Let’s Talk Club Management Ep. 12 – Springtime and Safety

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April is here and with spring weather comes thoughts of days spent outside, by the pool. Consequently, that also means that pool and aquatic safety is also top of mind for many club management professionals. This month, Kyle and Melissa are joined by C.W. Cook, MCM, CCE as he discusses his MCM Monograph: Aquatic Risk Management and Best Practices for Clubs.

Alan Achatz, CCM, CHE also joins the podcast this month to further the safety conversation with his expertise.

As always, you can find us on iTunes - please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe so you don't miss an episode!

Kindness: Give Magic and Get Magic in Return

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Sometimes in life you may notice things if you are a noticer! Often, messages are put in front of us many times before we take note of them. I guess the opportunity is there for all of us is to pay attention to the messages that are being sent.

Recently, I have been observing a lot of examples of human kindness. Perhaps they are always around in abundance but for me, they have truly been front and center during the past few weeks. I have observed big acts of kindness and little acts of kindness. I have received some and I have delivered some and with each observation I have observed an increase of energy, happiness and recognition.

At a recent conference, a young man named Mike was asked by Shelley MacDougall to come up and tell a story that started with his confession that often he has been guilty of not paying attention. He said that when you have your headphones on and the people around you don’t seem important to you, it is possible to miss a lot. After hearing some speakers at the conference, he decided to go out and pay attention.

He decided to go to a nice restaurant for dinner and as he approached the restaurant a homeless man asked him if he could spare a quarter. I might add that this was in a northern Canadian city where the temperatures had been colder that minus 30 for 5 straight weeks. Mike told the man that he was worth a lot more than 25 cents. He asked him if he would consider having dinner with him. The man accepted but was reluctant when the restaurant would not let him bring the shopping cart with his worldly possessions in with him. When they agreed that they would keep an eye on it for him he felt comfortable in joining Mike for a meal. Mike asked him what he would like for dinner and he said a piece of garlic toast. The restaurant didn’t have that on the menu but gave him a hamburger bun with some butter with garlic in it. Mike observed that he ate the bun with more butter on it than he had ever seen someone eat. Although the man who Mike came to know as Jimmy thought that was dinner, Mike convinced him to have more. He had a salad, a steak, and some fries. When asked if he would like anything else Jimmy asked if he could have a glass of milk.

Mike spent an hour and a half with a man that was more than twice his age. He learned that the man learned to live on the streets and fend for himself when he was 12 years old. He got married and had a family, but he lost everything and was now a 62-year-old man who had been on the streets for 19 years. He confided in Mike that the meal he was just given was the first one he had in three days.

After dinner when Jimmy had his cart again, he asked Mike if he would like to see his home. Mike reported that Jimmy took to a place between two industrial trash containers – Jimmy’s place in the world.

Mike (who is 29 years old) finished his story by asking the people in the audience to focus on gratitude, humanness, and embracing the moment. The audience who was there to see Shelley speak gave Mike a standing ovation.

Maybe it was because he had done something that few would have the courage to do. Maybe it was because they were truly inspired by this act of kindness. Maybe it was because he made them all feel so grateful, in touch with the human condition and his ability to be in the moment.

Because of telling this story, Mike has been the recipient of kindness. People have given him kind words of appreciation. People have donated to Mike’s favorite charity. People have shared his story. He has an increased desire to show kindness and pay attention to the kindness he receives.

Someone introduced me to a show on Netflix called “The Kindness Diaries”. I have watched 6 episodes and I am enjoying the kindness journey around the world.

If you have ever heard me make a presentation you will know that I often talk about the power of our words. I reference Don Miguel Ruiz and the Four Agreements which suggests that our words can be magic or poison.

If we give poison, we tend to get poison in return. If we give magic we tend to get magic in return. If this is true with our words it is also true with our actions.

I don’t believe that Mike did this act of kindness to get something in return, but I am sure he would tell you that what he got back was ten times what he gave.

What would it be like if our clubs, our marriages, our families, our communities, and our society simply had an increase of paying attention and kindness?

