When Simon Meredith reflects on his career at Chicago's East Bank Club, it is the many deep relationships he developed over 35 years that stand out in his mind.
Meredith is retiring from his position as club manager on May 29.
"We've been a very successful club over the years," Meredith told Club Industry Thursday on his 61st birthday. "I have many long-term relationships with members and many long-term relationships with staff. I think that's what makes it satisfying. Whether it's customers or employees, that has a deeper resonance than it would for people who are in and out of jobs every couple of years."
The club has not made plans for Meredith's replacement public yet and Meredith said he has no immediate plans for the future.
"It's been long enough since the beginning," Meredith said of his retirement decision. "It's time to turn over the running of the club to younger people, people who can write the next chapter of East Bank Club. It's a good time to do that."
He joked about joining David Letterman in retirement, but said he is considering developing organic beer with hops grown at his farm in Buchanan, Michigan.
"We're staying in the city, and I'll be hanging out at East Bank Club trying to get fit," Meredith said.
Meredith's journey to East Bank Club started in 1975 when he left England after graduating law school at the University of Kent in Canterbury to visit his sister in Palo Alto, California. Meredith then took a cross-country trip to New York to see his good friend, John Feaver, compete in the U.S. Open at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills.
It was on the way back to California that Meredith received word a tennis club on the south side of Chicago was in need of a tennis pro. Meredith applied for it, and Frank Parker, a two-time U.S. Open champion, hired him at Evergreen Bath and Tennis Club at a salary of $15,000 per year.
"I had to move to Chicago, and I didn't know anybody," Meredith said. "That was 39 years ago. I never went back to practice law in England."
He went on to become the director of tennis at Evergreen and Hyde Park Racquet Club, and he served in that position until he was hired at East Bank Club six months before it opened.
Daniel Levin opened East Bank Club in 1980 with 3,000 members and 100 employees. Today, it has more than 10,000 members and over 700 employees.
Meredith said that technology has had the biggest influence on the industry during the course of his career.
"Whether it's equipment, membership, monitoring devices or accounting systems – the types of programs and facilities have often proliferated," Meredith said. "There's more choices for people, and it engages more people to stay fit and be healthy."
He also said that people who work in the industry have become more knowledgeable, educated and experienced.
"That has been a wonderful trend," Meredith said.
Technology and trends may have changed, but building meaningful relationships with members remained a major part of his professional life.
"I like a club environment where you get to know people," Meredith said. "I think clubs work better when you can watch people grow up, get new jobs and orient their careers. You can see the changes of the seasons, if you will. It's a tough thing to wind down."
When Meredith talks about hospitality, he is reminded of the sign outside the Notre Dame football team's locker room with the slogan reading "Play Like a Champion Today."
"It's about today if you're really running a club," Meredith said. "If you're in the moment and you're providing the very best service you can today, you don't worry about the past or future too much. That's what we've done here."