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Private clubs are becoming increasingly dynamic as the industry continues to adapt to a changing and complex world—in part, thanks to the creativity and innovation enacted by individuals bringing a fresh yet respectful perspective to the private club experience.
In this issue, we spoke with Jeff Hartigan, GM/COO of The Oaks Club just south of Sarasota in Osprey, Florida. Jeff grew up immersed in the private club industry and brings nearly 15 years of professional experience to this role, including the prestigious title of CMAA Florida Chapter President for the 2016 year. Jeff’s warm disposition brings a wealth of knowledge, compassion and forward-looking initiatives to The Oaks Club, while enhancing the overall culture and experiences within the club—for both its members and staff alike.
CR: When did you first become involved with the private club industry?
JH: I was fortunate enough to grow up in the private club industry—although I may not have realized it at the time. My father, Greg Hartigan, is a recently-retired, long-time private club general manager. Actually, I remember many of our family vacations coinciding with CMAA conferences [he chuckled]. I hadn’t always planned to pursue a degree in hospitality management. In fact, my childhood dream was to become a pilot. I pursued that passion and completed all of the prerequisites up until the eye exam, when I found out I was color blind and would never be able to pursue that as my career.
After graduating high school, I realized hospitality was in my blood. Initially, I was attracted to the hotel business and followed that path by working for Hyatt Hotels, Orchid Hotels in Thailand, and then Fairmont Hotels in Canada. In the summer of 2001, I was preparing to start at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess on October 1st of that year; however, the 9/11 tragedy occurred and the opportunity was no longer available to me. I found myself unemployed and looking to the club business—I guess I was destined to find my way back here!
CR: What led you to The Oaks Club?
JH: I started my private club career at Cherokee Town & Country Club under the direction of John Jordan—one of the godfathers of the club management industry. After five years at Cherokee, I met my wife, and together we decided that Florida was the place we wanted to call home. Shortly after, an Assistant General Manager opportunity arose at Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club, and although leaving Cherokee was a tough decision, we ultimately decided to make the jump to Tampa. After three years in this role, I was offered a General Manager opportunity at Interlachen Country Club right outside of Orlando—I spent a lot of time with my children visiting Mickey Mouse…
Four years later, in 2012, I received a phone call regarding a GM/COO opening at The Oaks Club near Sarasota, Florida—which would take my family and me back to the coast that we loved so much. The Oaks Club would add the first gated community to my repertoire as well, and once I got to know the people, staff and culture, it became an opportunity I simply couldn’t pass up. I’ve happily been working at The Oaks ever since.
CR: How has your diverse hospitality background shaped your career?
JH: I’ve worked with a lot of really great managers and leaders in my career that have offered me multiple perspectives. I’ve had the benefit of working with visionaries in the industry—John Jordan (GM at Cherokee Town & Country Club), Bob Ley (GM at Palma Ceia), and certainly my father, who spent much of his career in Canada and overseas in the Orient, which offers me a unique perspective. But I also learned a lot from my hotel experience and have been fortunate enough to have really great strategic partners as Club Presidents during my time at Interlachen (Joe Meier) and The Oaks Club (Carl Koch). Those relationships have given me unmatched insight and guidance from gentlemen who are not in the club business. All in all, I’ve had a lot of different experiences that gave me a good understanding of people, which is what this business is all about.
I’ve been told that patience is one of my greatest qualities—my ability to remain calm in otherwise stressful situations has enabled me to problem solve efficiently and effectively. And my experiences, both from mentors and my own observations, have exposed me to different cultures and groups of people, helping me better understand and manage a diverse staff—how to treat them and get them behind you. Really, my main focus is not the members—it’s the staff. The Oaks Club’s team is my first priority. I believe if you employee great people and treat them sincerely so they understand our goals and our purpose, they will in turn treat members with that same respect and compassion. I’m lucky to have such a hardworking and dynamic team to help run a smooth operation here at The Oaks Club. John Jordan once said to me, “the difference between good and great is the attention to detail”—and I still live by that today.
CR: How has your experience as President of the Florida Chapter of CMAA impacted your career?
JH: Being President of the Florida Chapter in 2016 was hugely beneficial for me from a career standpoint—in part because I was able to expand my network substantially. The Florida Chapter is the largest of CMAA’s chapters, so being in contact with such a vast network of industry experts, consultants, Board members, etc. was extremely valuable and influential. It is great to be able to call on fellow managers, bounce ideas, get mentoring, and share industry trends with so many others who are experiencing similar issues. I was very fortunate to have this experience and it’s an honor to be able to call many of these people friends. Now, because I have relationships with so many other local GM’s, it’s much easier to call one of them up to book their club for our annual Board Retreats. These retreats are a valuable way to benchmark other clubs, and it’s an important experience for all parties involved. There are a lot of opportunities like that. It was a great experience being the Florida Chapter President—an experience I’ll never forget and often miss.
CR: How have you incorporated technology at The Oaks?
JH: Technology has been a growing part of our lives for years now—so for us, it’s all about weaving these advancements into our club experience as well. We’re seeing more and more of our senior members welcome technology as social media platforms like Facebook allow them to see photos of their grandkids and connect with family and friends from all over. With this idea in mind, we started implementing video into our community outreach and marketing efforts. Videos that are 3-4 minutes long are extremely effective and create a user-friendly way to get messages across to our members. Our videos receive great click-through rates and a ton of member engagement.
At the moment, we’re working on how to further enhance these videos so that we can continue spreading positive messages throughout the club—like news bits that share member success stories, celebrate when their grandkids graduate high school, or announce when a family member gets married. We can currently create the videos in-house, which makes it an easy and cost-effective way to connect to our members. This is sort of a passion project for me as well. Growing up, I spent countless days with my Grandad taping family events with his 8mm camcorder and helping him with the editing process. I can now bring this experience into the club to enhance our communications and be able to spend time at the club and at home working on a passion of mine.
CR: How does The Oaks stay involved in the local community?
JH: Most of our community involvement is done through our men and women associations. They both support a long list of philanthropic initiatives. Recently, our women’s association produced $75,000 in scholarships for 10 female recipients that they see as future bright stars. We have quite a few success stories highlighting what past recipients are doing today—and I feel honored to be part of a club with members who are so apt to giving back. We of course also host junior golf tournaments and a Birdie-a-thon, where all members come together to support local charities.
CR: What is the biggest change that you have noticed during your time at The Oaks?
JH: More smiles—from both a membership and staff standpoint! I’m ultimately here to help create treasured memories and impactful experiences for everyone involved at The Oaks Club. We give more hugs here than we do handshakes, and I think that’s a true testament to our culture. Our goal is to create a sort of oasis for our members; to relieve them from the negativity given everything that is going on around us in the world today. The Oaks Club is a place for members to escape—they come here for the warm fuzzies and we do our best to ensure our atmosphere consistently provides this.
Be on the lookout for more insights in future editions of our Meet the Manager series!
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