Most people who meet me and learn what I do for a living ask “how did you get into this”? My answer is in a very circular (yet organic) way. It all started with my dad James Gates Lawler (yes – JGL… I know – not very creative). Jim worked for two of the “big three” in his career and was instrumental in developing cultural business for Restaurant Associates in the 1970’s and 80’s. As a teenager I used to love going into Manhattan and eating at all the great restaurants he had access to. In 1983 he ventured out on his own and started JGL Management Services. Although his first clients were city clubs, he quickly decided to adjust course and started working with museums and performing arts centers. A lifelong cultural aficionado, Jim had a unique understanding of both the cultural institution guest experience and the way in which food service providers viewed these accounts. Jim and my mother Barbara were always going to museums, symphonies, and operas; as his business flourished I would hear about the food service experience as often as the cultural experience. He started his business in an era when many museum directors still did not understand the value of visitor food service; to his great frustration many a client still wanted to relegate their eateries to the basement or some other out of the way location.
I worked in restaurants all through high school and college and loved the business. I graduated from college, went through a restaurant management training program and after several years reluctantly decided the lifestyle did not suit my needs. Although my dad and I had talked about working together, it seemed unlikely as I exited the restaurant business and moved on to publishing. I loved my magazine publishing career; I rose to General Manager of several national publications and got my MBA from NYU along the way. A funny thing happened though – after the birth of my second child I was visiting my dad and offered to help him with some financial projections for one of his clients. After a few months of doing this I think a lightbulb went off for both of us. He needed help because his business was growing, I was looking for a new challenge and no longer wanted to commute into NYC from Princeton, and voila – we found a way to work together!
I worked with my dad from 1998 until 2010 when he retired. Along the way he taught me everything he knew and was always so generous with his time and experience; he always responded to me as a professional while I must admit I sometimes responded like a daughter. I use my maiden name professionally so over the years I have run into many people who say “Lawler”? are you related to Jim Lawler? When I respond that he is my dad, they invariably launch into a great story beginning with “I remember when your dad…” He is so well respected and admired in the community and I always love hearing stories about the early days of the business. Just last week I spoke to a food service operator in Atlanta who related how well Jim ran an RFP process and how fair he was to all involved. While Jim has retired, he still loves hearing about the business and to this day we frequently end up talking shop when we have dinner together. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work so closely with Jim and to have taken over a business that I have such as passion for! Third generation anyone? (That’s for my kids!)