Founder & Director of the AML Group
Lisa Mirza Grotts
The Kappa Alpha Theta Magazine
By Victoria A. Emmons,
Is it proper etiquette for your guests to sing a Kappa Alpha Theta song at your wedding? According to San Francisco etiquette consultant Lisa Mirza Grotts, Phi/Pacific, it's perfectly acceptable. That's exactly what Mirza's Theta sisters did at her January 20 wedding. The touching serenade was not only acceptable, Mirza explained, but a welcome addition to her nuptial celebration at San Francisco's elegant St. Francis Hotel.
Mirza is accustomed to questions about proper protocol. "Words like etiquette and protocol usually conjure up ideas of teacups and extended pinkie fingers," she says, laughing. "But wherever I go, etiquette becomes the topic of conversation. I love it when people ask and I can help them."
Born in the small, rural town of Turlock in central California, Mirza grew up around the politics of California's state capital in Sacramento. In 1980, she relocated only a few miles south to Stockton to attend University of the Pacific and was initiated into Kappa Alpha Theta in 1981. Following her graduation with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications and political science, Mirza set out to conquer the world.
Following various high-profile jobs in public affairs and communications, she suddenly found herself out of a job when the San Francisco Giants strike forced layoffs. She quickly rebounded, although her new position as manager for public affairs for FHP Health Care was also down sized only six months later.
While trying to determine her next strategic move, Mirza was asked to volunteer with the 1992 mayoral campaign for The Honorable Willie L. Brown, Jr. As one symbol of her commitment to the campaign, she made certain that she always looked her best during the campaign events.
"They nicknamed me 'Jackie O' because I wouldn't wear jeans," Mirza recalls. Her involvement with the mayor's campaign landed her a job as director of protocol for the City & County of San Francisco. Working in the office of the mayor, Mirza was soon greeting and hosting presidents, princes, ambassadors, prime ministers, congresswomen, actors, and Olympic gold medalists from around the world.
"Willie [Brown] always liked to be briefed on everything," Mirza explains. "That's how I got into learning about protocol. We always did research, read the CV's of visiting dignitaries, and learned what they liked."
Mirza recalls a visit from former President Young Sam Kim of South Korea that had her staff scrambling for just the right pair of Nike running shoes. Mirza, who jogged along side President Kim and his security staff at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, later learned that the Nike shoes were made in Taiwan.
"We made a lot of mistakes along the way," Mirza says, smiling. "That's how we learned the value of doing homework."
Armed with her long list of accomplishments and experiences, Mirza left the Mayor's Office in June 1998 to found the AML Group, an etiquette and protocol consulting firm . Her promotional brochure proclaims, "Good Manners ARE Good Business!"
"I love being my own boss," explains Mirza. "I knew I could do it because I ran the office before, and I loved meeting people."
Today, Mirza's clientele comes from all over the world and a variety professional and business groups.
"Politicians are in the top group of people who need help," says Mirza. But she does not limit her talents to elected officials. Her client list includes everyone from newly minted Silicon Valley dot-com millionaires who aren't sure what fork to use as State dinners to established physician groups who want to improve their social skills to attract and retain patients to such prominent corporations as American Airlines, Oracle an Microsoft.
"People are sometimes stalled in careers and don't understand why. It is often due to lack of social skills," she says, citing the example of an insurance executive who was the top candidate for a job until a fateful interview over lunch. "He flunked miserably at the table," and the company did not hire him.
According to Mirza, The foundation for today's rules of etiquette is centuries old. In 1530, Desiderius Erasmus wrote Manners for Children to teach common code of etiquette. His book became an authority from the moment it was published, and its influence continued to be felt for nearly three centuries.
"Often, the people I teach either had no parents or realize their parents never taught them proper etiquette in social situations," she said. " I start out with a quiz (which is posted on her web site, www.amlgroup.com). and it helps people understand if they really need help. Sometimes even those with blue-ribbon pedigrees realize they could use some training."
When not advising people on proper protocol, Mirza's passion is the fine art of needlepoint. "I made all the chair covers in my house." She also enjoys volunteer work and chaired the San Francisco Ballet's 2000 fashion show which raised a half million dollars. This year, she'll de donating one of her etiquette seminars to Theta collegians at Stanford University.
As a new bride, Mirza can no longer describe herself as "...always a bridesmaid, never a bride" as she once did in a story she authored on wedding etiquette for the Nob Hill Gazette. But the new Mrs. John Grotts can now offer her best protocol advice to brides, grooms, and their families from her own firsthand experience.