Why Clubs are Cool!
I was lucky enough to spend four days with over 140 students from 18 hospitality schools across the country at CMAA’s National Student Education Conference last Fall. Some of the students were certain that they were going to transition into the private club business while others were undecided and were considering the hotel, resort, and restaurant industries.

The educational discussions at the conference highlighted the benefits of working in the private club business and how truly “cool” this amazing industry is. The club tours (we visited six different clubs in two days including city clubs, a yacht club, a country club, and a golf club) allowed students to experience a wide variety of options in the private club industry.

I wanted to take this opportunity to share with all students entering the hospitality industry (management, culinary, agronomy, etc.), as well those with experience in hotels/resorts who might be considering a career move to the private club industry, why the KK&W team thinks “Clubs are Cool.” Collectively, we have been actively involved in the private club business for over 300 years (if you add up the years of experience that each of us on the team has in the industry). We bring many different perspectives to this industry but one thing we all agree on is that Clubs are Cool!

  • Build Relationships – If you want to really get to know your customers – work for a club. You build lasting relationships with members (they return to the club on a daily or weekly basis). You will get to know their names, their likes and dislikes, and their families. It is so rewarding to be an important part of generating positive memories through the experiences that members’ families have at the club.
  • Get Mentored by the Best –The managers you work for in private clubs have a vested interest in your professional development and will support you in those endeavors (at least the good managers). Clubs also have some amazing members who are leaders in their industries, and you can learn so much by developing relationships and learning from them. My husband, who manages the Bath & Tennis Club, has had some amazing mentors (some previous board members) over the years who aren’t in the club industry but are great leaders.
  • Continue Your Professional Development after Graduation – The best club managers of all levels are actively involved in the Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) because they know the networking and education offered through the CMAA (and other professional organizations) is invaluable to their own development and to the success of the club. They will therefore support your continued professional development and involvement in such organizations as the CMAA, the American Culinary Federation (ACF), the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), the Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP), the Professional Golf Association (PGA) or the Club Spa and Fitness Association (CSFA) after you graduate (depending on your role at the club). There is a special category of CMAA membership for post graduates called Alumnus Members that you may want to look into if you were a member of a Student CMAA chapter).
  • Move More Quickly Up the Ladder – Typically clubs have flatter organizational structures than hotels and resorts and, if you prove yourself with a strong and efficient work ethic as well as learning quickly and growing with the position, you will find yourself moving up the ladder more quickly than you would have at a big box hotel or resort.
  • Experience a Wide Variety of Clubs – One of the best kept secrets in this industry is that we get to experience other private clubs all over the country (and the world) through CMAA conference club tours and chapter meetings; as well as just calling and asking for a tour when you are visiting a city. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said and I’ve heard CMAA members say: “Our members don’t even get to experience this,” when I’ve had dinner at an amazing club for a CMAA meeting. Typically the clubs that are hosting the events go “all out” to showcase their club and staff and we get to reap the benefits by enjoying the experience. We get to see the best of the best and take great ideas back to our clubs. Through the CMAA I’ve even experienced clubs in Europe and Asia. In fact once I was lost in the Scottish Highlands on a hike with a group of CMAA members and their spouses – it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure! For the record, we did get rescued after about five hours – seriously!
  • Meet Really Cool People – From celebrities, to sports greats, to leaders of industries, to amazing managers and mentors, to the cohesive team that you work with on a daily basis; you will meet some really cool people in this industry. Some will have a profound impact on your lives and others will just be a neat experience. Either way you get to meet and work with members and their guests, and managers and associates who are really cool people.Let me also state for the record that the staff at CMAA and the KK&W team are cool too and you get to work with them and us!
  • Work Better Hours – Hopefully you didn’t sign up to be in the hospitality industry to work 9 to 5! Otherwise you have picked the wrong industry! Yes, those of us who work in clubs (and search firms for that matter) work on weekends, evenings, and holidays. But I believe that the work schedule is still better than in hotels and resorts where you have guests on property 24×7. And even if you work at a city club or country club with overnight accommodations available, you have still have a better balance than working in a hotel. We see more people leaving the hotel business to work at clubs than vice versa.
  • Earn Higher Salaries – Typically private clubs pay better both starting out and as you move up the ladder, than hotels, resorts, and restaurants. We see it all the time when we receive compensation information from candidates who are interested in moving from a hotel career to a private club career.
  • Make a Bigger Impact – Since the organizational structure is flatter in most private clubs, you have the opportunity to contribute ideas and implement system improvements with less red-tape and bureaucracy than at a large hotel or resort company. You also have more impact on your members’ lives as they return over and over again.
  • Be Part of the Club “Family” – Often staff at a private club feel that other team members and club members form a kind of extended “family” bond. As a result, members are often quick to praise and give positive feedback. Members are truly appreciative and vocal about a job well done.
  • Challenge Yourself – Because club members return to the club over and over again, you are challenged to always deliver more and exceed expectations. You are only as good as the last member experience, so it is a challenge to continue to deliver and motivate your team to deliver on exceeding expectations and being proactive in anticipating members’ needs. The private club industry is not for people who prefer to have one experience with a customer and not worry about whether or not a customer will return. Your customers will return if they are members! And you want to entice their guests to return as new members.

Private clubs are not for the faint of heart. As our founder (and one of my mentors) Dick Kopplin says: “If you are a GM at a Marriott and the customer is not happy, the customer leaves. If you are a GM at a private club and the customer (member) is not happy, YOU leave.” But if you like the challenge of always doing it better and being sincerely and visibly engaged in the club operations and your members’ experiences, working at a private club is a rewarding, exciting, and enjoyable experience. Clubs ARE cool!

Lisa Carroll
Lisa Carroll is a Search Executive at KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE, recruiting Executive Chefs, AGMs, Clubhouse Managers and General Managers. She is a faculty member of CMAA’s Business Management Institute I (BMI I) at Georgia State University and speaks at CMAA conferences and chapter meetings around the country.