Mark Jablonski earned “Rising Star” recognition for his key role in helping to plan and implement a sweeping transformation at Medinah CC.
A key to being successful as a club manager, says Robert Sereci, CCM, General Manager/COO of Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, is “getting comfortable with little or no recognition” and being willing to step into the background to shine light on a club’s accomplishments through its membership and Board. “[Club managers] should be more concerned with affecting change because it’s the right thing to do, and not because they want to get credit for it,” Sereci says.
In 2018, however, Sereci departed from this philosophy to submit a nomination for Medinah’s Assistant General Manager, Mark Jablonski, to earn “Rising Star” recognition through the Excellence in Club Management (ECM) Awards sponsored by the McMahon Group, Club + Resort Business and the National Club Association. Sereci did so because of his strong belief that “credit needs to be given where credit is due” for Jablonski’s performance and leadership in helping to bring about dramatic change at Medinah (see “Medinah CC’s Surprising New Moves,” C+RB, August 2017). And he submitted the nomination knowing full well it could hasten Jablonski’s inevitable departure from Medinah to become a General Manager himself.
As 2019 began, both of those expectations came to fruition. Jablonski was recognized through the 2018 ECM Awards as a Rising Star (along with Kristen LaCount of The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.), and his appointment as the new General Manager of Hinsdale Golf Club in Clarendon Hills, Ill. was announced at the end of April.
Sereci has nothing but positive thoughts about either development, however. “Medinah has experienced phenomenal success in great part because of Mark’s work, and I can’t think of a more appropriate way [than the Rising Star Award] to thank him for his achievements at our club,” he says. “I am excited for his future and look forward to his contributions to our industry.”
Here to Stay
Jablonski’s new position confirms that club management is now his profession of choice, after a career that began in luxury hotels and restaurants before first moving to spend six years at city clubs (the University Club of Chicago and ClubCorp’s Metropolitan Club of Chicago) and then taking his position at Medinah CC in 2015.
“Where hotels and restaurants are much more transient in nature, the club industry gives managers the best opportunity to build rewarding and lasting relationships not only with members, but also with staff,” Jablonski says. “It’s unsurpassed in how it offers a chance to connect with people who care deeply about the clubs they belong to and the places they work.”
Jablonski does acknowledge, though, that moving to city clubs originally, and then again to Medinah, did call for some adjustments in his own management style and approach, and for developing a proper understanding of how each property’s existing culture would need to shaped to bring about desired change.
At Medinah, this was a process that required significant attention, to help accelerate an ambitious transformation involving $30 million in expenditures for projects that included a remodeling of over half of its iconic, 110,000-sq. ft. clubhouse. Additionally, several new food-and-beverage venues were designed and opened, along with a new golf learning center, a racquet center, a gun lodge for skeet and trap shooting, and special amenities including a food truck and an elaborate vegetable garden that includes a chicken coop for producing fresh eggs. Other initiatives were implemented to help establish Medinah as more of an all-season club, with the addition of a new ice-skating rink with warming hut, and the introduction of cross-country skiing and sledding on the property.
Accomplishing all of this while leading a team of 250 employees spread over 15 departments, many of whom were well-tenured when he arrived, called for sharp and consistent focus on establishing and reinforcing core values and “service guarantees for excellence,” Jablonski says. And that focus needed to extend beyond words that were provided on wallet cards and posters, to become inherent parts of everyone’s daily routines.
“There needs to be a dedicated orientation, or re-orientation in some cases, to make sure everyone on the team is aligned with the same vision and how it translates through their specific duties and responsibilities,” Jablonski says.
Jablonski’s leading role in helping to direct the physical changes at Medinah was pivotal in reversing a declining membership trend and adding over 250 members in three years, lifting the club back over its previous peak membership total. And his leadership in staff management helped to drop turnover significantly, while also developing a stronger bench through promotions and new positions.
Jablonski has also helped Medinah get out in front of the budding eco-friendly movement that is now taking hold in hospitality, setting into motion goals that include the elimination or significant reduction of nonbiodegradable cups and containers, and a major cardboard-recycling initiative.
Implemented at Medinah CC
> Overhaul of club’s aquatic facilities through initial $300,000 investment and subsequent enhancements to create “resort experience” that now includes poolside cocktail service and seating for dining.
> Established dedicated racquet program for first time in club’s nearly 100-year history, with new Racquet Center featuring Har-Tru tennis courts, paddle courts and racquet hut with bar, fireplace and multiple seating areas.
> In conjunction with Executive Chef Michael Ponzio, promotion of the club’s new Meacham’s Garden and chicken coop and active use of items from those areas, including fresh eggs, on dining-room menus. The weekly rotating “Chef’s Garden Menu” has become the club’s most popular.
> Successful development of branding initiatives for maple syrup (pictured), honey, beer and other products.
> A $1 million increase in food-and-beverage sales (to $5.5 million) from 2015-2018, including a 48% increase in cover counts.
A Celebration of 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 National Club Association became an additional sponsor in 2018.
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. A Selection Committee comprised of a peer group of leading club managers conducts the judging for the ECM Awards.
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 full listing of judges and information on past winners and how to nominate candidates for future years’ awards can be found at www.clubmanageraward.com.
In addition to in-depth articles in C&RB detailing the achievements of each ECM winner, individual ceremonies are held at their clubs. All winners were also honored at the 2018 Awards Dinner, held February 25 at the Nashville (Tenn.) City Club and sponsored by Denehy Club Thinking Partners, ForeTees LLC, C. Mondavi & Family, Preferred Club, and Yamaha Golf Car.