Adapting to a changing industry is difficult no matter the business, and the private club industry is going through that today. The Country Club in...
John Schultz, CEO of Club Leadership Alliance, knows clubs inside and out. When he took over as General Manager of Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, NC, he inherited a financially troubled organization. Over the next 20 years, he transformed it through his visionary leadership. Over those two decades, he oversaw $60 million in capital improvements, navigated changing demographics, and fostered member engagement - even during challenging discussions like assessments. In short, he’s seen it all and brings unparalleled expertise to his current role.
“It's not like I had one plan going in and tried to move through and only execute this one set of objectives and priorities,” said Schultz in a recent episode of Crushing Club Marketing. “It's constantly moving. It's constantly changing. It's listening and seeing what's going on. It's feeling where the industry's going, what people and members are looking for, and the experience that they want from their club.”
John Schultz’s 20 years leading Carmel Country Club came AFTER doing 9 years of military service as a United States Marine. So, conflict and a direct approach were not new concepts to him. Neither is providing direction and support. As the CEO of the Club Leadership Alliance, which is a collaborative effort between The McMahon Group, Club Benchmarking, and Kopplin, Kuebler and Wallace, Schultz is leading the organization as they fulfill their mission to help clubs solve complex problems through the depth of industry knowledge the three organizations possess.
Schultz masterfully revived Carmel Country Club, transforming it from financial hardship to thriving success. Leading ambitious capital improvements without member assessments, he continuously elevated the member experience. From adding top-notch amenities to hosting concerts with stars like Cole Swindell and Lady A, he redefined club life at Carmel. Yet, even amid triumphs, challenges arose. He pinpoints three key leadership principles that fueled his 20-year tenure:
- Building a partnership with the Board
- Transparent communication during troubling times
- Getting ahead of the issues
Building a partnership with the board
John Schultz understood the power of collaboration. Taking the helm of Carmel Country Club during tough times, he knew gaining board alignment was crucial. The club needed innovative solutions, and Schultz wasn't afraid to think outside the box. Recognizing their non-traditional approach, they took a calculated risk on a resort-style pool to boost social engagement. This wasn't just a pool; it was a pivotal decision impacting the club's future.
As Schultz emphasizes, "Building trust was key. We couldn't build anything because we had debt, so I was able to really get the momentum going and it became their home away from home and the membership growth started.”
This initial collaboration proved successful, adding over 130 new members. As Schultz says, "That's when the flywheel started turning. The board saw my vision, and future projects gained easier approval thanks to built trust."
Every club faces challenges, and Carmel Country Club was no exception. During the 2009 recession, a $10 million renovation project with course designer Rees Jones sparked dissent amongst members. Amidst broader economic skepticism towards corporate leadership, Schultz readily admits, "Communication and transparency weren't our strong suits then." This resulted in petition-driven board changes, forcing a turning point for the club.
“It was just a negative group out there, just wanting to pillage and burn and that kind of thing,” Schultz recalls. “And I had to say introspectively, ‘what's that about?’ But it's what the members thought. So, it was that point of inflection to say, you know, I need to respond to this. And we did.”
The club responded decisively. Long-term plans were established, roles were clarified, and the governance structure underwent a significant revamp, garnering industry recognition for its improved policies and processes. More importantly for Carmel, enhanced communication and transparency fostered a shared vision and united the membership.
Getting Ahead of Issues
Schultz navigates the complexities of change management in clubs. While avoiding member assessments simplifies the process, adapting to evolving demographics and preferences can be a tricky proposition. Balancing multi-generational needs with innovation requires clear communication and a shared vision. Schultz prioritizes keeping members informed about the club's direction, especially regarding finances and membership growth.
"And when you share with them that this is how we're generating the money and it's not on the back of the current members, they kind of get the message pretty quickly that that's the tool to create the demand and the energy around people wanting to join," Schultz explains. "So, if they're not having to come off the hip and pay for some of these improvements and things, they're like, great, do it all. We're in, why not?"
Seasoned club leaders like Schultz anticipate potential hurdles and proactively create solutions, rather than waiting and responding reactively. He understands the power of listening to members' concerns and addressing them head-on.
"Probably 90% of it is just that they've been heard and that we're going to consider their side of things because they think the board is only doing these things for their own best interest. And I've yet to see any club that behaves in that manner," Schultz emphasizes.
Listen to the entire conversation with John Schultz in this episode of Crushing Club Marketing anywhere you get your podcasts.
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