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CMAA 2024 World Conference Highlights: Leadership, Culture and the Art of Club Management

Welcome to my impression and recap of the 97th CMAA World Conference and Business Expo—a beacon of learning, connection and what I'd fondly term 'Netgiving' in the heart of Las Vegas.

It's no secret that this blog post might be a tad longer than usual, but every word counts when reflecting on an event brimming with industry innovation and wisdom. In the ensuing read, I hope to distill some of the most critical takeaways from the conference, hoping they resonate with you as much as they did with me. If you could not attend, I believe this will be a resource.

The CMAA once again did not disappoint, orchestrating a phenomenal event that became the confluence of ideas, experiences and professional camaraderie. From the spellbinding educational sessions orchestrated by renowned experts to the vibrant interactions that only a gathering of passionate club industry experts could spark, there was an unmistakable buzz—a symphony of inspired minds and the collective ambition to excel.

As we delve into the narratives of seasoned professionals like Will Guidara, Rorke Denver, De Maurice F. Smith, Susan O'Malley and Gregg Patterson, please bear with me, as their insights deserve our undivided attention. The hope is that by the end of this read, you will have gathered information and the inspiration to mold the landscape of your professional journey. With that spirit, let's explore the gems hidden within the days of dynamic discourse and unwavering enthusiasm that defined the event.

Will Guidara is an influential figure in the hospitality scene. He is known for revolutionizing the dining experience with exceptional customer service, particularly during his time at Eleven Madison Park (EMP) in New York City. Under his leadership, EMP garnered top accolades, such as four stars from The New York Times and three from the Michelin Guide, and it topped The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017.

Guidara's hospitality philosophy, which he shared in "The Art of Hospitality," co-authored with Chef Daniel Humm, is based on several core principles:

  • Empathy: He prioritizes the emotional needs of guests, striving to make them feel valued and understood.

  • Detail Orientation: He believes that attention to the smallest details enhances the overall guest experience.

  • Personalized Experience: He advocates for customized service, making each guest's visit unique and exclusive.

  • Team Empowerment: He fosters a work environment where staff are motivated to be creative and take the initiative in providing superior service to guests.

  • Creating a Story: Guidara sees every interaction as part of a narrative that includes the guest, making every moment memorable.

  • Exceeding Expectations: His mission is not just to meet but surpass guests' expectations, ensuring they are consistently amazed by the service.

This approach has made Guidara a respected name in creating memorable dining experiences with a lasting impact on the industry.

Commander Rorke Denver's teachings on leadership underscore the significance of prioritizing team objectives over individual aspirations.

By fostering a "team-first" mindset, he advocates for a culture where collective goals take precedence, leading to more robust, more cohesive teams in military and corporate environments. Denver highlights the critical role that clear and direct communication plays in the success of any mission or project. Drawing from his SEAL experiences, he emphasizes precise communication to ensure everyone is aligned and working towards the same goals.

Moreover, Denver stresses the importance of adaptability in rapidly changing environments. SEALs are known for their ability to pivot and adjust strategies quickly in response to evolving circumstances. This skill, he believes, is essential for businesses to thrive in today's dynamic market conditions.

By incorporating adaptability into their organizational culture, teams can stay agile and responsive, ensuring they can effectively navigate challenges and capitalize on emerging opportunities. Denver's emphasis on trust-building through shared hardship resonates strongly in military and corporate settings. By creating environments that challenge teams and foster unity through overcoming difficulties together, organizations can cultivate trust and camaraderie among team members.

This shared sense of purpose and resilience can strengthen team dynamics and enhance overall performance.

Training for excellence is another core principle that Denver advocates. SEALs undergo rigorous and continuous training to master every aspect of their craft. Denver believes this commitment to constant improvement is crucial for businesses seeking to maintain a competitive edge. By prioritizing skill development and upholding high-performance standards, teams can strive for excellence and drive organizational success.

In addition, Denver stresses the importance of decisive decision-making under pressure. SEAL missions often require rapid judgments with limited information, and Denver highlights the necessity for leaders and teams to make informed decisions swiftly and confidently. Organizations can navigate challenges effectively and capitalize on opportunities with agility and precision by developing a sound judgment based on experience and a clear understanding of objectives.

Lastly, Denver's principle of leading by example is central to effective leadership in any context. By exemplifying the behaviors, commitment and ethics expected of team members, leaders can foster a high-performance culture and inspire others to follow suit. Denver's strategies promote a set of practices that any team or organization can adopt to achieve operational excellence, drive success and cultivate strong leadership foundations in diverse industries.

De Maurice F. Smith, celebrated for his stint as an NFLPA executive, shared his approach to principled decision-making, highlighting their significant organizational and personal impact.

DeMaurice Smith is recognized for his contributions to sports and labor law. A University of Virginia School of Law alumnus, he worked in a D.C. law firm focusing on criminal defense and litigation before joining the NFLPA as Executive Director from 2009 to 2021. His legal and business acumen, honed through roles like Counsel to Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, informed his effective advocacy for NFL players' rights.

