Feeling the Beat

By | August 8th, 2017

Ray Kondziela, CCM, CCE

Throughout Ray Kondziela’s journey to Excellence in Club Management recognition, he’s followed his musical roots to bring special rhythms and excitement to his properties.

After Ray Kondziela, CCM, CCE, secured his dual degree in Music and Music Education from the Philadelphia College of The Performing Arts (now the University of the Arts), he set out to fashion a career that could combine those disciplines, as both a performer and educator. But he soon found that each pursuit had its own challenges, with new casino development in Atlantic City, N.J., changing the landscape for local musicians, and school-district bureaucracies proving to make teaching jobs something less than a sure thing, too.

Achievements Under Ray Kondziela’s Leadership
• Successfully led negotiations to secure Rust-Oleum Championship as Web.com Tour event for the Ivanhoe Club.
• Oversaw $4.5 million renovation of Ivanhoe Club’s three nine-hole golf courses, and $1.5 million interior renovation of 10,000 sq. ft. of banquet areas, including an increase of ballroom capacity from 220 to 300, that was completed in 70 days. Annual F&B revenues increased from $1.2 million to $1.9 million in six years following the renovation.
• Increased club participation within private gated community, where membership is not mandatory, from 20% to almost 60% over 14-year tenure as Ivanhoe Club’s GM/COO.
• Instituted the use of state-of-the-art customer relationship management (CRM) program, integrated with the Ivanhoe Club website through form submission pages, allowing for automation of initial responses and follow-up touches with prospective new members. Also launched Facebook and Twitter platforms for the club.

Ray Kondziela served as General Manager/COO of the Ivanhoe Club in suburban Chicago for 14 years, after beginning his club management career with Philadelphia-area clubs, including Waynesborough CC, White Manor CC and Ashbourne CC.

As often happens for struggling musicians or part-time teachers, Kondziela’s employment arc eventually carried him, by necessity, to hospitality-related positions. Work in restaurants, nightclubs and catering halls soon got him thinking about a different career direction, as he saw how immersing himself in providing great service and coordinating special events could generate performance-like excitement. Then, after a training stint with the Sheraton organization got his educator juices flowing again, everything came together when Kondziela got his first opportunity to move into club management.

Clubs, Kondziela discovered, could provide an ideal environment for drawing on his musical roots to bring special rhythms and excitement to properties and their memberships, while also offering the opportunity to use his educational training to nurture staff and spur them to memorable achievements. Soon, Kondziela’s career path shot straight up, as he progressed successfully through a series of Assistant GM and General Manager positions at Philadelphia-area clubs (Ashbourne Country Club, White Manor Country Club and Waynesborough Country Club), before then moving to the Chicago area to bring new distinction to the Ivanhoe (Ill.) Club, during a 14-year tenure as its GM/COO.

The ultimate affirmation that Kondziela had clearly found his calling then came when he was named the recipient of the Mead Grady Award, through the 2016 Excellence in Club Management (ECM) Awards co-sponsored by the McMahon Group and Club & Resort Business.

Ready for Anything
The announcement of Kondziela’s Excellence in Club Management recognition coincided with the end of his tenure at the Ivanhoe Club, and he has since been exploring new options for his next career step, both within and outside the club industry. [Editor’s Note: For Ray Kondziela’s thoughts on leaving the Ivanhoe Club and his future plans, see “Mr. Change Comes Around”.]

Whatever direction he now takes, Kondziela will take management talents, a skill set, and a personality that was lauded by several past presidents of the Ivanhoe Club in their support of his ECM nomination:

As part of a renovation, formal dining was still retained as an important option, with the Ivanhoe Room maintaining a dress code and offering traditional table-side cooking.

From Past President Joe McGowan: “His work ethic is truly amazing—[but] in spite of his 14- to 16-hour days [to ensure] the best in operations and service, his personality, presence and disposition are terrific.”

