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Where has all the talent gone, or, where is it going? Experts’ Corner

Club management selection committees have incredibly clear, deep and diverse expectations when it comes to the skills, attributes and traits expected when considering a slate of candidates. Many clubs create incredibly high standards and expect a range of candidates to exceed those expectations. Some of those clubs are willing to pay for talent and others truly feel it would be a privilege for any manager to serve them. Conversely, many clubs have clear expectations about skill sets that are reasonable—yet finding talent to provide those comprehensive skills is an escalating challenge.

A baseline trait for hospitality talent is the clear presence of the hospitality gene—the “DNA of service” where one enjoys making members and guests happy. The majority of club managers is incredibly friendly, engaging and warm and wants to serve. Yet, today, the business skills required to run a club are both deep and diverse and becoming more so daily. Unlike organizations such as Disney or Ritz Carlton where there are well-defined processes and systems that are applied to entire business units, individual club managers are challenged to create HR infrastructure, internal control systems, standards of service, marketing plans and financial reporting systems that are a value to the management team and the board—two very different consumers. Oh, and by the way, you have to communicate and manage a group of invested, smart volunteers that frequently apply their own business paradigms to operating a private club, which is a very different business model.

Beyond the technical skills required to run what on average is an $8 million business, the best club managers must have political skills to handle the many viewpoints expressed by club leaders coupled with the traits of an entrepreneur. Not a usual combination.

As a result, the advancement of management companies in the private club industry is growing. Long established, traditional clubs that have historically been driven by the committee system and competent management are turning to regional and national management companies in increasing numbers. Scale in business is critical for sustainability and profitability (I know, a word I’m not supposed to use) but management company’s scale is their secret sauce—applying membership marketing strategies, aggregating accounting under one roof, applying broad reaching recruiting and onboarding staff techniques and standards of service to name a few.

It seems the private club industry is approaching a crossroad that will require rethinking, which may be a discussion more comfortable for some than others. I think I know where the talent is going.

Dan Denehy is president of DENEHY Club Thinking Partners, a full service executive search and management consulting firm serving the private club and boutique resort industries. The firm’s results oriented executive search for club leadership and management consulting has positively influenced the member/guest experience at more than 250 clubs and resorts on more than 650 projects. Learn more about us at or call us at 203-319-8228.