The Art of Influence – Executive Presence in the Boardroom

What do people think when you walk into a room, open your mouth to speak, or engage with others? Are they excited for what is about to happen? How do they see you, and how do they experience you? What happens as a result of your presence?

Senior leaders are increasingly discussing Executive Presence – what it is and how to have more of it. No matter how you define it, it has much to do with how we influence others.  To be clear, Executive Prescence is not about how many followers you have on your social profiles but rather, how you connect, communicate, care, and impact others.

In his recent book, “The Gift of Influence”, Tommy Spaulding reveals how we can be more mindful and effective in wielding influence throughout a lifetime of connecting with others. He outlines research that suggests the average person will influence up to 80,000 people in their lifetime – about the size of a football stadium. He suggests that “If you commit to living a life of positive influence, you will never look at your personal and professional relationships the same way again.” “Leadership is not about influence. It is influence.”

Influence has everything to do with leading in the boardroom, the staff room, and beyond. Here are some considerations on how to elevate your presence, your influence and your life.

Trust – The Strongest Foundation

All relationships start and end with trust. Think about the best board relationship of your career or greatest team you have ever been a part of. What was the level of trust?

If you want to build trust with others, make sure you are trustworthy yourself as well as trusting of others. This doesn’t mean establishing blind trust without questioning. It means that we always have the intention of trust.

Years ago, author Stephen Covey likened trust to an emotional bank account. As with a real bank account, we want the balance to be at its highest. And so, it is true with a trust account. When the balance is high, the relationship is easy, more productive, and positive influence occurs. On the other hand, a low trust account breeds an environment of fear, a lack of engagement, negative influence and limited results.

Ensure you are making more deposits than withdrawals into your trust account with others: Be upfront. Be clear with your intentions. Do what you say you will do. Find the answers. Show you care. Acknowledge others.

Communication – A Main Ingredient

Most great influencers are extraordinary communicators. They understand that the words they say are powerful, and the way they say them is even more.  They get to the point – and they have one! Brevity and clarity are their style. They say what they mean and mean what they say. They speak with good intentions. They have the good of the other person and the organization in mind, not themselves. A great communicator uses the language of vision and possibility.

In the leadership development practice, we have a saying “Say Less. Ask More.” The best leaders exercise the skill of listening more and speaking less. They are curious. They don’t have all the answers and genuinely seek them out. They ask powerful questions that engage others, explore solutions, and bring about growth. The focus shifts to others, not themselves.

A positive influencer also knows how their body language and voice add to or detract from their impact. They are purposeful yet speak with integrity and authenticity. They read the room, they remain calm under pressure, and they connect and engage others. Their eye contact, facial expressions and gestures are appropriately warm and powerful at the same time. They influence.

Humility – If You Don’t Have It, Find It

No question, you need to be competent in your role, but do you need to be the smartest person in the room?

Positive influencers own their competence, yet never let their competence own them.

The most purposeful leaders have the gift of humility. They let the results speak. They always give credit where it is due. They show up as competent, kind, caring leaders, and they often get amazing results. Their reputation speaks for itself, without their own input. They are keenly self-aware and always learning and growing.

Are you aware of how you “land” with others? Do you speak the language of team or individual?   What message are you trying to send? Be acutely aware.

The great news about executive presence and influence is that they are learned skills. Start where you are. Dive in. Get feedback from those that you trust. Acquire some training or coaching. Change some habits and see how your positive influence soars – in the boardroom and beyond.

Interested in learning more about GGA’s Leadership Development and Coaching services? Contact our team.

What Do Members Want?

Some club leaders believe that it is a fool’s mission to try to understand what members want.

In fact, it is quite simple…you need to ask members what they want. Michael Gregory and Dr. Eric Brey at GGA Partners can tell you with certainty that developing a broad and deep understanding of members’ wants, needs, expectations, and fears is a matter of faithfully applying proven practices of attitudinal research.

Dr. Brey, a PhD-accredited professor at the University of Wisconsin – Stout, is an expert at leveraging analytics to implement dependable customer-centric strategy and hone it on what truly impacts satisfaction. And it all begins with asking members what they want. Sometimes referred to as qualitative analysis, members’ viewpoints are normally collected within small groups and sometimes validated in expanded follow-up listening sessions. In his work with GGA, Dr. Brey has implemented this science within private clubs where understanding members’ attitudes are so important.

In order to measure what matters are of greatest importance to a given club’s members, attitudinal surveys prove to be a trustworthy tool. Establishing the proportion and intensity of members’ attitudes has become even more important in a time when members want to know that their viewpoints were taken into account.

Gregory, having worked at GGA since 2007, is expert at administering private club surveys. He emphasizes that attitudinal surveys in private clubs are essential because the relationship between the club and its members is an emotional and often intense one. In recent years, club leaders have become more reliant on member surveys as the sophistication of such surveys goes deeper into members’ viewpoints. Not the stuff of satisfaction surveys, an attitudinal survey seeks to quantify and measure members concerns and expectations, willingness to fund certain capital projects, and identify the characteristics – by analyzing underlying data – to provide club leaders with clearcut insight into what members want. Five factors that are consistently revealed in member surveys include:

 

  1. When factures occur in private clubs, they are often on the lines of gender and generation.
  2. Normally, the most satisfied members are the newest and the least satisfied members are the most tenured in the club.
  3. Older (in age) members are least supportive of capital projects and debt.
  4. Younger members are eager to see regular capital improvements.
  5. Women tend to be most alert to the club’s value system…”are we what we claim to be?”

