Thomas Spellman’s keen sense for spotting, and enhancing, “good ground conditions” has led to exemplary performance at the Genesee Valley Club—and earned him Excellence in Club Management recognition.
Conditions on the ground are good,” is a report all military personnel like to hear—especially those in the Air Force, who can then focus on the job at hand as they patrol the skies above.
After he graduated from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and began a 20-year Air Force career, Tom Spellman quickly learned the value of that report—and of how it could also be applied to non-conflict situations, including Spellman’s responsibilities managing air-base golf courses and officers’ clubs that were part of what in total amounted to a $2 billion hospitality program. For all of the Air Force activities that he oversaw, Spellman says, good ground conditions had their foundation in “an exceptionally strong system of financial controls—because of the taxpayer dollars that were involved, fiduciary responsibility was really stressed, no matter what type or level of club.”
When Spellman retired from the Air Force and moved into private club management, he targeted city clubs as the “best fit” for his management style. After three years as General Manager of the University Club of Boston, Spellman’s keen sense for “good ground conditions” led him in 2007 to the Genesee Valley Club (GVC) in Rochester, N.Y.
“I saw a good situation with a well-established, well-respected club that had great staff, outstanding members and Board leadership that was fully committed to the GM/COO concept,” Spellman says. “I felt it would be the right place to apply my experience with financial controls and help take the club to the next level.”
Spellman’s confidence in both current, and future, conditions was bolstered by strong levels of existing member satisfaction, as reflected by surveys taken shortly after he arrived, and by the club’s commitment to begin a long-range planning process under his direction. A key first step in the plan would be to upgrade Genesee Valley’s casual dining and sports areas—while maintaining a strong formal dining presence and retaining other traditions of a club founded in 1885—in recognition of changing societal trends and member usage patterns.
IMPLEMENTED SUCCESSFULLY AT GENESEE VALLEY CLUB
One condition Spellman and no one else at GVC could foresee, however, was how the economy would plummet into recession shortly after he became its new GM/COO. But this was when Spellman’s training for seeing the larger picture, and his experience in running airtight operations, really served GVC well (and earned him recognition from his peers as the 2010 recipient, in the City, Athletic or Specialty Club Category, of the Excellence in Club Management Award co-sponsored by the McMahon Group and Club & Resort Business).
When the recession hit, reports Peter Greendyke, a GVC Past President, “we had endless Board meetings discussing emergency measures, to prepare for what we assumed would be massive membership resignations, low usage and deficits.
“But throughout it all, Tom remained level-headed and pragmatic,” Greendyke continues. “He had a list of measures ready to navigate any downturn in operations, but advised against implementing them until we saw deteriorating results. When Board members clamored for give-away deals, he counseled not to do anything that would cheapen the club’s image. And behind the scenes, he ran a tight ship, watching every dollar in a way that was invisible to members. Club usage actually rose during the worst economic period in many years, and we finished  with a strong profit and a comparably modest loss of members.”
At the same time, Greendyke adds, under Spellman’s leadership GVC’s long-range plan was still set in motion, with many of the key steps (see Achievements box) “implemented ahead of schedule and paid for out of pocket.” And now, Spellman likes the conditions that he sees better than ever.
“I think city clubs like ours can be more relevant than ever, with the right balance of facilities and events made available to our member families,” he says. “With the mix of social, dining and athletic programs we offer, it’s really the best of all worlds—it’s worked pretty well for 125 years now, and we plan to keep it that way for many more to come.”