Steps to Strengthen Club Governance

Steps to Strengthen Club Governance

For the Outlook 2024 Pulse Survey question, “What do you think are the major issues affecting private clubs today?” one reply read:

“Lack of volunteerism within the club, from committee involvement to sitting on the board of directors. Our newer members are not as engaged in governance and would rather someone else do it.”

To address this very common lament of club managers and help to strengthen overall club governance in the year ahead, there will be a stronger focus on these best practices:

  • Continued emphasis on clubs operating more like a business where data, financials and the strategic plan/capital reserve study are used to make decisions.
  • Using a third-party portal of governance-related items. This will be one of the biggest opportunities for clubs in 2024. Portals can be accessed by desktop or on a mobile device and give board members easy access to all governance documents. Portals allow governance to be more efficient by dealing with minutia outside of the boardroom and focusing on strategic issues during meeting time.
  • Boards will become more strategically involved in how the club is recruiting, onboarding and retaining staff. There will be a plan for how the club can become an employer of choice, and boards will become strategic partners with paid staff in attracting and retaining talent.
  • Additionally, we will see more frequent and transparent communication between all constituencies, club management, the board and the membership base as a whole.

Key components of improved communication will be:

  • Sharing master goals for the board, committees, and GMs/department heads annually with the membership.
  • Surveying members (not anonymously) through day-to-day satisfaction and feedback surveys, while moving away from using committees as sounding boards.
  • Transitioning from a nominating committee to a leadership development committee that works year-round to actively nurture volunteer leadership and make it easier to find good people to fill volunteer positions.

Club Trends – Winter 2024

Tom Wallace, is a partner with KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE, a consulting firm providing executive search, strategic planning and data analysis services to the private club and hospitality industries. Tom can be contacted at

Steps to Strengthen Club Governance2024-02-21T19:36:30+00:00

2024 Trends in Private Club Governance

2024 Trends in Private Club Governance

What can we expect in governance in the year ahead? Stronger communication, more strategic boards and clubs that run like businesses basing decisions off data are trends Tom Wallace expects to see continue in the year ahead. Wallace, a partner with the firm Kopplin, Kuebler and Wallace, believes there are some key aspects that will become increasingly important in the governance realm in 2024. They are:

Surveying and Understanding Members. Clubs will move away from using committees as sounding boards and will do more loyalty and satisfaction surveys of members. “These surveys won’t be anonymous, they will include members’ names,” Wallace said. “If they aren’t willing to put their name on it, then they are thinking like a customer, not like an owner.” Removing the anonymity also means demographics add key data for club executives to understand the member’s age/background/etc. to help put the comments/suggestions/complaints in perspective. Without those demographics, it limits how club executives can lead and make decisions based on member feedback.

Responsibilities, Orientation and Education for Members. There will be a bigger focus on education and training for members, especially when they first join the club. Wallace believes that more explanation of the club’s responsibility matrix will happen during new member orientation rather than waiting until a member serves in a volunteer position. “There will be better education up front to make sure every member understands the governance model where committees are advisory, the staff is responsible for operations and the board is strategic,” he said. He believes more clubs will be better explained to new members that they are expected to serve on the board and/or committees. Not to imply forced volunteerism, but rather setting the expectation that members are asked to volunteer.

Human Capital Prioritization. Board members will become more involved in the club’s strategy for recruiting, hiring, retaining and training staff in the year(s) ahead. There will need to be a plan for the club to be an employer of choice. “While this is still a paid staff responsibility, boards will have to become partners in this initiative because it’s only going to become more challenging and cost more money. It is not getting any easier to hire people in the hospitality industry,” Wallace explained.

Board Portals. The biggest opportunity for boards in 2024, is the use of a third-party board portal service for all governance items. This is not a password protected area of the club website specific to board members which has been popular for several years. Rather, a third-party portal is an app online with a password which grants access to all club governance documents such as board/committee agendas, minutes, voting items, training videos, recurring education, supporting resources and more. All of these documents live in the portal so it is an easy way to communicate and stay more organized, functional and effective.