Insights vary from club to club and require careful and objective analysis of underlying demographic data to enable the board to understand how members align and differ on certain topics. Dr. Brey advises careful analytical discipline and measurement. “There is no substitute for patient and transparent data analysis,” he says.

At the end of the day, Brey and Gregory confirm that it is possible to know what members want. One simply needs to ask the right questions in the right way.

This piece was authored by Henry DeLozier, Partner, for the National Club Association‘s Winter 2023 Issue of Club Director Magazine. 

An Anatomy of Two Committees

Of all the club committees, none is more important that the nominating committee and none is less important than the executive committee. You may think it a radical thought, but before you dismiss it, consider the following rationale. One of the five principles of good governance is electing board members on their merits and not on their popularity, personal agendas, seniority or some other basis. Honoring that principle is best achieved via an uncontested election, where the number of candidates equals the board slots to be filled. An uncontested election requires two essential ingredients:

*An independent, objective nominating committee.

*A board-established profile that lists the requirements and desired characteristics of board members.”

Member trust in the uncontested election process is directly linked to their perception of the nominating committee’s integrity. To ensure that trust is nurtured, establish your nominating committee using the following guidelines:

Smaller is Better

The size of most club nominating committees is between five and seven members. Because of the high premium placed on the confidential proceedings of the committee, we prefer the smaller size.

Selecting the Chair

The key decision in forming the committee is the selection of its chair. Club bylaws often specify that the chair is selected by the president. Others may identify the immediate past president as the chair. Of the two approaches, we favor having the president select the chair, primarily to avoid the appearance of a self-perpetuating board. However, the importance of this decision calls for a board-approved set of criteria for the chair. For example, the board may require the president to select a chair based upon their reputation of integrity, independence and objectivity; their understanding of club governance; and their ability to lead a highly confidential vetting process.

Allow the Chair to Select Committee Members

Once the chair is designated, there is the selection of committee members. Some bylaws have the president selecting the committee members. For those clubs whose bylaws are not specific as to how committee members are chosen, we recommend leaving that decision to the newly appointed committee chair. If they have been selected using criteria like those listed above, they will recruit like-minded members to carry out this important role.

Define the Ideal Candidates

As important as selecting the right chair and committee members is the process used by the committee to prepare a slate of candidates. The board should approve a profile that includes both required and desired characteristics of board members. Further, we recommend the committee be held accountable to use the board profile to vet potential candidates. A properly formed nominating committee using a board approved process and referencing a board profile is best equipped to select a slate of highly qualified candidates for the board.

The Executive Committee

While the nominating committee has the most important role among club committees, we believe the executive committee has the least. Our concern with a board’s executive committee is that it can become a mini-board, i.e., it can make decisions that are best left to the entire board. One of the principles of good club governance is the board speaking with one voice. Having the executive committee stand in for the full board dilutes this principle and can result in board members not on the executive committee feeling like second class citizens.

Despite the threats to the one-voice principle, executive committees have a long history in clubs primarily for two reasons:

  • There are board decisions that must be made between board meetings.
  • There are matters calling for a group smaller than the board to handle.

Regarding the need for decisions between board meetings, the last two years have demonstrated how easy it is to call an online meeting of the board. If an issue requires a decision by the board, the president can email an invitation to board members and assemble an online meeting within days. Some bylaws require a notice period of a week or two before a special meeting of the board but many clubs have amended their bylaws to allow only a few days’ notice, given the ease with which board members can be contacted and made available for the meeting.

The second rationale for having an executive committee is the occasional need for a small group to handle a particularly sensitive issue or provide the general manager with counsel on a policy or a decision. While a smaller group is more efficient and may be more secure with sensitive information, we do not see an executive committee as the one-size-fits-all group. For example, if the behavior of a staff member may result in adverse publicity for the club, it may be best to assemble a group of board or club members based on their expertise and not their office. Similarly, if the general manager needs counsel on handling an issue or transaction, they can call on board members or club members best suited to offer the advice.

A final point: Although the common board size is nine members, many clubs have 12 or more members. These larger boards are more likely to lean on an executive committee for efficient decision making. However, the more these larger boards rely on their executive committees, the more likely the non-committee members will feel left out. If a board is unwieldy, reduce its size rather than creating a two-tiered board by depending on an executive committee to make intermediate decisions.

This piece was authored by GGA Director, Frederic Laughlin for the National Club Association‘s Summer 2022 Issue of Club Governance. 

