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The Role of GMs: Expert’s Corner

Q:  Has the recent recession brought about changes in the role GMs play at private clubs? If so, what is changing?

A:  As a firm, our responsibility is to ensure that a club’s key leadership positions are filled by talent that matches the club’s culture and provides the club-specific skills desired by its membership—both in the moment and long term.

In 2008, an industry shift brought new challenges to the private club industry, particularly for clubs that were not prepared or failed to plan effectively. Some clubs are addressing issues that could potentially jeopardize their long-term success. As a result, a growing number of club boards are re-evaluating their expectations for the role and performance of the general manager.

These clubs have indicated they want to retain forward thinking and innovative leaders who will serve as “change agents” for the club. Managers should take note and ensure that they have the business acumen and strategic foresight to evolve and meet these new expectations. Some general managers may be comfortable filling the role of “caregiver” and very committed to service, but may not be as business savvy or seasoned as they need to be. Business demands have deeply influenced all of the hospitality industry—including even the most traditional private clubs. Managers who fit very well in a stable and non-changing environment may be limiting their career choices as the needs of clubs are changing.

General managers have expectations that are also evolving. Today’s emerging and top talent wants to play more of a strategic leadership role in the success of the club and expects the club to provide more opportunities for professional growth. Many top managers also recognize that members are volunteers with increasingly less time to devote to board and committee meetings, and are increasingly relying on club management to address the complexities of running the business. Today’s private club managers need to be proactive and progressive “students of the industry” to ensure their clubs evolve with the changing needs and demands of their current and future members. This is particularly important in the areas of membership acquisition, retention and technology.

The value system in the club industry has shifted, putting a higher priority on business performance than tenure. It seems more and more club boards are asking “what have you done for me today” rather than looking for years of stewardship, which may or may not reflect strong performance.

We see these changes first hand both from the boards and the general managers. Boards need to determine what type of general manager they need in the short and long term. Likewise, general managers must decide what type of manager they want to be and realistically, the type of club with which they best fit. Are they starters or finishers? It’s difficult for most executives to be both.

Dan Denehy is the president of DENEHY Club Thinking Partners, an executive search and management-consulting firm that has handled nearly 300 projects for more than 100 private clubs and boutique resorts. He can be reached at [email protected] or learn more at