KevinA good way to find out is to start, continue or expand the level of kindness that you deliver. When will you be able to deliver some kindness? How many acts of kindness will you deliver today?

It doesn’t have to be big. It could be a smile, a greeting or a thank you!

May you be the recipient and deliverer of great kindness!

Kevin MacDonald and Shelley MacDougall are the coaches for CMAA. To connect with them please call toll free 1-866-822-3481 or e-mail Kevin@thecoachingdept.com or Shelley@thecoachingdept.com

Let’s Talk Club Management Ep. 11 – The Chairman

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It's a double-podcast month! The official March episode features our new Chairman - Randy Ruder, CCM, CCE. It was great to sit down with Randy, discuss his vision for his coming year as Board Chairman, his priority areas, and learn a little bit more about his personal journey in club management. We were also joined by Andy Reetz, General Manager and CEO of Champions Run in Omaha, Nebraska, and Ben Lorenzen, the Club's Creative Director, to discuss the Environmental Impact Idea Fair Entry that won the Showstopper Award at the 2019 World Conference.

As always, you can find us on iTunes - please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe so you don't miss an episode!

The Mother of All Assessments May Be About to Hit Members of Private Clubs and It Won’t Be for Clubhouse Repairs

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You are relaxing in the men’s lounge of the prestigious Jupiter Fields Country Club sharing a cold drink with your golfing buddies after the best round of golf you’ve played in years when the Club Manager hurries into the room holding a crumpled piece of paper and announces that the Club will be closing in 30 days unless it can raise $8,000,000 which will mean a $300,000 assessment for each member. This is beyond shocking to you because Jupiter Fields is one of the most exclusive clubs in the country and although the Club never bothered to incorporate it has no debt. You know this because you serve on the Finance Committee and you have seen the books.

The room is in an uproar. An explanation is demanded. The General Manager tells you that the landscape contractor that has serviced the Club for 50 years is going bankrupt and the Club has been notified that it owes the contractor’s union pension plan $8,000,000 in something called “withdrawal liability”. But, you say, the Club is current is in all the contributions it is required to make to its own union pension plan. How can it be responsible for the contractor’s pension obligations? The General Manager looks at the crumpled piece of paper and tells you that the trustees of the contractor’s pension plan consider Jupiter Fields a “joint employer” of the contractor’s employees and, as such, responsible for the contractor’s share of the “unfunded liability” of their plan. What the General Manager does not know is that the $300,000 assessment may be even higher for some of the members because the Club is not incorporated which means that the members are jointly and severally liable for the Club’s debts.

This is not some fantasy. This can and probably will happen to some clubs unless they act now. The story of how we got to this point is sadly reminiscent of the evolution of the crisis with Social Security and it’s largely a story of mistakes, incompetence, and Congressional inaction.

Lost amidst the chaos caused by the recent shutdown of the federal government was the failure of the Standing Committee on Multi-employer Pension Funds to issue its report containing recommendations to address and correct the financial crisis facing underfunded multi-employer defined benefit funds before the entire system collapses. The Standing Committee, touted as being a bi-partisan effort to forestall the impending financial disaster for millions of retired union workers, quietly announced in a statement over the 2018 Thanksgiving holiday that it would not meet the November 30, 2018 deadline for the report. No further information was provided.

“Collapse of the entire multi-employer pension system?” “Millions of workers affected”? How is it that we didn’t hear of this before? The answer is that for years the problem has been ignored. Multi employer plans, sometimes referred to as “Union” Plans or “Defined Benefit Plans” collect money from employers pursuant to the terms of their agreements with labor unions. The money is supposed to be invested in such a way that the income earned on the investments together with the contributions received from employers based upon hours worked by active employees generates enough revenue to pay for the specific amount of pension benefits guaranteed to retirees. To do this, actuaries are hired to make a variety of mathematical calculations considering, among other factors, the anticipated life expectancy of retirees, and the number of active employees for whom contributions will be made over time. If those assumptions are incorrect or the investment decisions of the plan trustees are poor, there won’t be enough money in the plan to pay the “vested” level of benefits guaranteed to each retiree and the plan is said to be “underfunded”.