Corporate Policies and Best Practices for Proper Club Committee Alignment

More and more, private clubs are looking to corporations for policies and best practices in governance. For example, private clubs have realized the benefits of modeling the relationship between their boards of directors and general managers after the relationship between corporate boards and their CEOs. Although there are other lessons from the private sector clubs are learning, there is one area clubs seem slow to embrace: the appropriate alignment of committees.

Corporate boards maintain committees such as strategic planning, finance, audit and nomination committees to support governance functions. But they leave the formation of advisory committees on matters such as accounting, customer relations, sales, marketing, communications and the like to the CEO. In contrast, most private clubs have all their committees reporting to their boards. We believe there is a more effective approach to aligning club committees with the functions they support.

Assume you are just starting a private club and you have been assigned to develop a governance model. You decide on the size of the board, the terms of office, the election process and other features of the model. Next comes the task of identifying club committees, including their purpose, configuration and leadership. What’s the first step in this task?

The Purpose

Begin with the primary purpose of a committee, which is to serve as an advisor on policies relating to the issues subsumed by its scope of services—for example, finance, membership, golf, house, strategic planning, etc.

The next question is to whom does the committee report? The answer lies in the functions being supported by the committee. The board is a governing body with a strategic perspective. It needs committees to support strategic functions like finance, strategic planning, membership and governance/legal. In a good governance model, the board delegates the authority and the responsibility to the general manager to manage club operations, which includes delivering the services and activities efficiently and effectively. The committees supporting these functions, therefore, are best positioned reporting to the general manager.

We recommend two types of committees for a private club:

  • Board committees that support board functions and report to the board.
  • Operations committees that support operational functions and report to the general manager.

Unfortunately, the inertia militating against this alignment is rooted in history, where virtually all committees have reported to the board. Most club bylaws state specifically or clearly imply that all club committees report to the board, meaning that even boards that seek to realign their committees must first go through the process of amending the bylaws. Even if their bylaws allow for a restructuring, many boards are reluctant to effect the change.

Their rationale tends toward one of the following:

  • Having operational committees report to the general manager would diminish their role and prestige in the club, making it harder to recruit members to serve on these committees.
  • Moving operational committees away from the board reduces the board’s ability to stay informed on operations.

Value and Attraction

It is difficult to refute outright that service on operations committees will be less valued and therefore add to the difficulty in attracting quality members. Yet our experience suggests that club members are more persuaded by the influence of a committee and the quality of its management than by the person or persons to which it reports. In that vein, the closer the committee is to the decision-maker, the greater its influence and sense of value. Accordingly, we believe that whatever loss of status presumed by having operations committees report to the general manager is more than offset by the linkage the committee enjoys with the person who is responsible for making the decisions it recommends.

Likewise, we can understand the perception that not having operations committees report to the board will cause board members to lose touch with these important functions. However, there is no reason the board cannot require reports from the general manager that contain metrics the board believes are necessary for it to monitor performance.

Additionally, having operations committees report to it may encourage the board to meddle rather than monitor. Too often, board meetings are burdened by committee reports that address matters that belong to the general manager—not the board. If the general manager’s handling of an operational area is in question, the board can always ask for input from the committee. But to bake committee reports into the board agenda not only consumes meeting time, it also invites the board to be inappropriately involved with operational matters. Moreover, it blurs the clarity of responsibility for operational performance. If boards are holding general managers responsible for operational performance, the general managers must be given the authority to carry out the duties and the authority to form committees that support the functions related to operations.

Clearing Hurdles

As mentioned, many clubs refer to governance models of successful businesses, such as adopting the COO model, which clearly separates the governance function of the board from the operational leadership of the general manager/COO. But too many of these clubs are unwilling to realign their committees to more accurately reflect the corporate model and more effectively connect their committees to the appropriate level. We don’t discount the years of tradition that resist such a change, but we recommend that clubs clear the hurdle of the status quo and place their committees where they will most efficiently serve.

This piece was authored by GGA Director, Frederic Laughlin for the National Club Association‘s Summer 2022 Issue of Club Governance. 

From Forming to Performing: Principles and Practices for Effective Club Committees

Regardless of how a club chooses to align committees within its governance model, there remains the challenge of how best to establish them (forming) and realize their full potential (performing). Here, we describe the principles and best practices that apply to the constructive formation and effective performance of club committees.

Forming: Number, Size, Leadership, Membership and Terms

Number

There is no perfect number of club committees or ideal description of their scopes. The bylaws may specify what committees are required, but they usually authorize the board to create additional committees as it deems necessary and appropriate. Have a balance. Establish enough committees to address the breadth of areas prioritized by the club, but don’t overdo it. Having too many committees can lead to compartmentalization; having too few can burden them with too wide a scope. Most clubs have between six and 10 committees, which seems to provide a good balance.

Size

Committee size varies with the function and the desire for multiple perspectives. For example, the finance committee may contain four or five members who have relevant skill sets, while the golf committee may have seven or eight members and benefit from perspectives based on age, gender, handicap levels and the like. Avoid overpopulation, however, as too many members can reduce a committee’s efficiency and effectiveness.

