GSI Executive Search Blog

Position Your Private Club Search Committee for Success – Six Strategies

From time to time, private clubs of every size and scope must fill key staff positions, be they general manager, CFO, director of golf or tennis, executive chef or other roles. For senior positions such as these, it’s customary for clubs to appoint a search committee to work with an outside executive recruiter such as myself or my colleagues here at GSI Executive Search. That committee plays a vital role in helping to select the best candidate for the job, and in the process of evaluation and selection, ensure that the best interests of the club – and all its members – are properly represented.

You want the industry’s top professionals working for your club and its members. That starts with hiring the right executive search firm; but it’s also critical to assemble an A-team search committee, and give it the structure and direction it needs to make the best possible selection. In this regard, I recommend six best practice strategies:

#1: Establish a proper committee structure. The search committee should consist of approximately six to seven members and should be chaired by an officer or a board member. This will allow for proper communication to the board, keeping them informed and part of the process. The chairperson also should be a current member of the executive committee, which allows for proper confidential communication to the board. In terms of personal qualities, this chairperson should bring impartial and objective leadership to the committee, representing both the board and the membership. He/she should have the ability to seek collaboration, work effectively with different personality types, and maintain the integrity of the process from inception through completion. In fact, I’d argue strongly that selecting the right committee chairperson is the most important strategy of all.

Additional structural considerations:

  • The committee ideally should include past leadership (former presidents or board members) who understand thetraditions and history of the club, as well as the strategic and financial direction of the club. Additionally, it should include future leaders and/or future board members—the rising stars that can help your club prosper well into the future.
  • The committee should represent major operating or standing committees of the club.

#2: Structure committee membership so that all member constituencies are represented. Many private clubs feature a diverse pool of members, including young families, sports enthusiasts, food and beverage aficionados and senior members. In order to be inclusive and represent everyone’s best interests, it’s crucial that you cover all constituencies.

Given that the six-to-seven-member size of the committee is relatively small, it’s preferable that each committee member should represent two or more constituencies. As a hypothetical example, one member could be a golf enthusiast, senior member and past president. Another could be a finance committee member and potential future board member who has a young family that uses the pool regularly.

However you go about accounting for these constituencies, it’s important that the committee pursue one vision and one voice in its pursuit of the ideal candidate. That means setting aside personal agendas and acting in the best interests of the club as a whole.

#3: Articulate the committee’s specific duties, and empower it with the proper authority. Search committees that work with an outside executive search professional such as myself should not be tasked with determining the proper skill sets and core competencies needed by the candidate. That’s the job of the search professional. Instead, committee members should leverage their professional and personal experiences and insights to evaluate candidates based on how well they meet those criteria, as well the intangible qualities that make candidates truly exceptional.

In terms of authority, while search committees can vary in authority, we at GSI Executive Search believe that in the majority of cases, a search committee should be empowered with total selection responsibility. At the outset, that authority must be voted on and approved by the board and memorialized in the minutes—and it must be communicated to all search committee members prior to formation. Certainly, the board should validate the selection as presented by the committee and authorize the compensation agreement. But the committee should have the authority to make that selection.

#3: Structure time commitments and expectations properly to get the job done right. Each committee member should be willing and available to actively participate in committee business during a multi-week process (often up to 12 weeks—and sometimes even longer). This includes attendance at committee meetings or in certain cases, remote attendance via Skype, FaceTime or other applications. Members who are absent or non-participatory don’t generally add measureable value.

#4: Establish a healthy committee culture. First and foremost, your committee should be structured to allow free and honest dialogue between members. It should be an environment in which everyone feels welcomed to share their thoughts, and personal agendas are set aside. Some people are naturally extroverted and feel comfortable expressing themselves in group settings; others are more introverted, and while they may hold strong opinions, they may be hesitant to share them in such group settings. It’s the job of the chairperson to build and nurture an environment where everyone has a say, and feels comfortable sharing it.

#5: Establish firm communication protocols up front—and hold to them throughout the process. Your search committee cannot operate in a total vacuum—it’s accountable to the board, the membership at large, the club’s senior staff, and even trusted outside vendors. Therefore, you should build a communication framework that provides appropriate information to these audiences in a proper manner. Let’s look at strategies for each audience:

  • It’s essential to keep the board informed at key points along the way. The committee should formally apprise the board of important developments  in order to help avoid potential conflicts.
  • We recommend to client clubs that they consider sending an initial letter to the general membership, co-written by the club president and committee chairperson, informing them of the search, outlining the process and time expectations and identifying committee members. We also strongly recommend periodic updates on the process through the monthly newsletter and/or e-blasts (depending on which approach your club currently utilizes).
  • Senior staff: It’s best to keep your senior staff in the loop on the process to maintain an inclusive and open environment and avoid potential conflicts that may arise as a result of non-communication. You can’t tell them everything; but chances are, your valued employees will appreciate the effort to keep them updated to the extent possible. Being up front in terms of communication is a good idea in all contexts—executive staff appointments are no exception.
  • Trusted outside vendors: Your club may have longstanding relationships with several vendors. Depending on the position being filled, those vendors may have questions or concerns about their continued relationship with the club after a hire is made. Sometimes, new executives or staff prefer doing business with vendors they personally know and trust. Therefore, outreach to selected vendors may be advisable, just to keep them in the loop as to process and timeline.

That said, communication to all constituencies must be carefully crafted so that a consistent and unified message is conveyed without giving up crucial details. That leads to our fifth and final strategy…

#6: Maintain confidentiality. The committee and all members must keep details of their work private at all times, in all contexts. This means not communicating confidential details to friends, colleagues, spouses and other loved ones. Candidates may be gainfully employed by their current club during the search process, so maintaining confidentiality not only ensures the integrity of the process, but it protects their vital interests as well.

Dan Farrell, CCM, is a Principal with GSI Executive Search and possesses 25 years of senior management experience as general manager/COO of several Platinum Level Clubs. During his career he has served as the Executive Career Services (ECS) chairman for both the Metropolitan Club Managers Association and the Connecticut Club Managers Association, assisting over 100 clubs in fine-tuning their governance models and filling senior management positions. Dan also supports nationally recognized hospitality programs as an advisory board member, mentor and guest speaker. You can reach Dan by email or at 514-852-0986.