Leveraging Differences in the Boardroom

GGA Partners Releases New Whitepaper on Private Club Governance as Part of Thought Leadership Series

‘Leveraging Differences in the Boardroom’ Now Available for Download

TORONTO, Ontario – International consulting firm GGA Partners has released Leveraging Differences in the Boardroom, the third in its new series of thought leadership whitepapers. This authoritative guide explores the benefits of clubs with diverse boards and suggests several steps to take when recruiting with diversity in mind.

Leveraging Differences in the Boardroom evaluates the consequences of unintentionally insular board composition and challenges the idea of “sameness” in the boardroom, which limits the ability of a board to effectively perform its duties and threatens a club’s health and longevity. The paper illustrates how multiple perspectives contribute to greater success in governance and argues for adjusting the profile of a club’s leadership to better serve members and prospects.

“We often see board members with similar professional, cultural, and ideological backgrounds and perspectives,” explained GGA Partner Henry DeLozier, one of several authors of the piece. “Boards that are neither representative of the membership nor reflective of their surrounding community risk losing the opportunity both to serve their current members and to attract new members.”

In addition, the whitepaper encourages that clubs intent on increasing diversity among their board take a holistic, multi-dimensional approach to its creation. “Forward-thinking boards understand that it is the breadth of perspective, not the mere inclusion of various diverse traits, that benefits the organization,” said DeLozier. “In addition to social diversity, professional and experiential diversity are also important in increasing the range of perspectives represented on the board.”

Board diversification is likely to be met with resistance from the status quo, which the paper aims to help club leaders overcome by providing tactics for building a diverse board, developing new board member criteria, and making a commitment to diversity.

In addition to governance, GGA Partners recently published new whitepapers on strategic planning and branding. The firm has announced that another in the series focused on innovation will be published through the third quarter of 2020.

Click here to download the whitepaper


About GGA Partners

GGA Partners™ is an international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities. We are dedicated to helping owners, asset managers, club and community leaders, investors and real estate developers tackle challenges, achieve objectives, and maximize asset performance.

Established in 1992 as the KPMG Golf Industry Practice, our global team of experienced professionals leverage in-depth business intelligence and proprietary global data to deliver impactful strategic solutions and lasting success. For more information, please visit ggapartners.com.

Media Contact:

Bennett DeLozier
GGA Partners

Being Flexible for the Future

“Forecasting is very difficult,
especially with regard to the future.”
Yogi Berra?

Preparing for the Future

Even if the late Yogi Berra didn’t utter this statement, it’s an easy attribution. Like so many of Yogi’s statements, it tucks a truth inside a pithy, if nonsensical saying. We can speculate on the future, guess at trends, or engage a soothsayer, but we can never be certain of our forecast.

Yet as club leaders we are called upon to plan, invest, and adapt. Despite our inability to predict the future, we know the risks of sticking to the status quo. So how do we prepare for the new law, the gathering trend, the abrupt change in the economy, or other externalities – especially those that are unforeseen?

There are two issues relating to a club’s preparations for the future: recognizing the need to change, and taking the appropriate action

A club is best prepared to recognize the need to change by developing a well-constructed strategic plan and maintaining it as a dynamic document (i.e. revising it as new information becomes available). The more considered and current the strategic plan, the better prepared the club will be to respond to evolving conditions.

Next, in order to take the appropriate action, the club needs a Board that is three things: thoughtful, decisive, and nimble.

Thoughtfulness and decisiveness are features of the Board’s character and competence, and are best achieved by sound election processes to recruit Board members based on their merits (i.e. their ability to serve professionally in a culture of cooperation and respect).

Nimbleness, on the other hand, has to do with the flexibility afforded the Board via the club’s governing documents – its bylaws and Board policies. The Board’s agility is based less on the quality of its members than on its documented processes.

When the Future Arrives

Good doctors do two things well: make accurate diagnoses, and prescribe effective treatments. Similarly, effective club Boards do two things well: assess the impact of new laws, growing trends or shifting styles, and then take the action appropriate to address the impact.

So, what can a Board do in the present that will equip it to respond to the future when it arrives?

For years we at Global Golf Advisors have strongly recommended that club Boards develop and maintain a Board Policies Manual (BPM), which contains all of the Board’s standing policies in a succinct, well-organized document. We also recommend that bylaws be amended to afford flexibility for the Board to carry out its fiduciary responsibilities in a professional, transparent manner. The two actions must go hand in hand.

A club’s bylaws are actually “member policies” – instructions from the members to the Board. Members will be reluctant to cede authority to the Board without knowing how that authority will be used, and that’s where the BPM comes in. If the bylaws instruct the Board to maintain a publicly available BPM that clearly lays out how it will govern, then the members can be well informed as to how their Board is serving them.

Our advice is simple: include in the bylaws only the basic requirements, and let the Board formulate and publish in a BPM those policies it believes will allow it to govern effectively. Why? Because when the future arrives – say, a new law is passed, a new trend is affecting the club, or new amenities are being demanded by the members – a Board needs the flexibility of responding without having to go back to the members for a vote.