Leadership

The next task is deciding on committee chairs. Here again, the bylaws may dictate the process. For example, the bylaws may state that the president selects committee chairs. They may also require that commit-tees be chaired by a board member. While we support the president selecting the committee chairs, we recommend a board policy with guidelines the president must use in the selection process. For example, the board’s policy may include a requirement for the president to refer to a board-approved profile of the ideal committee chair in terms of skill sets, leadership, good judgment, civil discourse and other desirable traits.

We do not favor the requirement that committee chairs be drawn from sitting board members. Select chairs on their merits, not their offices. If a board member fits the profile of a chair, fine, but unless the bylaws require it, don’t allocate committee chairs among board members simply based on their positions.

Membership

Now comes the time to populate your committees. We recommend allowing the committee chair to select his/her committee members. Again, however, we recommend that the board develop a policy to guide the chair in selecting committee membership. It is common for clubs to rely on volunteers to serve on committees. Yet, while a person’s desire to be on a committee is a useful criterion, it shouldn’t be the sole basis. Often, club members volunteer to serve on a committee to advance a particular agenda or program, which may make their membership on the committee more of a problem than a benefit.

Some club bylaws require the board to approve both the committee chairs and committee members. Although we don’t believe it is a necessary provision, it can be a way for the board to confirm that its policies were honored in the selection of a committee chair and committee members.

Many clubs require a year or two of service on a committee to quality for nomination to the board. This is a useful requirement as committees provide an excellent source for identifying board candidates. A member’s contribution to a committee is a good indicator of their likely contribution as a board member.

Terms

Clubs should have one-year terms for both committee chairs and committee members, with an allowance for additional terms so long as the chairs and members are selected on their performance and not by default. If you have a good pool of candidates who are willing to serve on committees, you may want to set a limit on the number of additional terms.

Performing: Management and Evaluation

Management

Once a club has established a committee and its chair, the board must develop a charter to clarify the committee’s role, its organization, the expectations of its members and the metrics used to gauge its effective-ness. The length of committee charters will vary with the amount of detail describing the committee’s scope. Although some charters include two or three pages of specifics, we favor general descriptions of scope that avoid exhaustive detail. If problems arise, such as a committee drifting out of its lane, the board can always add detail to bring it back in line.

Evaluation

It’s perhaps a bromide, but it’s true: What gets measured gets done. Precious few clubs formally measure the performance of their committees. Those that do rarely complain to us about the effective-ness of their committees. The below visual is an example of an instrument to measure a committee’s effectiveness. It can be used as a self-evaluation by committee members or as an annual survey for board members to complete. If committee chairs and committee members are aware of the rubric used in their evaluation, they are far more likely to be effective.

Gaining the full benefit of club committees does not involve sophisticated techniques or innovative approaches. It simply requires carefully choosing their scopes, organization, leadership and member-ship. Then, by managing and measuring their performance, a club will realize the potential of committees and add significantly to the effectiveness of its governance model.

This piece was authored by GGA Director, Liz McDowell CPA, CA, CCM, for the National Club Association‘s Summer 2022 Issue of Club Governance. 

The Challenge of Club Governance: An Interview with Damon DiOrio, CEO, Desert Mountain Club

Damon DiOrio, CCM, CCE has long been recognized as one of the top general managers in the private club industry, stemming from his 14 years leading the Charlotte Country Club and five years as CEO of the prestigious Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. In a recent conference call with more than 100 university professors who teach hospitality, DiOrio was asked to identify the greatest current challenge in the club industry. He was quick to reply, “Club governance.” We wanted to know why. Here is what he told us.

Club Governance (CG): Damon, with all the other challenges facing clubs today—labor shortages, supply chain issues, inflationary food and fuel costs—why have you singled out governance as the greatest challenge?

Damon DiOrio (DD): To a large extent, it’s a matter of what we can control. While labor shortages and inflation present significant challenges, they are conditions beyond our control, and sophisticated club executives will implement tactical operational changes to successfully navigate through these issues. Establishing an effective governance model is a far greater challenge as many clubs have a history of poor governance, which can thwart an effective leader’s ability to effect positive change. My point, therefore, is to encourage club leaders to address a challenge within their control and work toward improving governance structures and policies that enable the club GM/CEO to effectively lead their operations.

CG: Why do you believe club leaders need encouragement?

DD: Mainly because developing an effective governance model requires challenging the status quo, which is based on decades of policies that are not best practices but have been institutionalized into a club’s culture. Changing entrenched club traditions is a systemic process that requires courage and strong leadership to challenge. While I generally appreciate the value of traditions in defining the brand of a club, when they stand in the way of good governance and positive results, they deserve to be reviewed and, in most cases, changed.

CG: For example?

DD: To start with, the election process. Choose board members on their merits and the skill sets needed to provide a well-rounded and diverse board. Then, use an uncontested process involving robust vetting by an independent, objective nominating committee. Too many clubs rely on contested elections that can result not only in reducing the candidate pool, but also in electing board members on their popularity, seniority or agenda.

CG: OK. Assume a club has put the right people on the board. Then what?