As boards trend toward less frequent meetings that may be longer to tackle strategic issues, using a third-party portal allows for more focus in the board meetings and for the board to have the ability to communicate and stay active in between meetings. It allows the minutia of committee agendas and other tedious issues to be handled in the portal and approved in advance of the board meetings. This way time spent in board meetings can be focused on strategic items. Wallace gave the example of approving an unexpected repair expense through the portal rather than scheduling a pop-up board meeting or waiting until the end of the month for approval.

Third party portals are customary for nonprofit boards and are beneficial because the platform tracks all voting, decisions, minutes, consent agenda items, what was approved or not, how long it takes people to view items and respond, who signs off on what, attendance and more. The portal is accessible by desktop or mobile device and it sends a text or notification to the person when something is posted they need to review. “The portal makes all the board and committee details very efficient, accessible and organized, which is why it presents such an opportunity for clubs to evolve their governance to the next level,” Wallace concluded. Some sample third-party portals are BellesBoard and Board Effect.

Private Club Advisor – January 2024

Tom Wallace, is a partner with KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE, a consulting firm providing executive search, strategic planning and data analysis services to the private club and hospitality industries. Tom can be contacted at

2024 Trends in Private Club Governance2024-02-16T15:42:05+00:00

Private Club Leadership in a Nutshell

Private Club Leadership and Culture

Our hobbies often provide us with a mindset for making sense of conundrums that we face as leaders in the club world.

Mine are the lessons learned while riding motorcycles through mountains across North America. From the Rockies of the lower 48 and Canada on to Alaska, across to Nova Scotia, from the east coast to the west coast, and down to the hills of Texas and Alabama. As diverse as that vast terrain is, simple truths guide motorcyclists to stay upright while riding the “twisties.”

The attraction of beautiful and awesome mountain roads is that at every turn the physics of the terrain threaten to put to ground the motorcyclist. It is counter intuitive to foil the impulse of nagging fear and look beyond the moment. We carve a mountain road successfully while enjoying the flow of focus, discipline, and physical exertion. Where we choose to look and focus our attention is where we go. Looking to the far end of the curve ensures the rider makes the right moves in the moment as the road comes too fast and furious to mentally process. Gaze at an object and your tires will hit it; look down a second too long at the road in front of you and you will meet it personally.

Vision and strategy are like that. We lead best when we have our gaze fixed on the future to make the right moves in the present. I believe General Managers are hired to operate in the present and to think in the future. The confusion comes when trying to figure out how to do that successfully when we as leaders are pulled in all kinds of directions. How we make sense of the road of leadership coming fast and furious is dependent on where we put our attention.

Analogies eventually run out of road, so setting aside the idea of sitting atop a machine let’s make the transition to that of a General Manager. That is, to make sense of the complexity of leadership to enable us to lead with confidence.

The data set I reference comes from my work as an executive coach for managers across the country as well as the results of KK&W Culture Surveys we administer prior to searches. Viewed together, a picture of what clubs require in leadership becomes clear. Regardless of the type of club a General Manager is leading, the concerns are common. They know they must be an inspirational leader for operations as well as a strategic partner with the board. Similarly, there is a commonality amongst club boards as they identify the attributes they value most in a General Manager. It is satisfying to note that there is harmony between board expectations and the aspirations of the executive.

While recently speaking to the Greater Michigan Chapter of CMAA, I proposed that General Managers and their leadership teams adopt a mindset that intentionally embraces problems and challenges to create a culture of excellence. I have found that there is a misunderstanding of the nature of culture, thinking it is just about feelings and atmosphere. Although there is truth in that line of thinking, the reality is that culture is knitted together and becomes resilient through systems and processes. Embracing problems and challenges as the gateway to new and better ways of operating requires leadership to make corrections systematically. This is where the value lies for the General Manager and their team.

Leadership in a nutshell is about operations, governance, and the culture that binds the two together. We do best as General Managers when we put our focus on the future by nurturing and protecting the culture of our clubs in the present. Culture affects everything we and the board try to accomplish, so it is worth our while to give it our utmost attention. Culture comes before strategy. An important truism is that a healthy club culture is necessary to enable the execution of brilliant strategies.

