When Steven Schwartz speaks about his father, the pride of a son becomes evident quickly. He describes his father, Alan Schwartz, as charming, brilliant, quick, fun, generous and competitive — in a fun way.
“My dad is just so talented,” says Steven, president and CEO of Chicago-based TCA Holdings LLC, which owns Midtown Athletic Clubs. Growing up, he thought other children had similar fathers, but the more he looked around, the more he realized that few, if any, fathers were like his. After all, not many fathers would pull their children out of school to attend business meetings with them like Alan Schwartz did.
“My dad sucks the marrow out of life,” Steven says. “He just really lives. He's not a fancy guy. He's lived in the same house since I was 3. He doesn't drive fancy cars. He can mix with kings and carpenters and finds something interesting about each of them.”
When Steven speaks of his company's founder, Alan Schwartz, he also speaks admiringly.
“He's a master of finding ways to get to ‘yes,’” Steven says. “He's got that combination of intellectual horsepower and charisma and flexibility and psychological insight that's intuitive to him to get people to make deals. And he's a great partner. A handshake with Alan is a deal. He always lives up to his deals, and he usually does more. He's absolutely the best partner you could have.”
Of course, Steven's father and the founder of his company are one in the same person, and Steven has reason to be proud. By many people's standards, Alan Schwartz is a wizard at finances and real estate. He's also a philanthropist who has given his time and money to tennis charities and to research for understanding retinal diseases, a cause that's near to him because one of his grandchildren was born blind.
He's achieved tremendously in the fitness business, too. In 1969, he co-founded Midtown Tennis Club with his father, Kevie, and developed that business into 13 sports resorts (now called Midtown Athletic Clubs). Through three other divisions, TCA Holdings also manages corporate centers and wellness programs, deals in real estate and health club investments, and develops and licenses tennis products and programs. One of those programs is Tennis in No Time, a patented three-week tennis-teaching program that Schwartz co-created.
Alan pioneered the use of an industrial revenue bond as a vehicle to finance a multi-sport facility. He also helped write and teach the first management training course for club professionals. The course was offered at Michigan State University and later at Northwestern University, Boston University and Babson (MA) College.
Alan created the first industry facts and figures survey, now produced annually by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) as “Profiles of Success: IHRSA's Industry Data Survey of the Health and Fitness Club Industry.” He created the first industry-wide program for worker's compensation insurance.
Alan co-authored the National Tennis Rating Program. He was a guest TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Virginia Slims Tennis Tour from 1985 to 1990. He served as president of the National Indoor Tennis Association (NITA) from 1973 to 1974 and from 1978 to 1979. He served as vice president, first vice president and then president of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) between 1997 and 2004. Since 2003, he has represented the USTA internationally through the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
For all these reasons, Alan is receiving the 2007 Lifetime Achievement award from Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro magazine at the Club Industry show in Chicago next month.
When first notified about his selection for the award, Alan hesitated to accept it, saying that he didn't think he deserved it. He continues to downplay his role in the fitness business, focusing more on his accomplishments in tennis.
That's understandable, since for most of the past eight years he has stepped away from the club side of the business and focused on the USTA and ITF. Tennis has been in his blood since his father taught him to play as a child.
“I was always athletic, always loved sports,” Alan says. “That was an important activity for my family. Sunday mornings as a child with me and my two sisters and parents, tennis was the order of the day.”
He played tennis in high school and during college at Yale, where he was captain of the tennis team and earned national rankings as a junior and senior. He still plays tennis, although he stopped playing competitively 10 years ago when his ankle had to be fused after an injury. The 75-year-old won eight national championships, at least one in every age bracket from 35 years old to 65 years old.
Veterans in the industry know that Alan's contributions to the health club business go deeper than tennis and deeper than the accomplishments listed on his resume.
“What he did was create the foundation that the industry now stands on,” says John McCarthy, a friend of Alan's for the past 50 years, 25 of those as executive director of IHRSA, a position McCarthy retired from last year. “He did it in a way where what he achieved was more important than who achieved it. If you see a giant building like the Empire State Building, no one knows who laid the foundation for it, but there it is. Alan laid the foundation for this industry. The younger people in the industry have no idea who built the foundation, but there it is.”