DD: Now you want the board to speak with one voice—in writing. It does that by developing policies, which are housed in a document we call the board policy manual (BPM). The BPM communicates how the board will carry out its fiduciary duties. It clarifies the role of the board, its members and officers, and the GM/CEO. It also describes the various club committees, their roles, and their proper alignment. Our board members are caring and successful professionals, but they are volunteers. Having solid policies in place provides stability and continuity.

CG: Speaking of committees, what advice do you have for club leaders on how to get the most of their committees?

DD: First, look at the functions where a committee can assist in proposing policies, advising leaders and bringing the benefit of multiple perspectives. There are generally two types of functions and therefore two types of committees: board committees like finance, audit and membership, and operations committees like golf, greens and grounds and house. The tradition among clubs is to have all committees report to the board, but having operating committees report to the board invites the board to micromanage functions to which it should hold the GM accountable.

CG: So do you have committees report to you as the GM/CEO?

DD: Absolutely. The house and golf and agronomy committee both report to me. We have seven golf courses at Desert Mountain and the golf and agronomy committee provides useful advice, player insights and the vision of the golf experience they desire to our key directors. For example, I recently asked the committee to help us define our outside tournament strategy, including a recommendation for a USGA Championship request. This type of strategic guidance is welcomed and appreciated.

CG: Golf is such an important part of the Desert Mountain community. Does your board worry about not having the golf & agronomy committee report to them?

DD: No. The board holds me accountable as the CEO for the condition of our golf courses and the quality of our golf program. It also gives me the authority and resources to get the job done. The golf & agronomy committee provides feedback and suggestions, and at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility to deliver the finest golf experience to our members.

CG: Is your title of CEO commonly given to general managers?

DD: No, but I highly recommend clubs consider it. Successful businesses are led by capable CEOs. They are not managed by committees or by boards of directors. Yet too many clubs hold on to governance models based more on traditions than operational efficiency. More than the title, a business mindset and model help shape expectations for all stakeholders and can help pave the way for a cultural shift. As a successful CEO you are expected to forge a safe, positive and healthy culture; engage state and local officials; be a philanthropic leader in the community; and protect the history and culture of your organization for decades to come.

CG: What would you say to someone who argues that running a club as a business will result in a more staid, impersonal culture rather than a more collegial community?

DD: I would say, “Come to Desert Mountain!” We see no conflict between a caring culture and an efficiently run operation. Just the opposite. We diligently promote a warm and welcoming culture, highlighted by personalized service and name recognition. Our people—members and our staff—are our top priority. But along with our commitment to community is our commitment to stewardship and that means using our authority wisely to govern effectively and to manage efficiently.

CG: Any final thoughts on the challenge of governing a private club?

DD: Only to remind club leaders that while they are forced to react to challenges like inflation and labor shortages, they can be proactive in addressing their governance model. There are plenty of good examples of clubs employing sound governance principles and practices. Search them out, adopt them and use them to develop a robust governance model, which will provide the tools to succeed in meeting all manner of challenges.

This interview was conducted by GGA Director, Frederic Laughlin for the National Club Association‘s Summer 2022 Issue of Club Governance. 

The Intricacies of Benchmarking Data

For years, we have proudly conducted industry research in collaboration with private club association across the globe, including the Club Management Association of Canada (CMAC), National Club Association (NCA) and the Club Management Association of America (CMAA). Regardless of the survey, one notion has consistently remained: analyzing research data to derive insight is complex.

The primary purpose of our most recent survey initiative in collaboration with CMAA, 2022 A Club Leader’s Perspective: Emerging Trends & Challenges (CLP) is “To explore the perspectives club leaders have about the industry and their club’s performance.”

The CLP research is not intended to provide comprehensive benchmarking for use in evaluating individual club performance, but rather to provide an overview of trends in the industry from the perspective of club leaders. And these perspectives are derived from a diverse cross-section of clubs, including a variety of club types, in different markets and with different business models. For instance, almost 20% of the 2022 CLP survey respondents represented for-profit clubs, which at times structure their business models differently than non-profit, member-owned clubs.

Why is this important?

Our firm routinely conducts comprehensive benchmarking and operational reviews for clients, and while we recognize the value of self-reported data, we do not rely on survey responses from any of our trends surveys or other industry surveys. For benchmarking to be effective, it requires in-depth financial analysis at the trial balance level, understanding of the key physical characteristics of a club’s facilities, understanding of the club’s operating hours and service offerings, and understanding of staffing, including head counts, full-time equivalents, salaries, wages, and benefits, with comparisons only drawn to truly comparable clubs. There is rigorous analysis required in conducting benchmarking.

Comparisons of aggregated data without detailed analysis and without context provided to club leaders by experienced professionals with respect to what the results mean to their club given their vision for the club, their members’ expectations and their unique market circumstances are not benchmarks and should not be relied upon to make strategic decisions.

Our work with club industry associations is incredibly illuminating and we are committed to continuing conversations with club leaders now and in the future. We fully support the use of perspective research to ignite discussions and to help highlight important topics of focus. After receiving a few inquiries related to 2021 Food & Beverage (F&B) performance as reported by the CLP Report survey respondents, we felt that additional context and clarity on this topic would be valuable.

