Confessions of a "Trainerholic"

June 02, 2017 | 2293 Views

Confessions of a

Rick Zurburg

Lifetime CHART Member

After 40 years in training and development, it’s time to confess. It started at a simple interview in 1972 when I was asked to be a Food and Beverage Trainer. I just graduated from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and was successfully managing a high-volume Swiss German Restaurant celebrated by locals as one of the best places to eat in Las Vegas. Why would I want to leave success to work for Holiday Inn hotels as a company trainer opening hotel restaurants? Why indeed would I want to take a 50% cut in pay and what exactly does a food and beverage trainer do?

Well, of course I accepted the position, certainly not because of the money, but because I was going to travel to places I’ve never been. Opening nine or ten restaurants a year wasn’t just a challenge, it was insane. Living out of a suitcase was what a traveling F&B trainer did to earn his keep. In between opening new restaurants I was promoted and assigned the trainer troubleshooter role; suddenly I’m not in a classroom, I’m in an office consulting with people who earned lots more money than I did, but didn’t seem to know how to do their job of managing a successful restaurant. So I told them what was wrong, how to fix the problems, and what must be done to improve.

Sometimes it was so basic I walked away scratching my head, wondering if I had made the right choice in becoming a F&B trainer. It seemed I could make much more money, become more successful, and reach my full potential in food and beverage by finding the right restaurant group to work with as a manager. That’s when everything changed.

In 1974, I just happened to be in my so called cubicle office at Holiday Inn University (HIU), the training headquarters for the chain, located in Olive Brach, MS, and there was a group meeting there to discuss training in the hotel and restaurant industry – a group called CHART. Holiday Inn’s personnel director was one of the founding members of the organization and was hosting the meeting.

There was limited formality to this meeting, and one could walk in and as I did stand in the back of the room and listen to what was being said. Training issues and resolutions were the key focus. A training issue for one company seemed to be shared by others and what one company did to address the issue was welcomed by other training executives. Instead of keeping secrets, there was open discussion. So this is what top training executives did – I began to see the light, but I wasn’t smart enough to comprehend they were also referring to corporate training strategies. Even though I was in a leading training institution for the industry, I only knew about training food and beverage skills. 

Later that year, I was assigned to open new restaurants in our hotels opening in South America, and then Europe, returning to the home office just before Christmas. I was approached by our Director of Training when I returned and asked if I would like to represent Holiday Inn University at the next CHART conference which was scheduled for Houston, Texas in February. His schedule was too busy and he wanted to be sure we would be represented. I was very apprehensive about accepting the invite but of course, once again said yes, and then thought about why I said yes later on.

On February 14, 1975 I attended my first CHART conference, and I didn’t have to stand in the back of the room, although I probably would have been more comfortable doing so. After 3 days, I didn’t learn much, but then again I didn’t ask many questions in fear of showing my ignorance, and certainly did not contribute to many conversations. But I did accomplish one thing – I began what was to become a long-term relationship with CHART members, some lifelong. From that conference on, and for almost 20 years, I never missed a conference because the more I attended, the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn, and the training bug was with me for life. I had become a “trainerholic.”

CHART as an organization grew; it also stretched the boundaries of industry learning, bringing in speakers that inspired members, introduced new concepts, encouraged members to share, broke down boundaries between companies by fostering an environment where when one shares what they know, and they in return benefit from what others share with them. When one could pick up the phone and call a fellow CHART membert and ask for help, it also showed the trainer’s company how valuable and beneficial the CHART organization can be.

The seeds planted long ago were growing into mighty oaks. Every CHART member who volunteered to help at a conference, do a presentation, host a meeting, be an officer (the best thing I ever did!), all helped to fertilize not only the mighty oak to grow, but more importantly, build the prestige of being a TRAINER. Thanks to CHART and the hundreds of members over the years, I must confess I became a TRAINERHOLIC, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

After 40 years as a CHART member, it’s time to move on. For my final year, 2016, as a trainer, I look back at the many training and education roles I was privileged to have experienced, and say none of them would have been possible without CHART. CHART allowed me to take my 19-year career with Holiday Corporation and grow from a F&B trainer to become Director of Training & Development Worldwide and be responsible for training over 35,000 managers.

From the educators who were members, I gained insight into the higher field of hospitality education, providing the interest and confidence to accept an invitation to be Interim Director for the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality Management at the University of Memphis and followed by Campus Director for Le’Cole Culinaire cooking college with 500 students. From relationships with members who were from the Army and Navy, I gained insight into helping build certification-based training systems to support their hotel operations on each base around the world. These were all wonderful assignments of a person who has a passion for training and development.

Thanks to all the many, many CHART members over the past 40 years who have helped me enjoy with a passion for what I do as a trainer. I appreciate your sharing, caring, and personal friendship.

Rick and his wife, Leslie, are moving to England on a full-time basis in their retirement. Rick would love to stay in touch! You can reach him at:

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