Unbelievable as it may seem, Congress has been aware for decades that many multi-employer funds have been underfunded.

Ok, you say, but what does all this have to with Jupiter Fields? The answer is that under legislation passed by Congress in 1980 and a decision of the National Labor Relations Board called Browning Ferris, employers, including private clubs may become legally required to bear the burden of the underfunding despite the fact they may not be unionized themselves or, if they are, have never been delinquent in their contributions.

Some of the largest plans are projected to become insolvent within a few years. The extent of the disaster has been highlighted by a statement recently released by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (“PBGC”). The PBGC which is the federal insurance company with the mandate of backstopping insolvent multi-employer funds, has announced that its multi-employer account would be depleted by 2025. The year 2025 is the same year that the Central States Pension Fund with 400,000 participants will become insolvent. If nothing is done to address and correct the problem, the safety net for these pension obligations will cease to exist.

Although extreme, the Central States dilemma is not unique nor isolated. The PBGC has estimated that approximately 130 pension funds with 1.3 million participants will become insolvent in the next twenty (20) years! Those obligations will fall upon contributing employers across the American economy and private clubs will not be immune. The statutes which govern all non-public retirement funds mandate that employers become liable.

Specifically, pension funds are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) and by the Multi-employer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (“MPPAA”), which made employers responsible for those pensions if a fund was underfunded.

Under MPPAA, upon the occurrence of specific triggering events, employers, without any culpability for underfunding, will become liable for the underfunding. The liability known as “withdrawal liability” often runs into millions of dollars. Once imposed, it will be borne by employers including clubs and, in one form or another, borne by individual members depending on the structure of the club. In some cases, the liability will be paid by the members in the form of increased assessments. However, unlike typical assessments for projects such as repairs that can be delayed, payment of withdrawal liability must be addressed and paid upon demand. Failure to do so can result in judgements against the club and possibly against the members!

Withdrawal liability occurs when there is a cessation of operations by an employer or if the employer ceases to have an obligation to contribute. This is a “complete withdrawal”. An employer could also suffer a “partial withdrawal” if there is a significant reduction in pension contributions. Some events such as a complete shutdown of an employer’s business are within the control of an employer. However, in the case of some triggering events, an employer has no control or even knowledge. Those include a decertification; or a disclaimer by the Union.

Recent cases have extended the liability to entities such as purchasers of assets. In addition, as noted earlier, federal labor law has provided a fertile ground to extend the responsibility through the application of its “joint employer” doctrine, pursuant to which a club can incur withdrawal liability as result of a triggering event caused by an affiliated company or a third party like a contractor.

Moreover, increased assessments are not the limit of a member’s liability. The structure of a club and its charter may expose member to liability because he could be viewed as an owner. Many private clubs are unincorporated associations. An unincorporated association has no legal identity of its own. Legally it is a collection of individuals each of whom is jointly and severally liable for the club’s debts if the assets of the club cannot satisfy those debts. There are certain corporate forms that can be adopted to limit the exposure of individual members to club debts. However, in some instances, assessments are not affected by corporate structure. A club facing millions of dollars in withdrawal liability would certainly need to collect some or all of the amount due through assessments that the members are obligated to pay by virtue of their agreements with the club.

An example of the imposition of withdrawal liability is the Rancho Murietta Country Club in California. Rancho Murietta had a collective bargaining agreement with Operating Engineers, Local 3 covering the club’s grounds, maintenance, and heavy equipment operators. The agreement required the Club to contribute to a pension fund which became severely underfunded. The Club was always current in contributions to the pension fund. For business reasons it was determined to be in the best interests of its members to sell the Club. A buyer eventually came forward but did not want to assume the union agreement. Consummation of the sale would have resulted in a cessation of contributions to the underfunded Local 3 Plan, which would trigger withdrawal liability. After the Plan learned of the club’s desire to sell, it notified the Club that it would assess withdrawal liability of $3,000,000 if the transaction was consummated.