Alan built that foundation by being a leader and inspiring more professionalism in the industry, McCarthy says.
“That means he has wanted to see this industry mature into a solid, strong, mainstream industry as rapidly as possible,” he says. “Therefore, he always ran his own clubs in the most professional manner possible in terms of staffing, training, facility upkeep. His clubs have always been impeccable in the way they look and the way people are treated. He set a high standard early in the industry, which set the baseline for what is considered a first-class health club. There is no one in the industry who hasn't been affected by him directly or indirectly in terms of setting standards.”
Alan also improved the professionalism of the industry by being one of the primary forces in establishing accounting standards in the industry, McCarthy says. With these standards, club owners can now keep their books the same way, which makes it easier for bankers to determine how well clubs are doing.
Bankers, investors and the industry have also been helped by Alan's push for IHRSA to provide research that would document in a real way the growth and development of the industry, starting with the Profiles of Success survey that he originated.
“Without these kinds of research and accounting procedures, the industry has no credibility with third parties,” McCarthy says.
Personally and professionally, Alan also displayed the highest ethical standards, even though he entered the industry at a time when the industry was notorious for having poor ethical standards, McCarthy says.
“He set the standards and said we are not going to be that kind of an industry. We are going to be ethical,” McCarthy says. “People rallied behind him. As a result, an entire ethical industry sprung up.”
Rick Caro, president of Management Vision, a New York-based consulting company for the fitness industry, first met Alan in 1973 when Alan was a presenter at the NITA convention.
“He came across as someone who was very knowledgeable and a sharer, so I introduced myself, and we started a business and a personal friendship,” says Caro, who was the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award winner. “I admired him early on for his attitude of sharing and his ability to really articulate his concepts in a way that people who were less knowledgeable than he would be able to understand. So in a way he was an early teacher for the industry and had creative ideas that he shared with the industry in general.”
Alan also showed the industry that a number of ways exist to structure deals, Caro says. Alan owned clubs with his family resources but also brought in investors. In other cases, he joint partnered with fellow club owners in different markets, which allowed his company to grow beyond Chicago.
Learning and teaching have always been important to Alan.
“There was a great emphasis on education by my family and athletics and the values you get from athletics — learning how to win and lose,” he says.
Not only did he help write the first curriculum for fitness professionals for a university program, but he also created a training facility for his employees. That program took off under Steven and TCA's former COO, Doug Cash.
“That is in keeping with our philosophy of advancing everyone professionally, from the janitor to the baby-sitter on up,” Alan says.
The company backs up the commitment with cash through a professional-development account in which employees can invest 1 percent of their wages. The company doubles that amount on the condition that the money is spent to develop the employees' professionalism in some way.
Alan also is involved in education by serving on the board of Duke University's business school and on the board of Roosevelt University in Chicago.
“At one time, I think he thought he might be a professor,” Steven says. “I just don't think there's enough action in it. He's not geared to be a good coach. He's a player.”
Despite all of his commitment to work, tennis, education, real estate and volunteerism, Alan hasn't lost sight of putting his family first, says Lee Hamilton, COO of the USTA. Alan has been married to his wife, Ronnie, for 49 years. Several of his four children and his grandchildren live near him, so he has time to connect with them.
“You have to work at these things,” Hamilton says. “It's a matter of time management. So many people will leave this planet wishing they had involved themselves more intimately with family, but Alan and Ronnie shouldn't have that.”
Steven also marvels at his father's ability to weave a busy work and volunteer life with family.
“Whether it was the real estate business or Midtown, that's what we talked about at dinner,” he says. “At a very early age, I remember helping my dad color early tax maps to evaluate property. I remember spending all day in the car as he drove around and looked at properties.”
But Steven didn't mind, and he says his siblings didn't, either. It was just part of being a member of the Schwartz family and living with a father who he calls “a larger-than-life character.”