The best academic minds writing about culture stress that as vast and as complex as an organization’s culture is, leadership can only engage the culture for its improvement through the curious inquiry about why a problem is present and persists. As the Executive Manager of the Detroit Athletic Club, I was committed to protecting and nurturing the culture of the club.

I viewed it as my and my team’s most important job. Just as a club president sets the agenda for the board, a General Manager sets the agenda for the staff of the operation. This is where the flow of good leadership produces something new and better.

As we carve a road through the “twisties” of club leadership, it is critical for the General Manager, the management team, and the Board to embrace problems and challenges. Embrace means to put your arms around something and give it your best. If we don’t, the future will come fast and furious and we may unintentionally meet the hard unforgiving reality of problems undetected.

Contributed by J.G. Ted Gillary, CCM, CCE, ECM, CMAA Fellow. Ted is a search and consulting executive with KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE.

BoardRoom Magazine – November/December 2023

Private Club Leadership in a Nutshell2023-12-12T17:33:38+00:00

Building an Effective Search Committee

Building an Effective Search Committee

A smooth, effective and trusted hiring process should be the goal for any private club embarking on a search for its next executive leader or department head.

The club’s overall success depends on hiring the most qualified candidate who is the best fit for the leadership role.

Based on our firm’s experience in the private club executive search business since 1997, one of the most important factors determining the success of the leadership hiring process is the makeup of the search committee.

The search committee can make or break the effectiveness and efficiency of the executive search process. Members serving on this committee should be purposefully and carefully identified to ensure the best possible outcome. The club should require that these committee members meet certain conditions and be willing to invest the time and energy necessary for the commitment. Those serving on the search committee should be aware of their significance in the success of the hiring of the next executive leader or department head.

When selecting search committee members, confidentiality is of utmost importance. It is as imperative as finding the best candidate for the job. Search committee members should always maintain confidentiality and never reveal information about the candidates or their current positions before the club makes an official announcement.

Even an inkling to a friend or colleague who may know a candidate, or knows a member at a candidate’s current club, could jeopardize the search. Candidates’ jobs could be at stake, the risk of losing exceptional candidates in the search may be high and organizational credibility could be damaged. For this reason, only trusted members who will provide complete confidentiality should be invited to serve on the search committee.

The composition of the search committee should have representation from various demographics and club constituencies, including active members who represent a variety of the club’s programs.

Typically, frequent users of the club and a cross-section of tenured, senior members and younger, newer members are recommended. Members serving on club committees likely understand how the management/governance works and are committed to the betterment of the club.

Finding members who enjoy and support the club and who will positively represent the club is ideal. These members will interact with candidates.

While the committee is interviewing candidates and determining their capabilities and fit in the role, candidates will be observing committee members to determine if the club culture and members’ mentality are compatible with their career goals. We often say the more chamber of commerce-type members on the committee, the better.

We recommend at least five but no more than seven members make up the search committee. Odd numbers are best in case of a tie, and the fewer the members the better because of the discretion required. Too many opinions often hinder the efficiency and effectiveness of the process, offering another reason to keep the group tight.

A lot of time, effort and commitment is required of the search committee, and it is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. These members will receive a substantial amount of information about candidates, including resumes, questionnaire responses, professional portfolios and behavioral assessments.

It is not unusual for these documents to add up to more than 200 pages. In addition, search committee members will participate in multiple candidate interviews and possibly even dinners or social events with the final candidates. A commitment to participation is a contributing factor to the success of the committee and the entire hiring process.

Lastly, it is important to determine the role of the search committee in advance of compiling the committee. In our experience, a best practice is to have the search committee recommend the final candidate(s) to the board of directors, and then the board meets with the final candidate(s). We recommend the board makes the final decision along with the input and support of the search committee.

All of these factors must be considered when determining the makeup of the search committee. To ensure the best candidate is selected for the job, it is vital to create a smooth, effective and trusted hiring process by establishing the best possible search committee.

