GSI Executive Search Blog

Selecting a Private Club Executive Search Firm – the 7 Qualities That Truly Matter

By Scott McNett, | Senior Principal, GSI Executive Search

Private clubs – from country clubs, athletic clubs, city clubs and yacht clubs to other business and professional clubs – are at their core people-centric organizations. They are run by people for people. It’s critical, therefore, that the people who run your club and service your membership at every level are the best, the brightest, and the most committed to providing premier service.

When it comes to hiring executive positions at private clubs, there is much to be gained through a great hire—and an equal amount to be lost with one that doesn’t measure up. With intense competition for members, clubs ill afford to make inadequate hiring decisions, whether they’re for a general manager/COO, food and beverage director, executive chef, director of golf or tennis or otherwise. Doing so is a disservice to your club and its members—and it can negatively impact your club for years.

Turnover in the private club industry is traditionally high. In fact, the average tenure of a private club general manager is four years. If your private club hasn’t faced a hiring challenge lately, chances are excellent that it will—soon.

Private clubs know the stakes when it comes to hiring decisions—and many of them throughout the U.S. wisely don’t leave executive recruitment to chance. Rather, they hire executive search firms that specialize in placing premier professionals at private clubs.

In our more than 20 years as a leading private club and hospitality executive search firm, the professionals of GSI Executive Search know first-hand what it takes to recruit and place successful talent throughout the private club job ranks. Through development and implementation of our proven process, we’ve identified 7 key variables that distinguish truly exceptional private club search firms. If your club’s board of trustees or search committee is considering a private club search firm for an upcoming search, we encourage you to consider these 7 qualities in your selection criteria:

  1. Experience, expertise and credibility: The private club search firm you select should be comprised of industry veterans who understand club, hospitality and resort operations inside and out. Ideally, its practitioners should have club management experience and a deep track record of club association leadership. That experience, combined with their insights and professional network, help to ensure that your club benefits from best practices and stays ahead of emerging industry trends.
  2. Executive-level focus: The search firm’s principals should be involved at every stage of the recruiting and placement process—from interactions with the board and search committee through candidate evaluation, negotiation and placement. You deserve the firm’s A-team, and you should get it.
  3. Adherence to process from start to finish: A strong and proven process is a true difference-maker in private club executive search. The firm you select should utilize proven methods (we call them phases) at every stage of every search, while developing a partnership/long-term relationship with the club. Nothing should be left to chance. Timelines are strict and should be followed with diligence. Additionally, that firm must have the necessary infrastructure, experience and capability to handle requirements of all sizes and scopes.
  4. A collaborative approach: Through our experience, we’ve found that private club search firms deliver optimal results when partners work collaboratively and collegially, sharing best practices, insights and experiences to deliver results that stick.
  5. Top-quality candidates that match with your unique requirements: The private club executive search firm you select should approach each search as a new assignment, rather than rotating an established cast of candidates through multiple searches. Additionally, it’s contingent on the club to understand the type of organization it really is – e.g., policy-driven vs. committee-driven—and communicate that to the search firm’s partners. That helps facilitate the selection of appropriate candidates. After all, you don’t want to hire a collabrative, policy-driven general manager if your club is historically committee-driven.
  6. A written placement guarantee: Your executive search firm should offer an unyielding placement guarantee – in writing – that spells out specific guarantee terms. At GSI, we provide an unconditional guarantee on all our placements. We will replace in a timely manner any of our placements that resign or are terminated prior to the guarantee date at no additional professional fee.
  7. Follow-up and post-hire consulting services and support. Ideally, an executive search firm’s value doesn’t end after the candidate is hired. That firm and its professionals should have the expertise to help clubs and their new hires acclimate to one another through a variety of strategies, including coaching and mentoring. This helps to ensure the success of the placement which is, after all, a sizable investment.

Finally – and it should go without saying – the private club executive search firm you hire should demonstrate the highest degree of integrity, honesty and ethics in all its dealings. Talk to friends, colleagues, industry professionals and members of other club boards and committees. Get their feedback and take their advice to heart. Good, capable and experienced professionals are, in the end, best suited to  helping private clubs land placements that stick over time and drive continual improvement in the member experience..

About the Author

Scott McNett is the Senior Principal with GSI Executive Search and is based in the firm’s Midwest office in St. Louis. He has executed roughly 400 successful placements of senior and mid-level management with two club- and hospitality-specific search firms. His 30 years of professional experience spans executive search, homeowner associations, professional sports, sports marketing and management, health and tennis club operations and community service. You can reach Scott by email or at 314-854-1321.