The Fund’s strategy was successful as the deal fell through. At present, the Club continues to contribute to the underfunded plan. Only time will tell whether it would have been cheaper to pay the $3,000,000.

So, where does that leave clubs and their members? Are they powerless in the face of this impending disaster? The answer is that there are many things they can and should do immediately:

  1. Do not be an ostrich and hope that this too shall pass. Determine the annual withdrawal liability exposure of your club and of the vendors and contractors with which your club does business. Withdrawal liability is calculated for each plan year. ERISA mandates that a contributing employer on an annual basis may request and receive an estimate of its current withdrawal liability. Although there is an administrative cost to obtain same, it is worth the money. Under ERISA, a fund must provide the information. If it does not, an employer can contact the Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration and ask that agency to become involved;
  2. If you are unionized, review Plan documents such as the Trust Agreement, Plan Document and amendments as well as annual reports/filings which a fund is required to provide. If you are non-union but have business relationships with companies that are, require them to do the same and to share the results. You may not be able to afford to continue your relationship with some of them.
  3. Analyze potential triggering events for withdrawal liability and be sure to include affiliated clubs as well as contractors and vendors with which the club does business. These would include asset sales, corporate restructurings or collective bargaining strategies that might result in a cessation or significant reduction in pension contributions. For example, an employer might bargain to impasse on a demand that it cease making contributions because it feels that is cheaper for it to pay the withdrawal liability now rather than face even greater exposure in the future.
  4. Understand the corporate structure of your club. Are the members directly or indirectly exposed to withdrawal liability? If the club is an unincorporated association, it should consider adopting a corporate or LLC form. Does the club have an individual or corporate owner and, if so, will that individual or entity be especially vulnerable?
  5. Are there potential joint employers? How much does the club know about the potential withdrawal liability of the club’s maintenance contractor? Has the Club reviewed its agreement with that contractor as well as the extent of the club’s control over the activities of the contractor to avoid a finding of joint employer status?
  6. Determine if this a “special liability” situation. Is this a “Last Man Standing” scenario in the sense that so many other contributing employers are closing or laying off that your club may get hit with a big bill? The club needs to more closely monitor actions by its own union pension fund and its trustees to understand how the fund is being administered. One solution may be to form an association of unionized clubs to share information on particular pension funds or to develop coordinated bargaining strategies.
  7. If you are hit with a withdrawal liability bill, don’t despair. Although MPPAA is decidedly anti-employer and very complex, withdrawn employers have prevailed in arbitrations and have been successful in negotiating nominal settlements. The key to a successful defense of a withdrawal liability arbitration is for an employer to recognize the problem and to immediately pro-actively adopt a strategy to reduce its exposure. MPPAA purposefully contains deadlines which if missed will eliminate the ability to fight an assessment.

Finally, although it is possible that Congress may act in a decisive and constructive way, don’t count on it. The inability of the Standing Committee to meet its own deadline for a report on a legislative solution speaks volumes. This is the time for clubs and their members to become proactive. Failure to do so could mean disaster.

Paul A. Friedman is a Principal in the White Plains, New York, office of Jackson Lewis, P.C. Mr. Friedman has more than 35 years of experience in litigating cutting edge ERISA issues before the United States Department of Labor, United States district courts, bankruptcy courts and courts of appeal on behalf of employers, plan sponsors and fiduciaries of ERISA plans across a wide breadth of industries, including pharmaceutical, energy, telecommunications, entertainment, hotel and restaurant, trucking, construction, printing, healthcare, food services and financial services.

Robert Murphy is a Principal in the San Diego, California, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. With more than 40 years of experience as a specialist in labor and employment law, he is considered to be one of the nation’s most highly respected and creative lawyers in his field. His practice is equally divided between employment litigation, labor-related matters such as union representation campaigns and collective bargaining negotiations, and advising multi- state and multi-national clients with respect to the full gamut of employment matters.