Before delving into the F&B survey data in the CLP Report, we want to reaffirm that our research team conducted extensive analysis of the survey results, and the results reported in the report reflect the responses received. Nonetheless, readers will note from the scatter plot of responses provided in the report, that there are assumed outliers that we classify as highly likely to be inaccurately reported data by some survey respondents. While certain results reported by club leaders did not appear to be appropriate, we did not adjust the responses and reported the results as provided. The use of a median in the analysis is important given the likelihood of potentially inaccurately reported data in surveys of this nature. That said, given feedback we have received, we conducted further analysis into the survey data and developed additional context for our readers.

Digging Deeper into the Survey Data

The raw survey responses, as reported, produced a median total annual profit on F&B of approximately $70k, equating to an implied median profit margin of 7% in 2021, with 64% of respondents indicating that their club generated a profit.

Further consideration and applying both our best discretion and professional judgement to the data, we estimate that approximately 10% of the respondent data was likely not entered appropriately, either due to a possible misunderstanding of the question or a transcription error.

If we were to exclude these data points from the analysis, the median total annual profit on F&B is closer to break-even, with just over 50% reporting a profit. It is important to note that this does not consider potential improperly reported extraordinary loss data points, which is more difficult to ascertain and appears to occur less frequently in the data.

Food and Beverage Profitability Trends

The CMAA Finance and Operations Study provides a good frame of reference for food and beverage profitability: 

 

  • CMAA Finance and Operations Survey Trend – Food and beverage net profit/loss held a consistent (flat) trend from 2017-2019, with the average performance being a net loss ranging between 10-13% of revenue. This sample of respondents is more heavily represented by non-profit club structures as compared to the CLP survey respondent profile of clubs. In 2020, the pandemic driven challenges drove the median net loss on revenue to 37%. 2021 results will be included in the release of the 2022 Finance and Operations report.

When compared to our internal GGA Partners database of historical trial balance level client financial results and 2022 budgets, which includes both for-profit and non-profit clubs:

 

  • GGA Database Trend – Net profit/loss held a consistent (flat) trend from 2017-2019, with the median performance being a net loss ranging from 3-6% of total revenue. In 2020, the pandemic driven challenges drove the median net loss on revenue to 25%. In 2021, the median net loss remained consistent at 25% of total revenue. We expect performance to continue to improve in 2022 and generate a median net loss in the range of 8-15% of revenue, based on our review of 2022 budgeted income statements among our client base thus far.

Purpose at the Core of Strategic Decisions

“Is it possible to make money on F&B? Or are we better off subsidizing the operation to improve the experience for members?” For years, our clients have asked these questions. Food and beverage operations at private clubs create a challenging business model by nature and should not be compared to the restaurant operation down the street (even though members often make this comparison). However, to say definitively that your operation should not make a profit is also ill-advised. Many of GGA’s clients generate a profit within their F&B operations, however, this is a strategic decision (dependent on several market factors) and more prominent within for-profit structures.

Your budgetary philosophy on F&B is a strategic decision for your club and should be based on what members want, and what the market allows from a price elasticity and competitive positioning perspective. Our member survey work frequently demonstrates how important and impactful F&B operations at private clubs are. Often, there is a strong statistical correlation between members’ satisfaction with F&B and overall satisfaction with the club. As a result, when a non-profit club’s annual dues and overall business model can support an expanded food and beverage offering, elevated service levels and discounted menu pricing, many clubs make the strategic decision to manage their food and beverage operation to a loss, in favor of an elevated member experience and overall satisfaction with being a member.

While there is considerable skill required to execute a food and beverage business plan, the formulation of that business plan is largely a mathematical exercise that can be viewed as a sum of the parts. In a non-profit, member-owned club, the ‘parts’ are what the members, through the board of directors and as part of a well-formulated strategy, determine and communicate to management. These ‘parts’ include:

    1. The number of food and beverage outlets to operate.
    2. The hours of operation for those outlets.
    3. The level of service required and thus the staff requirements during operating hours.
    4. The quality of the products procured and offered for sale.
    5. The pricing strategy for how the club prices its food and beverage products it sells.
    6. The number of events the club plans to host.
    7. The source of events, whether member, member-sponsored or external third-party events, and pricing strategy deployed.

For those that may have read the F&B related CLP survey results with concern, we strongly recommend you ensure there is a comprehensive strategic plan in place at your club. This requires a clear understanding of the food and beverage experience that club members desire, and the operational and capital costs required to deliver on those expectations. The decision must then be made to determine how (or if) the club can deliver on the F&B experience in a manner that is financially sustainable. The feedback we received on the F&B results in the CLP research report underscore the necessity for strategic planning that incorporates financial forecasts and key financial targets, through which the board of directors guides management to operate, along with the importance of succession planning for board members, ensuring a knowledgeable and informed leadership group.

For any questions or for assistance in benchmarking your operation and setting the most impactful strategy for your club, please contract us at info@ggapartners.com.

Access the 2022 A Club Leader’s Perspective: Emerging Trends & Challenges report.