BoardRoom – September/October 2023

Building an Effective Search Committee2023-10-20T13:25:34+00:00

Keeping It Simple

Keep It Simple

When it comes to board policies, board decisions and club bylaws, it can be complicated to keep track of everything. For the club executive to be as effective and efficient as the position requires, simplifying governance should be a priority.

Waialae Country Club, Honolulu, HI, compiled board policies with an easy-to-search table of contents. The document details all policies established since 2015 and includes the date the policies were implemented, the purpose, background and supporting information for the policy.

For example: the club’s Golf Group Play Policy was established in 2016 and can be found on page 19 of the Compilation of Board Policies Manual. The purpose, authority, guidelines, delegation of authority and reporting details are included in this section of the manual.

The club also established a Compilation of Board Decisions Manual containing decisions made by the board. This manual explains the intent of each decision, why it was made and how it is to be enforced. It serves as an organizational reference manual so current and future boards and general managers can look back to review or understand board decisions and why policies were created.

Club bylaws can often be complex and full of legal jargon, making them difficult for the average person to digest. Creating a summary or “bylaw cheat sheet” may be beneficial for club executives. Including bylaws regularly referenced, such as the number of days required to notify the membership of the annual meeting, requirements for calling a special meeting of the members and categories of membership may prove incredibly helpful for club executives and/or general managers to quickly reference, rather than having to search through pages of legalese.

Kurt Kuebler of the consulting firm Kopplin, Kuebler and Wallace encourages clubs to create reference manuals like these to enhance board efficiency and effectiveness. “Establishing these documents and updating them regularly ensures consistency as boards and general managers change. These reference materials are easy to create and maintain and can be extremely valuable for simplifying governance.”

Private Club Advisor – September 2023

Kurt Kuebler, is a partner with KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE, a consulting firm providing executive search, strategic planning and data analysis services to the private club and hospitality industries. Kurt can be contacted at

Keeping It Simple2023-12-07T17:27:07+00:00

Clubs Need to Plan and Prepare for Transition

Clubs Need to Plan and Prepare for Transition

At a club, the general manager/chief operating officer position is the most vital for achieving and sustaining a healthy and successful club.

The role responsibilities require a centralized, consistent professional with experience, training and knowledge of the private club model.

Transitioning between club managers can be challenging and stressful for boards, employees and even members because of the delicate balance necessary as the new leader becomes acquainted with all things club yet eases into making changes or improvements. Therefore, it’s essential that clubs prepare and plan for this transition.

Based on our wide range of experience working with boards and professionals during this sensitive time, we have put together the following best practices to help ensure successful departures and acclimations.

Before the new general manager/chief operating officer’s first day, several things should happen. First, club documents should be shared so that the new general manager/chief operating officer can review and study them in the weeks before starting at the club.

Items such as the board policy manual, employee handbook, financials and other documents advising on process and procedure should be provided well in advance to give the new general manager/chief operating officer a greater understanding of club operations and culture.

Sample checklist for advance review:

  • History of the club and map of the property
  • Club policies/procedures/bylaws
  • Talent strategy materials (new employee orientation, employee handbook, employee benefits, organizational charts, training manuals, job descriptions, human capital plan, monthly reports, team bios, etc.)
  • Calendars (club events, board/committee meetings, team meetings, etc.)
  • Collateral, member marketing materials, new member orientation correspondences
  • Recent club newsletters/communications
  • List of board/committee members, board bios, board policy manual, board and committee orientation manuals, committee charters and annual priorities for board and committees, along with the last 12 months of meeting minutes
  • Recent risk management assessment, club business analytics, capital reserve study
  • List of vendors and service providers
  • Strategic plan and property master plan
  • Most recent audited financial statements or financial summary/overview
  • Guest username and password to the website
  • Recent membership/staff satisfaction surveys that include all club operations
  • Union contracts (if applicable)

Second, orchestrate and schedule opportunities for the new general manager/chief operating officer to meet with key club constituencies at a comfortable time and place. Setting these meetings in advance allows the general manager/chief operating officer to meet and connect with key groups, such as the Thursday Tennis Group or the Ladies’ Golf Association, in the new general manager/chief operating officer’s first 30 days.

