Recently, work with the Library of Congress brought me to historic Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Estate and Gardens. We were at the estate though an invitation from their Chief Operating Officer, Charles Menatti. Our goal during the visit was to benchmark the Mount Vernon visitor experience as the Library of Congress is rapidly moving towards their “New Visitor Experience.”
The Mount Vernon experience has been completely reconsidered over the past decade. The site has been transformed into an exciting and sensory driven view into every aspect of the life of George Washington. As you delve deeper into the experience, you leave with an overwhelming sense of Washington as a change agent. What is most remarkable is that Washington changes our history and destiny and yet he and the other founders had neither books to follow nor analogies to guide. What drove him was a limitless sense of the potential inherent in our very young country (keep that in mind as you read the interview below).
Fast forward a few hundred years and enter Charles Menatti onto the grounds of Mount Vernon. Charles is responsible for all daily operations of the Estate where the first President spent nearly 45 years of his life. He was chosen for the role of COO after an elongated search that never seemed to yield just the right executive with the right personality and skills.
Charles was in a difficult position from day one as COO as the project was well underway and the vision was not his. Yet he had to get past that and assert his own concept for how the organization should be run. While Charles is not in the government, he struck me as a talented and aggressive executive who owns any situation and challenge that confronts him. Like other change agents, he assesses the situation he is in and then acts bold, fast and with great specificity.
Charles has been a senior executive in the international communications, publishing and private equity industry for over twenty years residing abroad for over 16 years. From his biography, we learn some other interesting facts about him “Menatti was responsible for starting the first Chinese language edition of Business Week-China in Beijing and founder/Publisher of Communications Week International based in Paris, France. Mr. Menatti played professional basketball in Italy following his graduation with a Bachelor Science degree from the University of Utah in 1976. He holds dual Italian and United States citizenship. He speaks French and Italian.”
I offer my sincere thanks to Charles for hosting an amazing morning at Mount Vernon and in sharing his thoughts on leadership, change and his role as COO at Mount Vernon (see below).
Finally, run, don’t walk to the new Mount Vernon readers; it’s an experience not to be missed.
Forrester: Taking a job in a not for profit historical setting like Mount Vernon is very different from your vast commercial experience. Why did you want to take the job at Mount Vernon? What was the challenge that was posed to you?
Menatti: When Korn Ferry presented the opportunity to me, I was not sure what to expect. Per my background I have never worked for a “non-profit” and wasn’t sure what the culture would be like. Having worked in fast pace industries and companies I was unclear as to how I might fit into such an organization.
I commenced a great deal of research on Mount Vernon, the current management and the position I was being recruited for. The position of Chief Operating Officer was new to Mount Vernon since previously the Executive Director, Jim Rees ran everything. It was clear that the span of control was pulling Jim in too many directions especially with the new buildings getting ready to open therefore the necessity of the COO position was paramount.
Once I met with Jim and the Regent Gay Hart Gaines, I knew this was something that I wanted to do. I saw this as a way to give something back in such a way like no other. There is only one Mount Vernon and George Washington, which made the opportunity much more exciting. I like to use the phrase “leave it better than you found it” as a way to describe my objectives at Mount Vernon. I know Mount Vernon had been looking for quite awhile, having interviewed many executive but from what I’m told the personality and attitude component was not there in other candidates. I like to say Jim and I hit it off well. We have different skills and abilities which makes the team very strong.
The most significant challenge was to reorganize, re-energize and provide leadership to 11 departments that were part of Jim’s direct reports. There were and I want to emphasis “WERE” departmental politics and many departmental kingdoms.
Forrester: When you take on new roles as you have done so many times in your career, what is the framework you use to quickly ramp up and establish command and control?
Menatti: I go back to basics when I arrive in a new position. I spend 95% of my time out of the office meeting with everyone I can. It doesn’t matter what level or what department. I try to evaluate the situation as part of my 100-day plan. In my discussions with employees, I am straight with them in telling them that there will be changes. My first 30 days gives me a very solid view of the organization then I begin to focus on problem departments and individuals. Problems always surface very quickly. The most critical department in evaluating an organization based upon my experience is Human Resources. The strength and credibility of that department within the organization is so important. I made a change in HR management very early on, which gave me a strong platform to initiate and execute other needed changes.
Forrester: What is leadership? How do you know when you are in the presence of a leader?
Menatti: Leadership to me is the ability to inspire, motivate, excite, drive
managers to achieve what they think is impossible, perform at a level, which they thought was impossible to attain, and to meet targets which they thought were too high. A leader does not manage by fear or intimidation but presence, credibility, sound judgment, experience, record of accomplishments and results.
Forrester: Based on your commercial experience, what advice would you give aspiring change agents in the government?
Menatti: Since making change I’m told in the government sector is next too impossible especially when dealing with personnel issues, having a solid 100-day plan is extremely important. When going into a situation requiring change the person must have the full support of management and the ability to act decisively and swiftly in implementing the 100-day plan.
Forrester: Over time, how will you know that you have been successful in your role as COO of Mount Vernon?
Menatti: One knows very quickly whether their efforts are successful or not. I feel that the success of implementing and executing my 100-day plan has laid the groundwork for the long-term success at Mount Vernon. I’ve made personnel changes, restructured departments and provided a greater focus on the individual departmental heads to run their departments! I’ve let people go who thought they were too valuable and untouchable. No one is irreplaceable! Everyone needs to know that. I sent the message loud and clear early on and set the stage for dramatic change at Mount Vernon. Everyone knows that all our goals and objectives at to ensure the long-term viability both financially and operationally of Mount Vernon AND to “Keep George Washington first”!
Thoughts or reactions? Please send them to us.