HERDING THE ALLEY CATS
THE FCCJ FOUNDERS WHO came ashore with MacArthur were a sturdy bunch of war correspondents, with a pronounced propensity to speaking their minds (very loudly and with infinite faith in libation to enhance the process). Their legacy lends tremendous color and unique substance to our annals, but one can only surmise the difficulties managers had even attempting to herd such a colony of feral cats over the years.
Opening the Club in what was a bombed-out shell of a city meant there was no ready pool of managers to oversee Tokyo’s sudden internationalization under the Occupation. An advertisement for staff in 1945 brought a line of 2000 jobseekers that stretched all the way to the Central Post Office, most of whom had little other than enthusiasm to show on their resumes with not a stitch of English.
Among the hires in the first year was young Kotaro Washida. Freshly discharged from the Japanese Army in the Philippines, and with a few language lessons behind him, Washida was hired as a night switchboard operator, but quickly moved up the ranks to become the senior Japanese manager. Another manager who worked his way up to the top was Hajime “Jimmy’ Horikawa, who started as a night elevator boy in 1949 while still in high school for a salary of ¥330.
One manager who didn’t have to start at the bottom was Al Stamp, who served from 1988 until 1996. Thanks to his gruff demeanor and short temper as the well-known proprietor of the extremely popular Mr. Stamp’s Wine Garden, Stamp may not have struck most as the first choice for being the welcoming face in a membership club. But newly elected President Andrew Horvat’s priority was to introduce professional practices to save the Club from the years of cost and inventory control abuses that were bleeding it to the point of extinction.
Stamp’s credentials were indeed impressive: master’s degree in hotel management from Cornell University, graduate studies in constitutional law at University of Tokyo, excellent Japanese and a proven restaurateur. Highly respected as a wine advisor, Stamp was also widely credited with sowing the seeds of Japan’s wine boom – through his restaurant and by introducing the likes of fabled Chateau LaTour to a fledgling market. He most certainly didn’t need the GM post to claim further bragging rights.
Though there was predictable resistance at the outset, results were almost immediately tangible. Former GM and current advisor Akira Nakamura remembers Stamp introducing a game-changing structured management, with a personal style that was extremely demanding but always fair. He taught F&B staff to read spreadsheets and engaged them in a collective pursuit of excellence. He raised the benchmark for food and service, introduced fine wines, started a sushi bar in the Club and restored its financial viability.
Members’ favorite Mohammed Hanif has many a good Stamp episode to share, and enthusiastically credits the manager’s willingness to listen as a reason for his not quitting at a time of dissatisfaction.
He also brought professional civility with a display of great charm to his interactions with members that surprised even his most ardent fans from his restaurant. It seems he not only knew his wines, but had an equally honed ability to herd cats.