You can observe a lot just by watching.” — Yogi Berra

As I’ve written about in the past, everyone in KK&W puts in a lot of air miles and gets to visit a large number of clubs each year; we get to see plenty of what is happening in today’s club world. Our ability to “observe a lot just by watching” seems to occur every week on our travels as we get to visit countless clubs, sit with numerous managers and boards of directors, and witness some pretty interesting, and oftentimes extraordinary (both positive and negative) behavior!

Recently, while at famed Baltusrol Golf Club (host site of the 2016 PGA Championship) with CMAA CEO Jeff Morgan and SVP Jason Koenigsfeld conducting a Governance/Leadership Summit for a number of managers and directors, we had the good fortune of hearing Baltusrol’s GM/COO Kevin Vitale share insights on the Club with our group. It’s an amazing environment, steeped in golf history that most assume has always been that way. What we learned from Kevin, however, was how the Club has transformed itself from 10+ years ago when locked in a “no dues increase”, “deferred maintenance”, “committee-run operation” to where it is today—-pretty close to the same number of members, but significant millions of reinvestment has occurred and operating revenues, like F & B are up nearly 200% since then!

Kevin was followed later in the day by Jeff McFadden, GM/COO of the Union League Club of Philadelphia, recognized by the Club Leaders Forum © as the top Platinum Club © in America the past two survey periods! Again, one might assume “it’s always been that way” there, but that’s FAR from the case, similar to Baltusrol. Seventeen years ago, the Union League was about a $5.0M operation, doing around $2.0M in F & B, and under the same “no dues increase”, “deferred maintenance”, “committee-run operation” mindset of Baltusrol. Jeff shared with us that the Union League is now a $52.0M operation doing over $22.0M in F & B, has purchased a nearby golf club, has established a satellite member club on the Jersey Shore, is opening another satellite members’ club in Naples, and has significant additional plans to be even more “valued” and relevant in the future! All this in an era when MANY other city clubs have failed, closed or continue to suffer from under utilization by their memberships.

So, what did we observe just by watching? It was pretty clear from listening to both Kevin and Jeff, and having seen both of their clubs in operation a number of times the past several years, that it’s all about tone at the top! Their leadership styles, relentless commitment to being relevant, candid, obsessive in championing what is best for the majority of club members and the future, and simply being the ‘leader’ we all aspire to be. Each has great humility; they know what they don’t know, show great appreciation for those who contribute to the success of the club, and are able to recognize and mentor others to their respective successes.

Now, many managers we meet have the mindset of… ”well, if we only had the money clubs like Baltusrol and Union League have, we could do that as well.” Only, Baltusrol and Union League didn’t have that funding and weren’t executing to those top levels until their leadership “owned it” and created a clearly developed plan to get there, articulated it and ultimately set the ‘tone at the top’ to deliver and live it each day.

It certainly was not a situation for either of them to simply walk in and carry on a tradition that ensured success. Each HAD to be creative, innovative and get everyone they could in alignment with the whys and wherefores of such an effort! Each had pitfalls and setbacks, but the relentless focus on the goal seems to have never been forgotten.

So… “You can observe a lot just by watching.” You can then take the lead, keep getting back up, and never settle.

We’ve got some great role models out there, they are pretty easy to observe, and they certainly do not hesitate to share if asked!

More of these profiles to come in the future. Great summer success to you all.

Kurt D. Kuebler, CCM
Kurt Kuebler is a Partner of KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE, The Most Trusted Name in Private Club Executive Placement.