Let’s Talk Club Management Ep. 10 – Nashville Edition

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Now that we've returned from World Conference, we sit down to debrief, going over some of the Conference highlights, recapping our big events, and sharing some record-breaking stats on this year's event in Nashville. We're joined by podcast superfan (and self-proclaimed "First Subscriber") Jeff Isbell, CCM, as he shares some of his favorite moments and big takeaways from his time at World Conference.

Hatch Show Print

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Time to Learn!

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I thought about putting a question mark behind those three words to pose the question to you whether it is time to learn or not? Then I decided to put an exclamation mark behind it because the chance to learn is always now. Even in times when we don’t intend to learn, the learning just seems to happen.

As a lot of readers prepare to go to the World Conference on Club Management here are some ideas that might support you in making this year’s conference your best yet.

It starts with intention! Whether we are talking about a learning experience, a conversation, a year, a month, a day, or a meeting, if you go into it with an intention you are more likely to get to where you want to go quicker. What do you want to learn? What ideas would you like to get? How would you like to feel? What outcomes would you like to get? Who would you like to meet? How will this year be different? How will you be different before, during, and after? What will you learn that can support someone else? How will you teach what you learn? What intention will you take to this learning experience?

Spaced Repetition! One of the simple secrets to learning is spaced repetition. Processing a piece of information once will result in about a 10 percent retention rate after six days. Processing the same information five or six times can result in a 90 percent retention rate. This is why good note taking and review is so important. Capture the key points you want to retain from any session and write them again on a page that summarizes the key points from sessions. When you attend your first session you think you will never forget what you learned in it and four days later you may forget you took the class. Find ways to discuss, teach, review the information you want to retain. I am always amazed when people come out of a session and say I have heard that before, as if it has no value if they have heard it before. Hearing it again could be a reminder. It could be a message that even though you have heard it before you didn’t employ it. It could be a deepening of the learning or it could mean that you really need to hear it.

T + F + A = R

Anyone who has heard us speak has heard us talk about this before. If you have already heard this, please hear it differently today. We call it the results formula. It stands for Thoughts + Feelings + Actions = Results. Please consider this formula as you prepare for the conference this year.

Thinking! What you are thinking can and will impact what you get out of the conference. Some thoughts that can work against people are “I already know it all.” “What is this speaker going to do or say that will impress me?” “This is boring.” “I have heard this before.” Thinking about what is going on back at the club and not being present. “I doubt that I am going to get anything that is going to help me.”

Conversely, “I am committed to getting at least one great idea or awareness from every session.” “I can learn from the topics that are not exciting to me.” “This is going to be my best conference ever.” “The information I need right now is about to show up.” “I am a great learner.” “I will make this an Extraordinary Investment of time and money.”

Feelings! The feelings are the fuel that will make the difference. The feelings of excitement, anticipation, passion, joy, laughter, and fulfillment move you in the right direction. The feelings of disappointment, judgment, sadness, anger, and fear will take away from your learning. How will you feel?

Actions! If you employ thinking and feelings that support your goals, then the last piece of the puzzle is putting it into actions. Early on we learned that what we hear we forget, what we see we remember and what we do we understand. There is a great risk that what you learn will be lost if it doesn’t result in some action. What you learn is important, what you do with it is more important. You can decide to implement it, discuss it, teach it or pass it on but we hope you decide to do something that enhances your learning.

One last thing for those who are going to Conference. Booking a coaching session may be a form of education you have not experienced. If you can please book one, and if they are full, please attend a group coaching session. Please make this your best Conference yet!

Whether you are going to a conference or just going about a new day there is an Extraordinary opportunity to learn. We hope you will!


Kevin MacDonald and Shelley MacDougall are the Coaches for CMAA. To reach them and learn more please call 1-866-822-3481.

Let’s Talk Club Management – Ep. 9 – Behind the Conference Curtain

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Happy 2019! We're kicking off the new year with an in-depth look at what's new for the 2019 World Conference. We sit down with members of the CMAA staff team to chat about their areas of expertise, and we hear some tips and recommendations for Conference first-timers from Jim Reisig, CCM. The countdown to Conference is officially on!