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Mid-Year Predictions for the Second Half of 2021

At the start of the new year and in the spirit of planning, the thought leaders at GGA Partners sat down to predict what we believed to be coming throughout the year and shared our 2021 Predictions on the Shape of the Next Normal. Now, halfway through 2021 with the spring season in the books and summer underway, we reconvened GGA leaders for a mid-year check-in on predictions for the latter half of the year.

1. Ensuring fair and equitable access to amenities remains top of mind, especially on the golf course

A trending topic throughout the industry is golf’s demand surge and how long it will sustain, much has been written on this point and those who are closely watching rounds played metrics anticipate a clearer reading by the end of the summer.

Stephen Johnston, GGA’s founding partner, expects that private clubs will see the surge continue to elevate rounds played by members which will likely increase issues relating to compaction of tee traffic and accessibility.  He predicts the benchmark regarding average number of rounds per member to be higher by approximately 10% following the pandemic and also increased golf course utilization by members’ spouses and family members.  Both factors will create a greater demand for tee times at private clubs.

Johnston believes some clubs may need to consider permitting round play by fivesomes instead of foursomes, potentially catalyzing logistical challenges such as a greater need for single-rider power carts in order to maintain speed of play at the same rate as foursomes with all players using power carts. For club managers and course operators, this entails an increased need for current and detailed evaluation of the benefits of membership and the relationship between playing privileges and the practical ability to book a tee time and get on-course.

2. Effective demand management is key and will shift from agile, flexible approaches to new operating standards as demand stabilizes

During the pandemic and throughout 2020, many golf, club, and leisure businesses recognized the increased need to more accurately and routinely measure the utilization of amenities, adapting operations management to react quickly to change.

Craig Johnston, head of GGA’s transaction advisory practice, anticipates an evolution in this one-day-at-a-time, agile monitoring approach into a new and more formalized standard of operating procedures.  “At the start of 2021, we said we would see clubs provide flexibility and experiment with various operational changes,” he explained.  “With the pandemic feeling like it’s steadily moving toward the rear-view mirror, members will be expecting clubs to begin instituting the ‘new normal’ operations and the data compiled by clubs in the first half of the year will be critical to deciding on the new normal.”

Johnston believes that membership demand will continue to be strong through the second half of the year and that it is likely utilization will reduce marginally as members begin travelling again for work and social obligations.  Even with a marginal reduction in utilization, demand for private club services will remain strong and will continue to put pressure on capacity and access in most clubs.

Senior Partner Henry DeLozier encourages club and facility operators to embrace short-term continuations of high demand while keeping an eye on the future and the non-zero probability of a demand shift in the coming years.  “Clubs must create pathways to sustain demand while navigating utilization volume.  It is unwise to place hard or irreversible limitations on capacity while clubs are at historic maximums for demand and usage,” cautioned DeLozier. “Clubs will do well to establish a clear understanding of demand and utilization to enable innovative programs which serve to fill periods of low demand in the future.”

3. Ongoing uncertainty about the pandemic’s long-term impact on club finances will increase the review and reevaluation of club financial projections to ensure sustained budget flexibility

While data regarding utilization, participation, and engagement throughout the summer months continues to be captured and consolidated, business leaders should not delay their financial planning and instead get to work on reevaluating finances and updating their future forecasts.

“Now is the time to review, evaluate, and reset club debt levels,” emphasized Henry DeLozier. “Clubs need to recast financial projections based upon elevated joining/initiation fees arising from high demand.”

In support of alacrity in financial planning, DeLozier notes that labor shortages spurred by the pandemic will increase payroll-related costs at a material level. He also predicts that comprehensive risk review is needed at most clubs to evaluate possible impacts arising from cyber-crime and/or declining club revenues during 2022.

Beyond internal shake-ups in utilization or operations, club leaders should be anticipating external impacts that could impact their financial plans.  A hypothetical example raised by DeLozier is if the U.S. economy were to become more inflationary.  In such a circumstance he believes clubs would see an increase in the costs of labor and supplies which would necessitate increases in member dues and fees, a deceleration of new-member enrollments as consumer confidence dips, and a slight slow-down in housing demand.

Right now, uncertainty remains with respect to the virus as well as the resulting economic impact from the pandemic. From a financial standpoint, clubs will do well to advance their forward planning while retaining budget elasticity.  “It will be imperative for clubs and boards to build flexibility into their budgets and agility into their operations,” added Craig Johnston.

4. Existing governance practices, policies, and procedures will be revisited, refurbished, and reinvigorated

A litany of new ways of operating and governing the club arose as a result of the pandemic, some of which suggest an efficacy that can be sustained in a post-pandemic environment.  Essential to assimilating these adaptions into new standards of procedure is a review of existing governance practices and the documentation which supports them.

“At a time when boards can measure the full range of financial performance metrics, updating club governing documents is a primary board responsibility,” noted Henry DeLozier.  “Board room succession planning must be formalized to prepare clubs for the inevitable downturn from record high utilization.”

