By Dave White
Sometimes the ordinary makes the news (dog bites man)…sometimes it’s the extraordinary (man bites dog) …the anomaly. And that’s the story with BoardRoom magazine’s Private Club Presidents of the Year for 2015. For the first time since BoardRoom magazine established this program of recognizing the private club industry’s top private club presidents eight years ago, there are two double entry recipients selected as BoardRoom’s Distinguished Presidents.
“It’s an anomaly. It’s an exceedingly different and enterprising situation and we’re delighted to honor two clubs, each with two presidents, as our Distinguished Presidents for 2015,” explained John Fornaro, BoardRoom magazine’s publisher and CEO.
“In reviewing the more than 400 applications from clubs in several countries, we felt we had to recognize the presidents David Mackesey and Hank Salvo from the Diablo Country Clubs, near Danville, CA, and Heather Nagle and Paul Basquin from the Ballantyne Country Club in Charlotte, NC as our BoardRoom Distinguished Private Club Presidents for 2015.
“These presidents from both these clubs have made exceptional contributions to their clubs and their members’ experiences, and it offered us an opportunity to do something different with our top private club presidents’ program,” Fornaro added.
“It certainly signifies another successful search for leaders who have contributed so much to their private clubs.”
The accomplishments of Mackesey and Salvo at Diablo Country Club were featured in a BoardRoom cover story in our January/February issue. This issue we honor presidents Nagle and Basquin of Ballantyne Country Club.
“I’ve had the good fortune of working with Ballantyne Country Club for many years now, and can certainly confirm that much of the credit for the club’s recent success goes to their presidents Heather Nagle and Paul Basquin,” explained Kurt Kuebler of Kopplin Kuebler & Wallace, the private club consulting firm that supports Boardroom in its annual search for the industry’s top presidents.
Ballantyne Country Club faced a most challenging issue …making the change from being a developer-owned club, to an equity club operated by a management company, to a club that made the decision to govern itself.
General manager Jill Philmon (also president of the Club Managers Association of American this year) joined the club in 2010 with the objective of completing a new master plan.
“The most challenging issue with a developer club is ‘buy in’ from the membership. With developer clubs, the member mentality is more of a resort/guest feel and less of that as an owner,” explained Philmon. “It takes a lot of education and information sharing to help members realize that investing in their club, especially if it’s a neighborhood club, members investing in themselves and their home value.
Also during a transition, there is a lot of miscommunication and not always a feeling of transparency between the membership and the board, especially when assessments are involved.” So at one point there was a lot of contention and mistrust, not an unlikely situation.
Fast forward to late 2013. The club was in the middle of many changes including efforts to get agreement on the club’s new strategic master plan. Heather Nagle assumed the presidency with the sole purpose of moving this plan along.
“President Nagle was extremely effective in open communication, and transparent with the membership in all areas of the plan including the club’s finances of the club. Her ideas to communicate with the membership were new and refreshing, creating a safe and trusting environment for the membership,” Philmon expressed.
Eighty-two percent of the members approved the plan…”an incredible accomplishment for President Nagle, whose term ended in February 2015. We came from a membership that didn’t feel the need to buy in, to a majority that feels great pride in the club.”
Enter President Paul Basquin…an insightful leader who understood how effective his predecessor has been in affecting change. He asked Nagle to stay on in an advisory position, to the great benefit of Ballantyne Country Club.
“To be honest, it’s been one of the most effective teams I’ve ever worked with. Had either of them had an ego, a self-driven agenda, or just not been willing to work as a team, it could have been disastrous for the club,” Philmon confided.
“They were so effective. We completed the project on time and on budget, and many of the members that voted against the plan have stated that they were wrong and are thrilled with the results. Our members trusted Heather and Paul and their leadership completely.”
The result? Ballantyne Country with its maintenance and capital improvement plan has during the past two years completed 99 percent of its projects, on time and on, budget…changes made with an extremely high level of membership satisfaction and use.
“Not a single member has come up to me since completing work on the golf course and other upgrades to complain about having to invest in these improvements. That’s the true testament as to how well this process has been handled,” commented member Darren Gale.
“The improvements we’ve made had an immediate positive impact on the members. You could see the uplifted spirits and pride everyone has about their club. There’s a spring in their step and a smile on their faces as they step into the club,” added club member Clark Jackson.
“Our course is in premier shape and members are able to play daily on a tournament conditioned course,” Philmon added. “And as you can see by Mr. Jackson’s comments, our members are extremely proud of their club and appreciate the added amenities.”
Does this team concept of two presidents make any sense? To Kurt Kuebler yes, it does. “Crossover and duplicity of effort and continuity of focus sounds like a great thing to happen in a club,” he expounded.
“He’s right and I’m delighted that the club, our members and and me, as the club’s general manager, have benefited from the Nagle/Basquin team,” Philmon explained.
Presidents Nagle and Basquin have supported GM Jill Philmon strongly. “They never get involved in operations, or as we call it, the “peas and carrots”, but more importantly they support my involvement in CMAA, and they support the staff and their education programs.
“It’s not just CMAA they support but all of the educational allied associations. We have a large education budget but they don’t see that as an expense. They see the value in the education and consider it an asset. They also very much believe in educating themselves.
“Each year the board has a weekend retreat, out of town, to work on governance issues, goal setting and evaluating the job they do as a board. My staff and I are successful because we have a board that understands their role and allows us to do ours,” Philmon opined.
“They’ve had great boards and board members, but Heather so clearly bought into the strategic focus that the board needed to take, and followed so adeptly by Paul,” added Kuebler. It’s a pleasure to see how well things can go when there is exceptional collaboration and an outstanding ‘hand off’ of the baton from one term to the next.
“There are way too many clubs today where that doesn’t happen, resulting in a waste of time, effort and money. When it goes this well and this smoothly, it’s a model to consider!” Kuebler offered.