It's not about the ceramics

Struggling to reach staffers who seem lost in their own world? Well, have you thought about pottery? That’s the improbable route Bill Strickland took when he set out to turn the disadvantaged of his native Pittsburgh into choice job candidates all but vibrating with enthusiasm. Now a world-renowned motivational authority, Strickland has agreed to recount how he molds workforce stars from prospects that don’t appear to fit the system. His delivery at the Restaurant Leadership Conference promises to be as unusual as the training approach he’s taken.

Strickland is president and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corp., a Pittsburgh-based company whose diversified businesses are run through two subsidiaries, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and Bidwell Training Center. Their “products” include youngsters who’ve been schooled in ceramics, photography and design arts. The process, according to Strickland, is reaching them through education and a culture that emphasizes innovation, responsibility and integrity.

Strickland also brings a firsthand knowledge to the situation. Growing up in the Manchester area of Pittsburgh, he didn’t fit the model of an ideal student or citizen. But a high school teacher saw something in Strickland and reached out to him through pottery. In what seemed like an astounding surprise, even to Strickland, the long shot approach worked. Ceramics would remain a means throughout high school of bolstering his character and creativity.

Seeing doors suddenly open to him, Strickland decided to attend college. But he lacked the standardized-test scores needed to earn admittance to the University of Pittsburgh. Working with mentors, he convinced the school to admit him on a probationary basis.

Strickland would end up with a dual degree (history and foreign relations) and cum laude honors.

Strickland left school with the intention of becoming a history teacher. But the assassination of Martin Luther King made him reconsider. He saw firsthand the alienation of youths in Pittsburgh and decided to do something about it. His lifeline had been pottery, so he decided to give that means of connection a try.

His success in reaching the youngsters led to the formation of Manchester Bidwell, whose services now extend to persons of all ages.

The process has earned Strickland a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.” In November 2011, he was chosen as a recipient of the Goi Peace Award, a Nobel Prize-like honor previously bestowed on Bill Gates and Deepak Chopra, among others.

Strickland, who’s been known to guarantee a standing ovation for his speaking engagements, will deliver a keynote address at the 2012 Restaurant Leadership Conference, which is scheduled for March 25-28 in Scottsdale, Ariz. His presentation is entitled, “Rebooting Your Dreams and Ambitions.”

The Restaurant Leadership Conference is an annual invitation-only event for the franchisees and headquarters leadership of national, regional and emerging restaurant chains. It is presented by CSP Information Group, the parent company of Restaurant Business magazine.

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