Then, we intend to behave in ways that encourage our colleagues to choose to join us by making “being of service” their highest priority. Easy to say, hard to do; I wish I did it better and more consistently.

BTW, a good way to state our macro idea is: At QW, we are brothers and sisters who choose to be of service to our brothers and sisters, who are our guests, colleagues, shareholders and all others. We also teach that all our guests and colleagues really want is for QW people to be friendly and competent, and if you can only be one in a given situation, be friendly!

Okay…so how did we approach making this real?

To create a workplace where these sorts of foundational ideas are more than a sign on the wall requires that the key leaders be sincere and that they connect the mission-level ideas to everything that goes on each day in the restaurants and hotels, where the rubber really hits the road. To learn more about how we communicate this connection, glance at our staff member guide book, which is called “How to Be a Lucky Star.” A slimmed-down version is included with this letter, and it is online at We relate most everything we talk about with this team all the way back to this outfit’s reason for being. We talk (and write, evidenced herein) ad nauseam about our grounding points and the values that support them. For instance, here is what people see first when they apply to play a role at a QW place:

Thank you for your interest in joining our team. Please read our mission statement. It explains what we’re all about. (Find it in our “How to Be a Lucky Star” book.) If you’re excited about helping this team accomplish these goals by approaching your work with these ideas in mind, great. If not, why apply? We understand if that’s your choice.

Once a person is brought on board, she or he finds that our orientation sessions and learning materials are structured to demonstrate how rules, procedures and standards relate back to our macro intentions.

What have we learned so far from this experiment?
Today, nearly 26 years after we rather timidly started this experiment, I can report that even with this flawed chief cook and bottle washer, we’re still afloat … and we’re still dancing with the one that brung us! The experiment wasn’t a bust. (This adventure includes the 650 people on this team now and the maybe 20,000 who have worked with QW through the years.) We are not the only ones trying to figure out how to make capitalism more emotionally and technically sustainable. In fact, our work is a bit of a joke compared to some other things that are going on. We are sharing our story because it is our story and we are loving living it, and because so many have asked us to talk about it. Nancy and I both are amazed by what we’ve learned and excited about what we are bound to learn going forward. The learnings list is too long to get into here, but two things spring to mind:

  • We are all still people with off-purpose impulses, need-to-be-right egos and fear based drivers. (And when I say “we”, I’m including myself; in fact, I may just be referring to myself!) To counter that, we teach and remind each other: Respond more to your intentions than your impulses.
  • We can’t accomplish anything without colleagues who share our enthusiasm and who are eager to navigate using the compass of our mission and values for direction. We are nearly always on the lookout for people who might have a joyful experience working hard with us. (If you know someone who might enjoy playing a role with QW, please send him or her our way.)

With the energy that we’ve put into endeavoring to make some of our ideas real, Nancy and I sometimes wonder what might be possible for a community larger than QW. How about a city—how about Greensboro? What ideas might this community want to make real? Given Greensboro’s impressive history of social and technical innovation and some inspiring things that are happening here now, we are foolish (or optimistic) enough to have some fun “stretch” dreams. Here’s one: It is 12 years from now, and the following is the teaser for a cover story in the international publication The Economist:

“Over the past couple of decades there must have been some sort of harmonic convergence in Greensboro, NC. That community has outpaced communities of similar size—and larger—across the globe when the following are measured: prosperity, fairness, diversity and inclusion, social harmony, joy, innovation and sustainable practices.” Wouldn’t that be a thrill? There are many reasons why that dream just might become real. Consider (and these are all Greensboro-based organizations):

  • What the extraordinary leadership team at VF Corporation, the world’s largest apparel company, is doing with innovation, adaptation, collaboration and teamwork. VF is not only creating innovative, fashionable and useful goods, they also strive to have a positive impact on the social and physical environments. Their culture and effectiveness are admired around the globe.
  • What the Center for Creative Leadership is doing with, well … creative leadership. Speaking of global, let’s put it this way: I don’t know that their influence is that great in Antarctica, but on every other continent they are making a huge positive difference, especially right here in the U.S. of A. and this borough.
  • The impact Triad Stage makes. What other theater contributes more to the fabric of a community than this one? I think it is because of Preston Lane’s extraordinary talent, his insistence that “it’s about the mission, stupid” and the support of his colleagues and some extraordinary community leaders. (And that their mission is about the whole of this community.)
  • How Dr. Jane Fernandes is gracefully leading Guilford College in the challenging environment of higher education. Where else is there a deaf female leader of a hearing college? How about nowhere, ever. (As best I can tell, there’s only been one deaf leader of a hearing college: Frederick Barnard at Columbia in the 1880s.) The fact that Fernandes is female and deaf really isn’t the great thing; what I find so admirable are her competence and her authentic and sincere attachment to the College’s core values.
  • The impressive “cultural transformation” work that Cone Health has taken on with Terry Akin’s gentle hand on the tiller. I’ve long experienced this organization as being highly effective, but that they took on improving an already high-functioning organization is inspirational. I observe terrific leadership and followership there.
  • That HondaJet with its innovative design is poised to revolutionize business aviation in much the same way that Honda shook up the automobile industry when they entered it decades ago. Honda’s extraordinary innovation, their amazing commitment to this area and exceptional methods of operation are bound to have a huge positive impact on this community.
  • I could share more … many more … and there are thousands of other examples that I don’t know about, but your patience and our space are limited.

There it is in a nutshell (well, the shell of a very large nut). Now you have the “why” and “how” of our short history. Thanks for your interest.

Dennis W. Quaintance