From Past President Frank Mariani: “Ray steered us through tough economic times while raising the bar on quality and service. He implemented continual training and advancement opportunities for the staff that helped to improve the experience for all at Ivanhoe.”

From Past President Kevin Connelly: “It is a tribute to [Ray’s] skill that [Ivanhoe] has been able to maintain the very high service levels that our members demand and to do so without significant cost increases. Ray has also overseen a fairly large capital program, which has preserved and improved the amazing physical plant that is the backbone of our club.”

From Past President William Angelo: “Ray represents the total embodiment of what a club manager should be: a consummate professional who is highly respected and embraced by both members and staff alike. Being general manager is a career he is totally committed to and one in which he exhibits enthusiasm, passion, pride and selflessness on a daily basis.”

Ideas Implemented Successfully Under Ray Kondziela’s Leadership
• Increased focus on, and amenities for, women among the Ivanhoe Club membership through a variety of steps, including:
– having at least one monthly dedicated ladies’ event;
– providing additional food-and-beverage service to the ladies locker room;
– expanding open golf course play time for women;
– hiring female golf professional to specialize in women’s instruction; and
– involving women in reviewing club menus and programming.
• Outdoor “Deck Party” theme was developed to utilize the Ivanhoe Club’s greatest asset: watching sunsets on a 20,000-sq. ft. deck that overlooks a 22-acre lake in the center of finishing golf holes. The new casual-dining option replaced a traditional, but poorly attended, club dinner dance.
• Helped to attract new property owners to the Ivanhoe Club community by spearheading realtor-education initiatives that included several steps:
– realtor tours and educational breakfasts at the club;
– follow-up with all realtors who come through the gates, with security collecting cards that were then used to send e-mails from Membership Director; and
– participation in local realtor expos.

While at the Ivanhoe Club, Ray Kondziela instituted
Junior Kids events on Tuesday nights after junior golf, to encourage family dining. Golf was also made part of the summer camp program, resulting in an increase in both camp and junior golf participation.

Finally, Past President George Reubenson cited the mantra that Kondziela has used as not only his own guiding principle in club management, but as a keystone for how he has trained, inspired and mentored staff at all of his career stops.

“The first time I talked to [Kondziela], he said: ‘The answer is yes—what is your question?’” Reubenson wrote. “This passion for excellence permeates everything he does.”

Rewards from All Sides
Looking back at his 30 years in club management, Kondziela cites another critical driver of success that he’s always kept front-of-mind. “It’s always been about the other people,” he says. And that truism, he adds, applies equally to the managers and staff he’s worked with who “make you look good” as to the memberships and Boards he’s worked for.

“Every club I’ve worked for has had different cultures and philosophies,” Kondziela says. “But in all cases, there’s always been an opportunity to take things up a notch and find ways to make things the best they can be, whether it’s with the golf course, or food and beverage, or other amenities.”

The keys to taking steps that can lead to continued improvement, Kondziela adds, include: ensuring that “everyone’s on board, from membership through the staff, in their commitment” to a club’s particular culture; securing “all the tools that are needed” to bring about desired change; and, most importantly, “always asking what aren’t we doing that should be done to get to the next level.”

By always taking that approach from the start of his entry into the business, Kondziela has found club management to be every bit as stimulating, and rewarding, as anything he envisioned when he first contemplated a career in performing and education. He still looks back fondly at his first club assignment, as Assistant GM with the now-closed Ashbourne Country Club in Philadelphia, recalling the rush that would come in helping to plan, and then execute, one over-the-top bar mitzvah after another.

“These were $125,000 events, even back in the 1980s,” he says. “We’d bring in acts like The Shirelles and other ‘50s doo-wop bands. It was as close to being a performer as you could get, night after night, without actually having to do it yourself.”

In his 30 years in club management, Ray Kondziela has never lost sight of how “the business has always been about other people,” be they members or the other managers and staff “who make you look good.” Throughout his career, a guiding principle for Kondziela’s own approach to club management, and one that has served as a keystone for how he has trained, inspired and mentored those he has worked with, has been captured in the mantra, “The answer is yes—what is your question?”

