Foundations Don't Have Names


We often go about our daily business without giving much thought to the people who came before us and made possible the processes we follow or the products we use. That's even more true when it comes to our jobs. Which of you have thought about the general manager at your club who 10 years ago implemented some of the training processes that you now take for granted, or the owner who originally opened your facility and chose the catchy name that has become such a well-known brand in your town?

I thought about this as I put together this month's profile of Alan Schwartz, our 2007 Lifetime Achievement winner. When I interviewed John McCarthy, former executive director of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) about the founder of Chicago-based TCA, McCarthy called Schwartz “the foundation of the industry.” Unfortunately for the club industry, Schwartz has been away from the club business for the past eight years, focusing on his passion — tennis — and helping to promote it through service to the United States Tennis Assocation and the International Tennis Federation. He still serves as chairman of TCA, and when he's not traveling on business, he still sits in an office next door to his son, Steven Schwartz, who is now CEO of the company. I wonder how many younger people in the industry were aware of Alan Schwartz and the other people who helped lay the foundation of this industry.

People come and go in our lives, and as we grow older, we don't always remember their names. What we do remember, though, is what they did to make our lives better. Schwartz has already given a lot to this business. He was a major force at the beginning of IHRSA, served on the advisory boards of many of the industry's trade publications and spoke at most of the industry's big conferences. But what he seemed to be most proud of were the processes and programs that he had a hand in that are still being used today — Tennis in No Time, IHRSA's annual Profiles in Success survey, accounting standards for club owners and curriculum for a management training course for club professionals.

People who use these processes or programs probably don't know who built the foundation that they take for granted. However, I don't know that really matters to Schwartz. He put it into perspective when he told me what he said to his family when his son became CEO of the company.

“I said that my objective here is to make my death a ‘non-event,’” he says. “By that, I meant I don't want the bankers wondering what will happen when Alan kicks the bucket or for the employees to feel that way. I have been entirely successful at that. Isn't one of the jobs of a CEO to provide for a smooth subsequent transition? I think it is.”

Schwartz laid a foundation for his business so that future generations could successfully carry on once he's gone. That's also what Schwartz has done in the fitness industry — helped lay a successful foundation for today's club owners to build upon, perhaps creating an industry even greater than the original masons could imagine.

Yes, that means that the work is not done. I don't expect that Schwartz is finished with the business, and if one of the founders is still happily toiling at this industry, then club owners who have come after him should do the same, knowing that the work they do will probably endure longer than their name.

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