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes:


This Year Will Be Different!

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Maybe you took some time the last few days of last year or the first few days of this year to design what this year would be like. If you did, it is a good time to see how it is going and if you didn’t, we would encourage you to take the time to do so. Please contact us for some design tools and planning tools that we have created, along with a one-page dashboard to keep it all in front of you.

We observe in so many of our clients that success starts with knowing what you want and knowing how to ask for it. The truth is that a lot of people don’t know what they want. Some assume they should just want what everyone else wants and they set themselves up to go through the motions for another year.

“This year will be different?”

Take some time to dream! Take some time to think about what you would like to do! Think about what you would not like to do! Where would you like to go? Who would you like to meet? What would you like to accomplish? What would you like to get rid of? What will the highlights of your year be?

Whatever you have decided even if it has been something you have tried before let’s decide that this year will be different.

 Here is a formula you can apply to the things you are planning.

 T + F + A = R

 It stands for Thoughts + Feelings + Actions = Results!

As coaches we so often find that people go into their new year deciding on some goals and setting the actions that will get them there as if the formula is “A = R”. They also find that new actions don’t last very long or maybe the whole dream has been forgotten.

 “This year will be different!”

How do you need to think differently than you are currently thinking? What kind of thoughts might you have that are working in opposition to what you are determined to accomplish? How have others who have accomplished what you want to accomplish thought differently than you? We may have some programs running that have been there since childhood. Some people are convinced that they were never enough, that it’s “just the way I am”, I am big boned, money is evil, success is for other people, don’t get bigger than your britches. Old beliefs are just that, old beliefs. It is possible that who taught you about money, health, success, dreaming, or happiness when you were five years old were not experts in some of those fields. Now you have access to very different information so you can get a very different result. Remember, no matter what new and beneficial thinking you employ this year - you may need to uninstall the old program. If it continues to run alongside your new thinking it will either take you longer to get to your new goal or you may not get there at all. It is not just the actions that will get you the different result you are looking for, your thinking plays a big role in getting there.

If your thinking supports you and you employed the actions you have, you would have a better chance of reaching your new result. Now it is time to focus on your feelings. I know I have lost some of you by saying that. Many avoid thinking about or talking about feelings at all costs. You want to get your feelings working for you. You can have great belief in a plan and great actions to achieve it and still not get there because you just don’t care that much about it. This often happens when the result we are working toward is someone else’s and not ours, or maybe it is ours but we are doing it because we think that is what someone else wants.

Look at the result you are working toward. Do you really care about it? Are you passionate about getting there? How important is it to you? If you don’t have the drive, the passion, the discipline and the excitement about where you are going, it would be like having the vehicle to get there but not enough fuel in the tank. Don’t just set a goal because your boss or some coach thinks you should, decide on a goal that you are “all in” on and get used to being successful with the goals you set.

We observe that a lot of people use the same actions they use on previous attempts to achieve their desired result. Many of those actions may be great, some may not be as effective as they think and some might be working against them. Get some support with the actions you employ. Talk to experts, learn from people who have accomplished what you want to accomplish, find out how they thought, felt and acted on their way to the destination. It can also be helpful to anticipate some of the obstacles you might face or have faced before. What actions can you take to mitigate or eliminate those obstacles? What kind of actions can you set up that will support you in staying accountable?

If you set up some goals or results that are important to you and you truly spend some time setting up Thinking, Feelings and Actions that support you, then… this year will truly be different!


Kevin MacDonald and Shelley MacDougall are the Coaches for CMAA. To reach them and learn more please call 1-866-822-3481.

This information is provided for informational purposes only. The contents are presented with no warranty, either expressed or implied by the Club Managers Association of America. No legal responsibility is assumed for the outcome of decisions, commitments or obligations made on the basis of this information. If your club is faced with a question concerning legal issues, you should contact the club’s legal counsel for the specific application of the law to your situation.