This ensures that these groups feel seen, heard and valued. It also gives the new leader a feel for the groups, their spokespeople, their priorities and their needs, which helps the general manager/chief operating officer start off on the right foot with these constituencies.

Third, the board of directors should determine ahead of time what the new general manager/chief operating officer’s top three or four priorities will be in the first year. The board should discuss and decide on the areas of focus with the new leader and then communicate the priorities to everyone, including the staff and the membership.

The general manager/chief operating officer then has direction and knows what the board wants in the first year. Having this focus helps ensure the new general manager/chief operating officer doesn’t get different directives from members and is not confused about where to start.

With board-approved priorities presented, the new general manager/chief operating officer can listen to the rest of the members but not necessarily act on their recommendations. Identifying priorities in advance and communicating them effectively keeps everyone on the same page and ensures expectations are in line.

While the above recommendations are important, the key to ensuring a smooth and successful transition for a new general manager/chief operating officer is a transition committee. This ad-hoc committee of three or four members serves as a sounding board, a source of club history and a foundation for support, questions and knowledge.

Committee members should be past or current board members who understand the club business model, are highly regarded by their peers and offer a fair and balanced representation of the membership. In addition, they should be demographically diverse, and their families should participate in club programs/amenities.

When looking at how to organize this group of members, start with one or two members of the search committee, a strong past president and one or two representatives from important constituencies at the club.

This committee acts as a filter beyond the board with the ability to highlight topics members are talking loudly about that are different from what the board or president directed. Made up of no more than four people, the transition committee can also help identify any blind spots the board may not know about.

Kopplin Kuebler & Wallace believes the transition committee can shorten the learning curve and ease the discomfort of being new for the general manager/chief operating officer.

“It’s the board’s job to work with the new leader to agree on three or four areas of focus and then communicate those priorities to everyone. Then, the transition committee can help filter through what everyone else feels is important,” said Tom Wallace, a partner with KK&W.

“This way if an issue arises, the group can help the GM/COO identify whether it’s just one person’s complaint or if the board has blind spots because they aren’t in the know or not well in tune.”

The transition committee can also clarify why things are done the way they are and talk candidly about the state of the club, curmudgeon members and successes or failures. Meeting with the new general manager/chief operating officer weekly for the first six months and then monthly for the next six months, this group provides consistent, confidential support for the first year. After one year, the general manager/chief operating officer may call the group together whenever a need arises.

“We’ve found this committee to be tremendously helpful for GM/COOs to ask questions and gain insight beyond just the board,” Kurt Kuebler, a partner with KK&W, explained.

“Instead of the new leader constantly going to the club president, it spreads the workload between several people and provides deeper insight and understanding. In addition, this committee smooths the transition, especially in situations where a long-tenured predecessor retired or there was a difficult set of circumstances with the person previously in the role.”

The transition committee can also help the general manager/chief operating officer determine how to best disagree with the board or club president, and they can work through that process together. This eases some of the stress and frustration for the new general manager/chief operating officer and creates a better onboarding experience.

First 100 Days - QR CodeKK&W suggests the transition committee initiate an employee survey of at least the key leadership team shortly before the new general manager/chief operating officer begins so both the employees and the new leader understand the expectations and culture of key team members. This survey
could be conducted with all employees to provide a deeper understanding.

“This whole process is intended to create a more positive onboarding experience for the new GM/COO and make it much more effective,” Wallace explained.

“Few clubs have transition plans or written orientation/onboarding programs for this position. All too often, new leaders spend weeks looking for information themselves, being overwhelmed with questions and feeling frustrated as they learn the details of the club and their role. If we can provide new GM/COOs with the information, resources and the continuous support they need right from the beginning, it creates a better situation for everyone involved.” 

The first 100 days lay a foundation for the long-term success of a new private club chief executive. Recognizing the care that should be taken during this time of great opportunity, we have compiled a list of action items to proactively support onboarding and acclimation. 

BoardRoom – May/June 2023

Clubs Need to Plan and Prepare for Transition2023-07-27T19:01:22+00:00
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