Shawn Wilkes’ contributions to major improvement projects at Carmel Country Club earned him “Rising Star” recognition through the Excellence in Club Management Awards—and the opportunity to take the helm of another distinguished club.
The accomplishments of John Schultz, CCM, in directing the growth of Carmel Country Club into one of the industry’s largest and most vibrant club operations, after becoming General Manager of that Charlotte, N.C., club in 2003, are well-documented. Schultz’s achievements, in fact, led to recognition of his leadership (“Military Precision,” C&RB, May 2010) when he was named a 2009 recipient of the Excellence in Club Management (ECM) Awards that are co-sponsored by the McMahon Group and Club & Resort Business.
Achievements by Shawn Wilkes
• Helped to direct $3.5 million renovation that created four distinctive new dining venues at Carmel Country Club, Charlotte, N.C.; a 50% dropoff in F&B revenue was estimated during construction, but by adept planning of how to use alternative space, Carmel CC actually had 104% usage during the seven-month project. In the first five months after the renovation was completed, Carmel CC saw a 98% increase in diners and a 122% increase in F&B revenues.
In accepting that award and throughout his tenure at Carmel, Schultz has always been quick to acknowledge his staff and cite the team efforts behind his club’s successes. And last year, in nominating Carmel’s Clubhouse Manager, Shawn Wilkes, CCM, for ECM recognition through the awards’ “Rising Star” category, Schultz revealed just how much one staff member in particular had contributed to the cause.
After providing extensive descriptions of all of the achievements and ideas that Wilkes had helped to bring about at Carmel since taking his position there in 2012, Schultz included a personal note to his peers on the ECM judging committee.
“At this point in the nomination document I’m sure some of you are wondering, if Shawn does all of this, what the heck [do I] do?” Schultz wrote.
“It’s always been my strategy to test the bounds of elasticity when opportunity presents itself,” he went on to explain. “That has certainly been the case with my delegation to Shawn Wilkes. It was clear from the start that he was exceptional, and during his tenure at Carmel I’ve been continually amazed at what he’s taken on, what he’s capable of, and his limitless ability to succeed with all the challenges of daily and long-term club life.
“Shawn is not just a rising star at Carmel,” Schultz’s nomination concluded, “but he will be a force in the industry, and we will be hearing his name—and more about his creative style, energy and accomplishments—for years to come.”
Schultz’s words quickly proved prophetic in more ways than one. His nomination secured “Rising Star” recognition for Shawn Wilkes through the 2015 ECM Awards—and shortly thereafter, it was announced that Wilkes’ star had risen to the point where he secured his first top position in club management, as the new General Manager/COO of Cherokee Country Club in Knoxville, Tenn.
Already, in just his first few months in his new position, Wilkes has begun to make the same sort of impact at Cherokee CC that got him recognized as an emerging talent-to-watch while in his previous roles at Carmel, and before that in assistant-manager roles at Memphis (Tenn.) Country Club and Athens (Ga.) Country Club.
Ideas Implemented Under Shawn Wilkes’ Direction
• Implemented ongoing training program at Carmel CC through which the management team identified 52 key points of service that are then used for retraining, focusing on one per week.
Many of the abilities that have served Wilkes so well in club management can actually be traced to his education at the University of Georgia, where he earned a B.A. in Accounting. He also got his introduction to the club business while in college, working at Athens CC as a server, bartender and bag attendant before taking an Assistant Manager position at that club after graduating.
Much of his early focus at Cherokee CC, Wilkes says, has been on applying his accounting acumen to help balance the club’s ledger by “finding low-hanging cost-savings opportunities [that can be implemented] without affecting service.”
Already, progress toward this goal has been made through a variety of cost-reduction measures that have included: transitioning to e-mailed billing statements; eliminating off-site storage and bringing landscaping expenditures in-house; more aggressive pursuit of rebates and savings that can be realized through distributors and purchasing associations; and shaving food costs by eliminating some long-standing practices that were shown to be excessive or unneeded when studied with fresh eyes.
“Whenever you see evidence that what you’ve been providing isn’t getting used by the membership, you have to at least try to determine if there’s really a need or demand for it,” Wilkes says. “I was ready to deal with any backlash that might have been generated by taking something away or making changes from what was usually provided—but in all of these cases, we didn’t hear one thing [after the change].”
Ready to Act
Realizing those cost-efficiencies will also help speed progress toward longer-term goals that Wilkes has been charged with pursuing as Cherokee’s new GM/COO. These include developing a new pool complex and an outdoor dining venue, which are seen as vital to continuing to build Cherokee’s membership by appealing to families and younger prospects.
Founded in 1907, Cherokee executed a major, $14 million renovation for its 100th anniversary, but the assessment imposed for that project, combined with the recession, led to some membership attrition and created debt service that is still in place. Since then, facility improvements have been made only in “small chunks,” Wilkes says, but he has now set the wheels in motion for developing a master plan that could map out a more ambitious project.
In particular, upgrading the pool facility, which has been largely untouched since the 1950s, would go a long way to continuing to restore the membership rolls—and Wilkes, with his experience gained from helping to operate Carmel CC’s popular resort-style pool complex and Tiki bar, will certainly be well-prepared to lead his new club in that direction.
“I’m frequently asked what I’m finding to be the biggest surprise as a first-time GM,” Wilkes says. “I think most expect me to say something related to staff management or even membership issues. But to me, that was always a big part of the job as a clubhouse or assistant manager.
“I’m thankful for the time I had at my previous clubs, and what I learned while in those positions at them,” Wilkes says. “Now I’m excited about the opportunity to apply all that I learned at a club like Cherokee, which has an incredible membership, history and tradition, a great Board of Directors with a unified vision for the club, and a staff and great team that’s already in place and that I’m excited to work with.
“What’s really the most different is now being in a position where you have to make decisions and stick by them, with no affirmation or security blanket [from a GM] you report to,” Wilkes says. But as Schultz noted in his “Rising Star” nomination, Shawn Wilkes “has always shown a special sense for being able to react quickly and decisively to all that’s going on around him.” Cherokee CC now stands to be well-served by those attributes, as its new top manager leads the club through the next chapters in its rich history.
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.
Awards in four categories are given each year:
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 2015 Awards was chaired by Kevin Vitale, CCM, General Manager/COO of Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, N.J. 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 2016 ECM Awards is November 11, 2016.
In addition to in-depth articles in Club & Resort Business that detail the achievements of each ECM