By Dave White
Tony D’Errico landed his first general manager’s job at the age of 26, albeit it at a small start-up, developer-owned golf club in southwest Florida.
“I’ll never forget my first day on the job, meeting my very first club member – a snarky fellow right out of central casting, who looked like Jackie Gleason in the Hustler,” D’Errico recalled recently.
“With a cigarette dangling from his mouth and gesturing toward the other members, he said, ‘Good luck keeping all these (bleeping expletives) happy.’ Welcome to club management!”
Well, as the saying goes, ‘time flies’ and many years later D’Errico, is now president of the Club Managers Association of America. D’Errico, elected at the recent CMAA World conference in San Antonio, Texas, succeeds Damon D’Orio, president for 2014.
D’Errico, CCM, CCE, heads an organization that’s front and center in the private club industry, a $14 billion business.
D’Errico worked in the restaurant business throughout his college days and immediately thereafter…”just long enough to know I didn’t want to make it a career. Food and beverage management was, nevertheless, a marketable skill that I was able to use as an entree to the club industry,” he explained.
Today, along with being the CMAA’s new president, D’Errico is general manager/chief operating officer of Westwood Country Club in St. Louis, MO. He’s been with Westwood Country Club as the general manager/chief operating officer since 1999. Previously, he managed Champion Hills Country Club, Hendersonville, NC, and that much-remembered first club – Riverwood Golf Club in Port Charlotte, FL.
“I was fortunate enough to work for a company – the Mariner Group – that believed deeply in professional development,” D’Errico added. “My vice president introduced me to CMAA and suggested I join.” He did, in 1993.
“CMAA didn’t just help me with my industry education. It HAS BEEN my industry education,” D’Errico exclaimed. “With only a working knowledge of food and beverage… and being on the developer side of the business for the first eight years of my club career, I found both BMI (Business Management Institute) and chapter programs to be a Godsend. They were ‘drug-like’ for me, in that the more I consumed, the more I wanted.”
It all led to greater involvement in CMAA. D’Errico has served on many national committees, including the certification committee, the career services committee, the technology committee and the Premier Club Services Committee. He has also been a member of the International Wine Society since 2005.
And at the chapter level, D’Errico served on the board of directors as president and vice president for the St. Louis Chapter. He also served as the regional director for the both the Carolinas Chapter and the Florida Chapter. His commitment to CMAA has been unwavering.
Now as president, D’Errico faces the challenges of 2015.There are several he plans on meeting head on, and CMAA’s hallmark designation, the “CCM – Certified Club Manager”, is on his list.
“One of CMAA’s greatest long-term challenges is to broaden the reach and recognition of our hallmark designation, the CCM – to include club board rooms. This is critical, because while demand for the CCM remains very high among club managers, market demand for club managers with the CCM credential will impact our sustainability even more. And make no mistake, that kind of market demand comes from the board room, not the manager’s office,” he injected.
However, “the biggest challenge the private club industry must successfully overcome is the decline (and sluggish recovery) of golf. While not every club offers golf, most do, and most are impacted by its decline,” D’Errico opined.
“Managers everywhere are reacting to this by diligently attempting to ratchet-up the value proposition in other areas of the club. Of course, we can deal directly with the things that ail the game – cost, time, degree of difficulty and access – but without offering relevant facilities and programming for the entire family, that could be a losing battle.”
On the other hand, club governance is perhaps the most challenging hurdle club managers face, eliminating archaic governance forms in favor of a collaborative experience.
“While tremendous progress has been made over the years by CMAA in advancing the ‘management to leadership’ model, there are still clubs with archaic governance in place.
“Time spent by club managers reacting to dysfunctional governance is time spent away from more important things, such as business analysis, strategic and tactical planning, program development and teambuilding,” D’Errico added.
And for D’Errico, it also will be a year of helping CMAA’s new CEO Jeff Morgan assimilate to his new duties. A year ago, then-President Damon D’Orio launched the search committee to find a successor to long-time CMAA CEO Jim Singerling, who retired in late 2014.
“I’m very proud of our board for the manner in which we conducted this search and placement. Jeff is doing an incredible job so far, but more specifically throughout the coming year, a great deal of the board’s time will likely be spent on issues relating to CMAA’s ‘alignment’ – alignment with the needs and expectations of our chapters, partners, affiliates, allies and, most importantly, our members. In short, it is this board’s top priority to evolve CMAA into a more transparent, member-centric organization,” D’Errico explained.
