Beyond the Plate: Michael Vlad Leading with the Heart of Hospitality Innovation

Michael Vlad
Michael Vlad

A vibrant haven where culinary excellence meets a profound commitment to saving lives. This is The Argyle, a private dining club with a unique mission—to fervently support the Texas Biomedical Research Institute. To create a haven like this, it is crucial to have exceptional leadership and the pursuit of a higher purpose that must be seamlessly woven together the worlds of hospitality and philanthropy.

Handling these intricacies with delicacy is Michael Vlad—a seasoned General Manager and Chief Executive Officer at The Argyle Club with a rich history in the hospitality industry. Michael’s track record speaks volumes, showcasing his expertise in Private Dining Clubs, Food and Beverage, Team Building, Budgeting, Leadership, and Finance. His journey through the world of hospitality has been bolstered by a strong educational foundation, with a focus on Hospitality Management from The Institute of Fine Arts, New York City and Cornell University.

Michael’s leadership at The Argyle is characterized by a profound dedication to its mission— bridging the gap between a pioneering research institution and its members who generously contribute their time and resources to support groundbreaking research.

Let’s discover the unique fusion of hospitality and philanthropy, where Michael’s visionary leadership shines!

Keys to the Suite

Michael owes his career choices to his father’s enduring influence. Growing up, his father’s 45-year stint managing hotels and restaurants in Europe set the stage for Michael’s own path in the industry.

At just 20 years old, Michael embarked on a new chapter when he arrived in the bustling heart of NYC from Europe. Shortly thereafter, he found himself working at the renowned “Windows on the World” restaurant atop the World Trade Centre One. This was a pivotal moment, as Michael reminisces, “Windows on the World made the highest impact on my hospitality career.”

Tragedy struck on September 11, 2001, forever altering Michael’s life. He vividly recalls the morning of the terrorist attack, with his scheduled shift at 10 a.m. and the devastating event occurring just 45 minutes before. “I will never forget this day!” Michael laments, as he reflects on the 87 colleagues lost that fateful morning. Yet, he miraculously survived, driven by the urge to share his story.

In the wake of the World Trade Center attack and the loss of friends and colleagues, Michael was left adrift. It took nearly a year of introspection to chart a new course for his career. But Michael’s resilience and passion for the service industry ultimately prevailed, guiding him towards a brighter future in the world of hospitality.

Check-In to Resilience

Michael, reflecting on his career, identifies the profound challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. He notes, “The impact of COVID-19 on our workforce, members and society has been the second biggest challenge of my career.”

In the face of this crisis, Michael’s team swiftly implemented a two-pronged strategy. First, they offered “free on-site COVID testing continually,” ensuring the safety of their entire workforce. Second, they embraced remote work, with “over 50% of our workforce working from home.” Remarkably, despite these upheavals, they upheld their commitment, as Michael puts it, by providing “full medical benefits and full compensation to all employees.”

Their resilience paid off, as Michael proudly states, “We retained over 95% of our entire workforce during the pandemic.” Simultaneously, they adapted their services to serve members, offering “takeout options or drive-through” to ensure customer/members and guests satisfaction. Michael steadfast leadership and innovative strategies kept the ship afloat during one of the most challenging periods in recent memory.

The Key Ingredient

In Michael eyes, the key to success in the hospitality industry lies in leadership that prioritizes both employees and guests. He asserts, “The level of employee productivity and overall workforce impact on our members and guests is a direct reflection of our leadership and how we treat our employees.”

Michael proudly identifies as a “servant leader,” emphasizing his dedication to treating employees with the same “respect and care” accorded to guests, clients, vendors, and members. To him, this commitment isn’t just a strategy—it’s a deeply held belief in nurturing a work environment where everyone is valued and supported. In this ethos, Michael finds the foundation of a thriving and harmonious hospitality enterprise, where satisfied employees are empowered to create exceptional experiences for all.

From Plate to Palate

Michael recognizes the power of data in the modern age, affirming, “We use data analytics to understand our guests and members’ dining behaviors and preferences while predicting emerging trends.”

Leveraging data analytics platforms, they craft targeted marketing strategies that elevate special events and dining experiences, ensuring a personalized and engaging journey for their valued patrons.

Teamwork with a Twist

Michael believes that culture naturally takes root in any environment, but its potency lies in consistency and coherence. He stresses, “It is our responsibility as leaders or influential team members to cultivate and develop a high-performance culture for strategic success.”

Reflecting on his journey, about a year ago, Michael embarked on a transformative path by enrolling in the UC Berkeley Hass Business School CEO program. A pivotal moment came when the entire Executive Team engaged in assessments aimed at understanding their Organizational Cultural Profile.

The insights revealed a culture steeped in “integrity, being members and employees-centric, collaborative, results-oriented, and adaptive over time.” Notably, innovation and agility stood as core values.