Smith endorses principle-based decision-making, which relies on moral and ethical frameworks, not just outcomes or self-interest. It involves clarifying personal values to guide choices, considering the broader effects of decisions, maintaining consistent application of principles, focusing on long-term consequences and upholding transparency in decision-making. This method is vital in leadership to ensure decisions benefit all organization members and maintain ethical and principal standards.

Susan O'Malley became the first female president of a professional sports franchise when she was appointed president of the Washington Bullets (now known as the Washington Wizards) in 1991. As part of her responsibilities with the organization, she was also involved with the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League (NHL). Both teams were under the ownership of Abe Pollin's Washington Sports and Entertainment.

O'Malley's tenure focused on improving the fan experience and increasing ticket sales. One of her significant achievements was the successful marketing campaigns and customer service initiatives that increased season ticket sales for the Bullets and the Capitals. Her efforts helped the organizations boost their profiles and become more customer-focused.

Before becoming president, she worked in various capacities for the Bullets and Capitals, including sales. Susan O'Malley's career in sports management has been influential as her success has paved the way for more women to assume leadership roles in a male-dominated industry.

O'Malley's seven rules for culture and management, drawn from lessons learned throughout her career and upbringing, reflect her strategic thinking and approach to leadership, team-building and organizational culture.

7 Rules of Culture and Leadership

  • Make your bed every day.

  • Plan your work and work your plan.

  • Continue to work on a skill.

  • Set expectations and make sure everyone on the team understands them.

  • If you get it wrong, make it right- don’t be afraid to ask how you can do it better.

  • Create a great environment- It is necessary to create a great culture.

  • It would be best if you manage your attitude and effort competently.

Ms. O’Malley presented everything with ease and a commonsense approach to leadership. Throughout her presentation, she tied everything back to the following: Be Nice, Listen to Learn, Give Constructive Feedback, Be Inclusive, Embrace Fun, Empower Others and always say thank you.

These rules of culture and leadership are designed to create a positive and inclusive work environment where employees feel valued and motivated to succeed in any environment.

I also attended numerous other sessions on board governance, board evaluation and operation behind the kitchen doors. Lastly, I participated in a session I believe all professionals at all stages of their careers need to hear.

Gregg Patterson is renowned in the club industry for his dynamic approach to club management and member relations. As the former General Manager of The Beach Club for over three decades, his extensive experience has allowed him to hone the principles and practices that make clubs thrive.

Through his sessions, like “When Love Ain’t Enough,” Patterson conveys his deep understanding of the factors that affect a professional’s tenure in their role, often blending humor with profound insights.

Patterson's message acknowledges the multifaceted reasons professionals may find themselves ousted from positions they love. He delves into the elements within one's control—like performance and member engagement—and external factors that may be less predictable. His approach is pragmatic, advising professionals to be vigilant, adaptable and highly attuned to the subtleties of their environment.

One of the key takeaways from Patterson’s philosophy is the importance of maintaining strong communication channels, not only with club members but also with committees and boards. The capacity to “read the room” becomes a critical skill, allowing club professionals to navigate the complexities of their roles successfully. By staying alert and responsive to the culture and dynamics of the club, professionals can preempt issues and sustain the “buzz”—the vibrant atmosphere that makes a club magnetic to its members.

Gregg Patterson emphasizes the need for continuous engagement and innovation to keep pace with an ever-evolving industry. Through his company, “Tribal Magic!!!”, he provides guidance, operational consulting and insights in his writing, sharing the magic of what he terms the “tribe” with those who share his passion for excellence in club management. His willingness to impart his wealth of knowledge makes him a much sought-after speaker and consultant in the club industry.

In closing, I extend my heartfelt gratitude and commendations to the CMAA National Conference Committee and National Staff for their exceptional work organizing the conference. Their meticulous attention to detail was evident in the seamless execution of each event—from the enriching social gatherings to the comprehensive Expo and, most importantly, the invaluable educational opportunities presented.

As a proud member of CMAA since 1987, having served as a national board member and past president, I've had the privilege of attending over thirty conferences. Each conference has been an essential event, consistently providing immense value not only to my personal growth but also to beneficial insights and applications for the betterment of our clubs.

Each year, I walk away with renewed enthusiasm and knowledge that reinforces my conviction in the conference's worth. It is an investment that pays dividends through enhanced leadership, innovative strategies and deeper community connections. Thank you, CMAA, for yet another remarkable educational experience. Here's to the continued pursuit of excellence in the club industry.

As always, please reach out and share your thoughts on the conference.



Lawrence J. Skip Avery CCM, CCE CMAA Fellow Club Development Director Stone Group Architects

To learn more about Stone Group Architects, feel free to contact me at SkipA@stonegrouparch.com // 608.335.0342 or visit our website via the provided link.


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