So how does Jeff Morgan’s vision of CMAA’s future align with CMAA’s board?
“To use one of Jeff’s terrific buzzwords, we are ‘co-creating’ that vision right now!” outlined D’Errico. “In order to do so, we must first bring into focus a clearer vision of the industry’s future – and along with it, a better understanding of the competencies managers will need to be successful.
Advancing our profession and fulfilling the ever-changing needs of our members – and the clubs they all serve – is our mission and our future.”
This of course, happens to be in concert with the activities of general mangers and their boards.
“While the jobs themselves clearly differ in today’s best-run clubs, the GM and the board are thought partners,” D’Errico offered. “It is the aim of our association, long-term, to become an even better resource for our members by providing educational tools for the club’s volunteer leadership along with its management team.
“We’ve already started this with our newly-introduced ‘Presidential’ track education at the World Conference and plan to continue it by creating distance learning opportunities through CMAA University,” D’Errico added.
It’s been an interesting road to the top for President D’Errico, and as always there have been many who have had an influence on D’Errico’s career.
“My first club president, Bryan Brown, still a dear friend today, influenced me a great deal, and at an extremely impressionable time in my life,” D’Errico related.
“He demonstrated for me the importance of character in leadership and taught me how to understand people. Most of my mentors today – and, trust me, it’s a long list – are friends and colleagues: Damon DiOrio, Kevin Carroll, Rick Baylis, Barbara Heninger, Bobby Crifasi, Michael McCarthy, Mark Bado, Jim Bahlinger, Jeffrey Kreafle, Tom Bertani, Bill Maynard, Bob Bisesi and my pastor, Michael McIntyre.
“They’ve all influenced me in a variety of ways, but what inspires me most are the qualities they share: unwavering personal integrity, authentic kindness and genuine respect for others.”
Despite the growth and recovery of the private club industry, there’s been a sticky point for D’Errico, and he’s anxious to make amends.
“The mainstream media declared war on clubs right after the great recession – and we can no longer allow them to (mis)tell our story,” D’Errico lamented.
“The industry’s economic, charitable, environmental and health benefits are indisputable. And yet, clubs continue to be misunderstood by the general public and our elected officials.
“Coalitions like ‘We Are Golf’ are vital to the effort, but in order for clubs to be universally embraced, the mainstream media must become our ally and start telling the real story – the more compelling story – of this wonderful industry. And we must tell our compelling story more often, because if we won’t tell it, no one else will,” D’Errico added.
“My leadership style is heavily influenced by my faith and my family life,” explained the CMAA president who was raised in Oyster Bay, New York by a mother who taught high school math and science, and a football coach dad.
“It’s pretty clear to me that the life lessons I experienced growing up in this family – the virtues of honesty, hard work, selflessness and humility – formed the foundation for the leader I eventually became.
“I’ve enjoyed every stop on my career path, but I am especially proud of my affiliation with the members and staff of Westwood Country Club, where I’ve served as the GM for the last 15 years,” offered D’Errico. “Westwood is a special place; an institution that, above all else, values people and charitable giving – and has for over a century.”
An avid sports fan, D’Errico “loves the New York Giants, the St Louis Cardinals and the PGA tour – and not necessarily in that order.”
A lifetime golfer, he managed to get his “handicap into the single digits in my early 20s (but alas, it hovers mercilessly in the high teens today). I’m addicted to tennis.
I enjoy reading, rigorous fitness, travel and, recently I’ve become a self-described, classical music nerd,” he enthused.
“My family and I support the ministries of Living Word United Methodist Church, where I’ve served on various committees, taught senior-high Sunday school and play the guitar in our praise band.”
D’Errico and his wife Jenny have been married for 25 years. “We have two awesome kids: Nick (24), an engineer with Honeywell in Kansas City and Michael (20), a junior at Belmont University’s School of Music in Nashville,” added D’Errico.
D’Errico undoubtedly has enjoyed some interesting and successful times in both his private life and the private club industry…right from his first day at his first club, where he met that snarky cigarette-smoking member with his ‘inspiring’ words of wisdom.
Unquestionably, the interesting and successful time will continue for Tony D’Errico as CMAA’s president for 2015. . .carpe diem!