Michael underscores the importance of a clear organizational vision, spanning recruitment based on “non-negotiable criteria,” fostering and developing talent and setting leadership examples in rewarding practices. For him, a well-defined culture is the cornerstone of sustainable success, ensuring that every team member thrives in a harmonious and purpose-driven environment.

Counting Beans and Serving Dreams

Michael emphasizes the significance of a collaborative culture in their journey to success, stating, “Collaborative culture is part of our pillars of success.” Their approach to yearly budgets exemplifies this commitment to teamwork.

Before locking in financial objectives, Michael’s team initiates a series of meetings with the Executive Team, seeking their input. Michael believes that “involving the team from the early stages of developing the financial budget” fosters transparency and paves the way for collective efforts. This inclusive approach, he notes, results in a united front dedicated to achieving their shared goals, ensuring everyone’s alignment and commitment to success.

Degrees of Distinction

Michael traces the roots of his hospitality ethos back to his formative years, where his mother served as his dedicated tutor. He shares, “The first seven years of my life taught me the fundamental values of hospitality—sharing, caring and respecting one another.” These bedrock principles have remained his guiding light throughout his career.

His educational journey, spanning the Institute of Arts and Cornell University has been transformative. Michael words echo, “opened the door to new knowledge and new perspectives,” which he seamlessly incorporated into his transformational leadership style.

For Michael, nurturing his team’s growth is crucial. He emphasizes, “Providing the resources necessary to our staff members to continue their education” is a shared commitment. This investment not only propels their personal aspirations but also fuels the organization’s collective drive toward success.

Embracing Change, Redefining Hospitality

Michael’s deep-rooted hospitality values took shape during his early years under the guidance of his mother, who instilled in him the core principles of hospitality, “sharing, caring and respecting one another.” These principles, imprinted in his character, continue to shape his career path.

His educational journey, including experiences at the Institute of Arts and Cornell University, has been a source of transformation. In Michael’s words, these experiences have “opened the door to new knowledge and new perspectives,” enriching his leadership style.

Michael’s commitment to nurturing his team’s growth is unwavering. He underscores the importance of “providing the resources necessary to our staff members to continue their education,” recognizing that this investment not only empowers individuals to pursue their personal goals but also fuels the collective drive of the organization towards achieving both personal and organizational objectives.

Catering to Perfection

The Argyle Club thrives on transparency, embracing member feedback as a daily ritual. He explains, “We track member satisfaction through electronic surveys after dining or events, sharing it with staff through our employee App.”

Their mission is clear: “empower staff as small entrepreneurs,” fostering a high level of member engagement. Michael sees feedback as a chance for growth, remarking, “Mistakes are a learning curve and an opportunity to improve, not a service failure.”

This approach cultivates a culture of continuous improvement, where every team member contributes to refining their service exemplifying their commitment to providing exceptional experiences and ensuring their members’ voices are not just heard but valued.

The Finest Hour

In his decade-long tenure, Michael finds profound satisfaction in helping staff realize their dreams, be it “buying their first home, putting their children through college, or paying debt.” For him, it’s about nurturing their personal growth and well-being.

Michael’s pivotal role in collaborating with the board on funding strategies for new facilities has yielded remarkable results. He notes, “The impact from the results of this process created an ongoing new member’s waitlist while our attrition levels are at all-time lows.” This achievement reflects a commitment to member satisfaction and financial sustainability, ensuring that the organization thrives while alleviating the financial burden on its members.

A Feast for the Soul

With years of experience, Michael shares invaluable insights about the transformative power of humility and gratitude, emphasizing that life is about “selflessly serving others.” These values are instilled in The Argyle’s staff, where leadership revolves around investing in those they serve.

Michael’s advice for success resonates deeply, “Be authentic, honest and passionate about achieving success, concentrate on positives and possibilities, pay attention to details, be transparent and communicate well.” He adds, “Develop and maintain a sense of urgency and most importantly, have fun.”

These timeless principles have guided Michael’s journey and continue to inspire both his leadership and the culture at The Argyle Club fostering a dynamic and fulfilling environment for all.

Setting the Table for Progress

With over 1,500 members, The Argyle has been a stalwart supporter of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute since its reopening in 1956, providing crucial financial support. Michael explains their approach, “To keep the members informed about the research their money supports, the Argyle hosts regular fireside chats by researchers.” These dialogues shed light on life-saving research, spanning technologies for premature infants to pioneering vaccines and treatments for deadly infectious diseases.

For 67 years, The Argyle’s core mission has been to nurture and back Texas Biomed, forging a symbiotic relationship that yields profound global health solutions. Michael highlights, “This simple yet intricate arrangement serves both well.” Beyond culinary excellence and top-notch facilities, The Argyle’s membership embraces a higher purpose – saving lives.

Michael’s reflection invites readers to ponder their own higher purpose and how it can be intertwined with their organizations to create a positive impact on the world. It’s a question that transcends industries, inviting individuals and businesses alike to contribute to something greater than themselves.

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