Not surprisingly, Kondziela then went on to carry his passion for high-impact performances to his other career stops. At the Ivanhoe Club, he started popular end-of-season events that brought big-name entertainment to the club, including The Spinners, The Temptations and a Beatles tribute band. Those blowouts at Ivanhoe, as at other clubs he’s managed, always capped an active event calendar where Kondziela and his staff continually challenged themselves to find new ways to raise the bar and outdo whatever they’d pulled off before.

Through the years, Kondziela has also found that even while he didn’t end up pursuing a performing career in the way he may have envisioned while studying music in college, the close-knit camaraderie that he’s developed with his club-management colleagues has proved to be every bit as satisfying and rewarding as what he might have experienced as part of a band.

“I can’t say enough about the support I’ve received from fellow club managers throughout my career,” he says. “First in Philadelphia and then again in Chicago, the connections I’ve made within the industry have been invaluable.

“[Club management] is unique as a career where you start out and grow with people who not only become great resources as we all strive to achieve our best, but also great friends,” he adds. “You can’t underestimate how important it is to have a network you can always call on for help with the common challenges we all have, or to run new ideas by. And when the bumps in the road come—as they will for all of us from time to time—just getting calls from those who know what you’re going through, to ask if you’re all right and if you want to get together, is what helps to keep us all passionate about this business, even through the most difficult times.”


NewECMlogoHonoring Excellence

The Excellence in Club Management (ECM) Awards were established by the McMahon Group, Inc., the St. Louis-based consulting firm, in 1997 and have been co-sponsored by Club & Resort Business since 2006.

The annual awards are selected through nominations submitted on behalf of qualified candidates by other parties. Award recipients are selected solely on the basis of their achievements at the club they currently manage; “lifetime achievements” are not considered.

Awards in four categories are given each year:
• The James H. Brewer Award, for a manager of a Country/Golf Club with 600 or more full-privilege members
• The Mead Grady Award, for a manager of a Country/Golf Club with fewer than 600 full-privilege members
• The Mel Rex Award, for a manager of a City, Athletic or Specialty (Non-Golf) Club
• The “Rising Star” Award for an assistant club manager

A Selection Committee comprised of a peer group of leading club managers conducts the judging for the ECM Awards; the McMahon Group and Club & Resort Business are not involved in the selection of the winners.

The Selection Committee for the 2016 Awards was chaired by Jeffrey Kreafle, Chief Executive Officer/General Manager of Congressional Country Club, Bethesda, Md. A full listing of judges, in addition to information on past winners and on how to nominate candidates for future years’ awards, can be found at the special website for the ECM Awards, www.clubmanageraward.com.

The deadline for submitting nominations for the 2017 ECM Awards is November 3, 2017.

In addition to in-depth articles in Club & Resort Business that detail the achievements of each ECM winner, individual presentation ceremonies are held at their clubs. All winners are also honored at the Excellence in Club Management Awards Dinner, held each year in conjunction with the Club Managers Association of America World Conference. The 2016 Awards Dinner was held this February at Interlachen Country Club in Winter Park, Fla., and sponsored by ClubCorp, Denehy Club Thinking Partners, ForeTees LLC, Preferred Club, Toro and Yamaha Golf Car.

YamahaLogo Toro PCP Foretees-Corporate-Logo-horiz Denehy Envelope ClubCorpLogo_HI_647 copy

3 Responses to Feeling the Beat

  1. Richard Lareau says:

    Great Article – All the best to you Ray – Keep the faith – your best years are ahead of you. God has a plan – the definition of Luck is where opportunity meets preparedness – continue to prepare yourself.

  2. Tom Slepicka says:

    Great article. Best wishes with your future endeavors Ray.

  3. Kate Newton says:

    Wow! And I thought I was impressed with you before – Great Article Ray. FRAME IT!

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