Of course, there are limits to ceding authority from the bylaws to the BPM. We are not advocating a carte blanche transfer. But in our experience, most club bylaws can be streamlined so they contain only the basics, thereby leaving plenty of room within which the Board can operate. The BPM is the centerpiece to the Club Governance Model*, which is the standard for excellence among the club community. There are many reasons for a club Board to develop and maintain a BPM. Preparing for the arrival of the future is just one of them.

For further advice on creating and maintaining a Board Policy Manual (BPM) for your Club, connect with GGA Director, Fred Laughlin.

*GGA’s Guide to Implementing the Club Governance Model is available to club leaders and Board members on request.

6 Ways to Build a Great Board

What makes great board members so great? The fact is that top private club board leaders are made and seldom born. One of the common characteristics is their clear understanding of servant leadership and the necessity of putting the needs of others ahead of their own.

There are several important principles for building a strong board, according to Fred Laughlin, a director at Global Golf Advisors:

  1. Define your team. Laughlin cites three important characteristics needed: (1) required characteristics, which are often described in the club’s by-laws; (2) desired characteristics, such as integrity, advanced listening skills and experienced leadership; and (3) desired experience and skills, such as finance, audit, legal and insurance knowledge.
  2. Form a trustworthy and respected Nominating Committee. Call on the members who are known to be trustworthy, impartial and respected.
  3. Use an uncontested election process. Elections are inherently political. A Nominating Committee that puts forward only the number of candidates as there are open positions on the board serves the club well. If your club must meet statutory requirements for crowd-sourced nominees, see that those candidates selected by the Nominating Committee are designated accordingly and require voters to vote for the number of board seats available in the election.
    Most club managers and many fellow board members can cite common traits of those servant leaders who truly rise to the duty of serving others.

Rick Bayliss, the CEO at Lost Tree Club in North Palm Beach, Fla., says it very simply, “No personal agenda … always acts in a manner that is best for the institution. Views the relationship with the chief staff executive as a ‘partnership’ and collaborative with the board.”

Tim Bakels, the COO and GM at Colleton River Plantation near Hilton Head, S.C., agrees and adds that the best board members “Get it.” In explaining that great board members understand the business aspects of the club calling upon their own good business sense and relying on fact-based decision-making. Bakels notes, “the best directors understand and use the chain of command. They discuss all issues with the GM before addressing operational concerns with other members. And, “they let the operational folks operate while the board members focus on policy.”

John Wright, the COO and GM at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis, ticks off his most-needed traits for a board member on his fingers, “No personal agenda, ability to listen, true vision for the club, dedicated understanding of long range strategic plan and a team player.”

Norwood Hills, located less than one mile from Ferguson, Mo., has embraced its opportunities for community leadership through its community programs through inclusive caddy programs, scholarships and dependable employment. It is a great example of board vision and leadership.

At the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., GM Stan Lawson observes that his great board members shared common traits. “They are terrific ambassadors for the club and fully understand that the club relies upon dues revenue to sustain their fine club. They proactively sponsor new members. And they are an extra set of ears bringing their concerns to me so that issues can be addressed in a timely manner.”

Eugene Country Club in Oregon is managed by Rich Spurlin, who observes, “I think about a handful of individuals (mostly club presidents) over the years have a certain charisma that inspires a board, members or membership to believe in an established vision. I have yet to come across a charismatic board member who is isn’t championing something positive, which inevitably helps move the club forward.

Another outstanding trait of an excellent board member is empathy. Although most board members have experienced a certain degree of success in their professional careers, it’s always appreciated when they take the time to try and understand people, situations and issues before casting judgment. More often than not, following an excellent board member’s term, they share a comment appreciating how diverse the interests of the membership are in relationship to what they thought prior to serving the club.”

Joshua Tanner, COO and GM at Ironwood Country Club in Palm Desert, Calif., notes that the great board members at Ironwood think strategically. He adds, “They listen more than they speak, but when they speak they are educated and well spoken. They ask the right questions and are able to view the big picture. They are trusted and have gravitas. Others respect them and trust their processes and decisions.”

Terra Waldron, VP/COO at the Desert Highlands Association of club and residents adds, “Developing a Board Policy Manual (BPM) defines roles and responsibilities to be evergreen to adapt to the times. Keep it front and center at all meetings.” In addition to supporting many points made by other club leaders, she emphasizes, “A great board member can assist a club’s/association’s growth and prosper with the times, to adapt to the changing environment by providing leadership through the board and trickle down to the committee level. Defining specific roles responsibilities and staying true to the mission. They encourage varied thoughts and discussion but control the environment to stay civil and respectful.”

Members today expect openness from their boards. Tanner adds, “They are transparent and build consensus. They are able to make the tough decision and stand by that decision. They understand the core values of the club and make decisions that are in alignment with those values.”

From coast to coast, the assortment of club managers who contributed their ideas here share certain common observations of great board members:

  1. Put the needs of their fellow club members first.
  2. Are prepared and fully informed to maximize their effectiveness.
  3. Command respect for their willingness to listen and understand;
  4. Understand the operational characteristics of the club;
  5. Respect the organizational chain-of-command; and
  6. Champion the club in all of their efforts.

James Collins, in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, provides the best guidance for those who would be great board members, “A company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people.” And so it is with private clubs.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for the National Club Association.