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Club management

“What does it take to be a club manager nowadays and are Vietnamese capable of doing the job?” And my answer is there will be a time when Vietnamese themselves manage every club in the country. But if those days aren’t here yet, they’re coming soon.

By Robert Bicknell

As usual, the powers that be at Vietnam Golf Magazine asked me to write about a subject which is almost guaranteed to cause me headaches – “What does it take to be a club manager nowadays and are Vietnamese capable of doing the job?”

As if I would be stupid enough to stick my head into that particular lion’s mouth. But, I’m stupid enough, so here goes.

The answer to the first part is kind of long and complicated, but I will try to make it as plain and concise as possible. But, the second part of the question is much more complicated and I’m not really sure if I can answer it to everyone’s satisfaction.

If people asked me what my actual job title was, I could have easily said “Expert in cross cultural people management” or something along those lines. The other, more accurate job description would be “Expert in last minute desperate solutions to impossible problems caused by other people.”

At one club back in 2003, I remember someone watching me handle two complaints from different ethnic groups who hated each other; and one more “could’ve been serious without immediate action” problem in the course of 15 minutes. He said, “Wow, I could never do your job.”

The reason I remember that is because he worked for the United Nations!

To be a successful club manager, you have to be able to understand the diverse cultures and backgrounds of your guests in order to provide them with a stress-free atmosphere in your club and the best possible golfing experience. Not only that, you need to be an expert in F&B (Food & Beverage) operations and the requirements for those different groups, Finance and Accounting, Sales and Marketing, HR and Administration, GC Maintenance and, of course, Golf Course Operations.

And when I say “expert” that means the GM can effectively manage the operations of each department himself if necessary. You cannot manage others if you do not know their jobs as well or better than they do.

One important thing to remember as a club manager is that you have no face. That’s right. You’re lint. The only important people are those paying big money to come to the club. They’re the stars. They are the ones you worry about, not yourself. Keep your ego at home.

The biggest problem with the second part of the question is that it has nothing to do with intelligence, but it comes down mostly to schooling and a lot of experience. The type of experience which can only be gained through years of working in various aspects of the club business until finally landing a top slot.

There are lot of people I met over the years who claimed “10 years of experience” but when examined more closely, it was actually “One year of experience, 10 times.”

It’s a lot harder than it looks, but to be fair, many expats make it look a lot easier than it is simply because of the training we get and experiences we’ve gained in many different and diverse markets.

Which leads to the second part of the second part of the question – what market are we talking about?

Vietnam has two very distinct golf markets – local and international/tourists. The demands of these two groups can be the same in some respects, but very different in most all others and the Club Manager has to be handle these different requirements.

There is little doubt that an “international tourist destination” style club is much more difficult than a local semi-public one, simply because of all diverse clientele, usually very wealthy and who have played golf at many of the top courses in the world. This is definitely when you need an experienced expat manager.

Even local semi-public courses can benefit from an expat manager, simply because we know more methods of maximizing revenue and lowering costs. Again, this is through experience.

Unfortunately, more than a few clubs in Vietnam don’t allow the manager to actually manage. The owner insists on calling the shots themselves. When the owner has no real experience in the golf industry, this can cause huge headaches for the manager, staff and guests. It also affects the profit and loss of the club. The smartest owners hire the best manager they can find (and afford) and let them do the job.

Now, can Vietnamese become club managers, the answer is, of course, yes.

If that is what they want to do, it’s best to work your way up from the bottom. Get a great education, overseas if possible, then gain as much experience in diverse clubs as possible as it’s invaluable. Ask questions and learn there are many ways to solve a problem.

There will be a time when Vietnamese themselves manage every club in the country, but those days aren’t here yet, but they’re coming soon.

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