The Fired Caddie

If only I had engaged the “Pilot’s Pause” before firing this employee, it might have saved me from making perhaps the worst management decision in my club management career. And one that I still think about to this day.

I often refer to the “Pilot’s Pause” when talking to club general managers and always encourage them to wait for 24 hours before making an emotionally
charged decision.

The airlines have a rule that pilots cannot drink alcohol for eight hours before flying, but they suggest to their flight crews that 24 hours is a better and recommended protocol.

I began to engage this suggested practice in my club management career shortly after reading about it. Waiting 24 hours or more to respond to a “hot
button issue” allows you to “respond” to a problem and not “react” to it.

Webster’s Dictionary defines react as a negative way to address an issue and conversely defines respond as a positive way to handle a problem. Unfortunately, I learned of this tactic after making what I consider one of the worst management decisions of my career.

Jason was the very best caddie we had at the club and consistently received the highest ratings from the members for whom he caddied. The club had sponsored him for the Evans Scholarship, an all-encompassing four-year college, highly sought-after scholarship. He was very likely going to be awarded that valued scholarship. And then it happened.

Not only did Jason caddie for us, but he also worked as a bus person on our banquet staff to earn extra money. He would often caddie in the morning and
work with our banquet team in the afternoon. The club was hosting a wedding reception on our outside patio lawn, and I was casually viewing the function from a second-story window. The bartender had stepped away from the service bar and that is when I observed Jason pour himself a vodka and coke in a plastic cup.

One of my unbreakable rules at the club was that I didn’t allow any employee to drink while on duty. I set the example and our employee team knew that not only did I personally adhere to that standard, but I would terminate any employee caught drinking on the first offense.

I took it that seriously. I walked down to the function patio and confronted Jason, who had the plastic cup in his hand. He admitted to what he had done
and I told him he could go home as his employment with the club was finished.

The termination of Jason resulted in his becoming ineligible for the Evans Scholarship since the club withdrew its sponsorship. Jason was devasted by the
news and his father came to visit me at the club. He explained that he would never have the money to pay for four years of tuition and this termination
would probably end Jason’s dream of going to college. He was in tears as he asked me to reconsider.

I called a meeting of our club department managers and asked them for their opinions. They unanimously supported my decision because they truly believed in our employee policies and standards and did not believe there should be an exception.

I also called our club president and after a thorough discussion, he concurred with my action. My next call was to Jason’s father, where I sadly informed him that I was standing by my decision, as gut-wrenching as it was for me. And quite frankly, it still is today.

Upon reflection, I have often thought that had I engaged the “Pilot’s Pause”, I would have suspended Jason until I had a little time to process the situation. I would have had time to respond rather than react.

I sense that my decision would have been different. I would have terminated his employment in the clubhouse, but I would have allowed him to continue to caddie, and that probably would have ensured his receiving the Evans Scholarship.

I don’t know if Jason ever went to college. I do know that he did not receive the Evans as another caddie from our club was awarded that scholarship. I’ve struggled with this judgment for many years and if I have learned anything, it is that emotionally charged actions and life-changing decisions need at least 24 hours for an appropriate response. This much I know for sure!


“This Much I Know for Sure” is a regular feature in BoardRoom magazine beginning Fall 2022. Dick will share some of his reflections based on his 50-plus years of working in the private club business.