In considering the nearly overnight adoption of technology tools to enable remote meetings and board-level deliberations, partner Michael Gregory noted a substantial increase in the use of technology tools that go beyond virtual Zoom meetings.  “The pandemic has allowed clubs to test online voting,” he explained.  “For many clubs, once things return to normal, their bylaws won’t allow for the continued execution of online voting unless they make changes.”

“We have seen the adoption and implementation of online voting to be a huge success for the clubs who have tried it for the first time,” said Gregory. “Members love it, it’s easy, it’s convenient, it leads to higher participation from the membership, and many clubs are in the process of changing their governing documents to allow for online voting as a result.”  The challenges and opportunities of employing online voting are detailed in our piece on taking club elections digital, which features a downloadable resource that can be shared among club boards.

5. In human resources, expect to see deeper reevaluations of compensation structures and employee value propositions

Weighing in from across the pond, Rob Hill, partner and managing director of GGA’s EMEA office in Dublin, predicts that club leaders will face bigger challenges in human resources throughout the remainder of 2021.

The first of three particular items he called out is a reevaluation of compensation.  “Making decisions about employee pay is among the biggest challenges facing club leaders in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown,” stated Hill. “As they begin compensation planning for the rest of the year and into 2022, these leaders not only have to consider pay levels, but also the suitability of their mission and operating model to thrive in a post-pandemic world.”

Citing his recent experiences in the European market, Hill shared that club leaders are challenged with finding new ways to operate smarter and more efficiently, while also looking for innovative ways to implement sturdy, low-cost solutions that their employees will love.  Which leads to his second point, that there will be a renewed emphasis on what employees love and how clubs, as employers, can provide an enhanced value proposition for their employees.

“As employees get back to work onsite, employers are finding that what their people value from the employment relationship has changed,” Hill explained.  “Where pay has been viewed as largely transactional in the past, clubs may need to provide new types of benefits, especially programs that provide more flexibility, financial security, and empowerment to retain and motivate their people.”

Lastly, there is likely to be considerable movement of talent over the coming year brought on by employees’ new work-life ambitions and financial imperatives, said Hill, “As demand for their skills and experience grows, the very best talent will seek out employers that demonstrate they view employees not as costs but as assets and reflect this in their approach to compensation.”

Recalling our start-of-year prediction that the movement of people and relocation of companies will reshape markets, partner Craig Johnston added, “The relocation of people continues to be a prominent trend and one that is likely to continue in the second half of the year.”  For club employers, it’s not just the changing physical locations which impact the cost and supply of labor, but also the expectations of employees as they seek out competitive new roles and work experiences.

6. The repurposing and reimagining of club facilities, amenities, and member-use areas will continue

The pandemic pushed to the fore the need for clubs to adapt their facilities to match changes in the ways members use and enjoy their clubs.  A combination of practical evolutions for health and safety and circumstantial evolutions drawn from widespread ability for members to work remotely created increased desire for clubs to offer more casual outdoor dining options and spaces to enable members to conduct work while at the club.

Partner Stephen Johnston believes these sentiments will continue to near-term facility improvements at clubs.  “With more flexibility in the workplace and members working from home periodically, there will be a need at the club for members to do work or take calls before their tee time or their lunch date,” he said.  “It has been evident for some time that members generally prefer to enjoy outdoor dining and since, throughout the pandemic, it has become apparent that guests draw greater comfort in outdoor experiences, I see a greater demand for outside patio and food and beverage service.”

As society begins to reopen and communities begin to stabilize, time can only tell precisely how clubs will continue to evolve their operations, whether that be scaling back pandemic-relevant operations or doubling-down on new services and efficiencies.  Evident in our work with clients are significant efforts to reorganize club leaders, reevaluate operations, and retool plans for a successful future in the new normal.  Here are a few highlights of efforts clubs are making for the next normal:

 

  • Reinvigoration of governance processes and engagement of leaders to ensure alignment between boards and club strategic plans.
  • Renewed surveying of members to keep a pulse on how sentiments have changed from pre-pandemic, during pandemic, and currently as communities stabilize.
  • Enhanced adoption and application of electronic voting as clubs reevaluate membership structures, governing documents, and operating policies amidst “displaced” members.
  • Reconfiguring of budgets, capital plans, and long-range financial models.
  • Refinement and advancement of membership marketing strategies, tactics, and materials.
  • Tightening relationships between facility planning, capital improvements, and member communications campaigns.

The Three Keys to Effective Governance

Governance in private clubs can too often resemble what is seen on the evening news: factions, resentment, distrust, skepticism, cynicism. In troubled times, sound governance is essential.

In our continuing Whitepaper Series, Senior Partner Henry DeLozier highlights the three keys to effective governance and proactive steps leaders can take to address and improve it at their club.

 

 

Read our Governance Whitepaper

Four Factors That Impact Innovation

At GGA Partners, we have watched the pandemic create innovative opportunities and innovation in clubs unlike what we have seen in many years.

In our continuing Whitepaper Series, Senior Partner Henry DeLozier reminds managers and club leaders how critically important innovation is, especially during these pandemic times.

 

 

Read our Innovation Whitepaper
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