Club Insider (C.I.) – Bill, when did you become involved in the club industry? When did you become involved with IHRSA?
Bill McBride (BM) – It was in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1984 when I was back home from college for the Summer. There was a spa fitness center that had two clubs in town, one where the men went Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at one location, and then they went Monday, Wednesday and Friday to the other. They each had one locker room and rotated days. My first year as an IHRSA Member was in 1991. I was with Smith Club Management at that time (a Charles E. Smith Company).
C.I. – What benefits did you see from your IHRSA Membership?
BM – The format of the formal and the informal learning is one big thing for me. The ability to go to the central repository and be exposed to the best and brightest of everything going on in the industry, from trending, new equipment sessions, to the IHRSA Institute… all that formal education. To be able to go to one place and have access to it is great for me. The other aspect of IHRSA is the IHRSA Community. To me, the people that you meet become lifelong relationships. The conversations you have, “What are you doing about this? Or, we ran into that.” These conversations based on these friendships whose genesis of people you met through the Association become instrumental in your growth and learning and how you deal with things. So, the collective body of knowledge in the open IHRSA Community where we share has really benefitted me. It’s a very interesting dynamic to be able to go and get it and easily have an opportunity to build a lifelong relationship. The more you give, the more things come back. There are people that could be competitors 362 days a year and then the best and brightest come together and share to move the industry forward. It really seems like a unique dynamic that the industry has that IHRSA has become the central connection point for.
C.I. – When did you become interested in IHRSA Board Service?
BM – Which time? I applied in 2002. I applied in 2004. I applied in 2005. I applied in 2006. And, I took a year off and then had a conversation with Joe Moore at Babson College at the IHRSA Institute in 2007. He encouraged me to apply for the 2009 term. I did and was accepted. I applied four times. For lots of reasons that I completely understand, I was not nominated the first four times. If something is important to you for the right reasons, you shouldn’t give up…
C.I. – How long have you served on the IHRSA Board?
BM – I’ve served since 2009, and this Summer will be the end of my term as Chairman. So, that would be from 2009 to 2013, four years. Then, I’ll be extended for one year as Ex-Officio Chairman.
C.I. – What were your feelings about being elected Chairman of IHRSA’s Board of Directors?
BM – You know, I was extremely excited to be a part of a Board of that caliber of industry leadership, and for my peers to have confidence in me being the Chair was humbling and exciting. It has been simply amazing to be a part of the Board of this great Association. When you talk about brand affinity, I’ve got such a strong brand affinity toward IHRSA. To play any small role in being a part of the leadership direction with that Board and that Team was one of the proudest times of my career.
C.I. – During your term as Board Chairman, what were your goals?
BM – IHRSA’s a juggernaut of an Association. There are a lot of moving parts to it. The primary goals were: First, to make sure that we continue fiscal responsibility with regard to building reserves, being able to withstand another recession. Additionally the Board and Management operate with a 3-5 Strategic Plan; this is important to create continuity and direction over time. In addition to the fiscal performance and responsibility of the Association, there is a considerable amount of time on the value proposition for the owners (our members). That was a big thing and was something that, in 2009, when I first joined the Board, was a priority. Through the Board Members and leadership, including Art Curtis’ Chairmanship, and my Chairmanship, this was a very big deal. IHRSA’s doing remarkably well with regard to the Strategic Plan.
Another item was what programs are we going to do and how do we make sure that they are self-funding, so money could be used for advocacy, public policy and defense. So, our international shows are growing every year now. They are getting better and better each year. Pretty much all of the educational programming is better than cost neutral. So, expanding the program content and having those programs grow and touch more members has been a big focal point of the Association.
We’re now bringing back the IHRSA Institute. That was a project and endeavor that’s been near and dear to my heart. I think the IHRSA Institute is a brand tool. It provides a curriculum and bonding experience for the next generation of leaders in the industry. They go to the Institute. They meet some of the faculty from the industry, where they can spend quality, one-on-one time. They find mentors. They find colleagues, and they network with them. They get exposed to the IHRSA Brand. So, for me, the Institute is a really big deal from the perspective of an opportunity to support your customer of tomorrow. IHRSA’s an incredible Brand. So, the Institute is HUGE! I think retooling the IHRSA Institute is important so that there’s more of a set curriculum versus just industry speakers coming together for a week. That’s pretty exciting. That’s a big deal for the Association to bring the Institute back.
Another goal achieved at the recent Las Vegas Convention and Trade Show was a real good example of the cultural piece of the industry. I’m excited about IHRSA and the role it plays in creating and maintaining the culture of the industry. Without that unifying body, you don’t get the sharing, the collaboration and the thought leadership. You don’t get all that. I think that IHRSA has a cultural vanguard role for the industry where it is that unifying force that brings the founding vanguard of the industry together with the newest editions and the changing business models. It’s a cultural responsibility as much as it is a transactional activity bringing buyers and sellers together. So, what the Association does with regard to helping maintain the culture of the industry is a big deal.
The research and publications are a critical service IHRSA provides for the industry, and this continues to be more relevant.
C.I. – Please tell us about IHRSA’s Public Policy Department, one of my favorite subjects. Explain why IHRSA’s Public Policy Department is so important to IHRSA Member Clubs, as well as non-member clubs.
BM – Public Policy at IHRSA (and I am not a big fan of the name Public Policy) plays a key role of acting in being the clearinghouse on what’s going on in our industry legislatively. So, by playing the clearinghouse role, there’s somebody on guard watching the gate and notifying the rest of us in the industry that, “Hey, we have something on the horizon that may be an opportunity or something on the horizon that may be a threat.” The public policy function is a function of being that sentinel on post that’s out there watching out for us and rallying when there’s a need for defense, and also, making us aware when there is an opportunity for advocacy or proactive initiatives. And, the industry goes back and forth because there’s a sentiment of “Let’s not do anything that causes an eye from governmental agencies to be on our industry.” Let’s kind of be quiet about that and simply try to take a defensive posture. Then, there is also the, “Let’s try to grow the pie; let’s try to have some abundance here and put a spotlight on what this industry can do with some of the crisis in this nation.” So, I think that public policy has historically tried to provide Defense versus advocate Offense and how to help grow the pie for the whole industry with regard to affecting those people who are not naturally inclined to just walk in our club doors. So then, there becomes the issue of looking at State, Federal and certain international threats. Certain countries that have things like music licensing, those kinds of things that may affect our industry globally, we have a responsibility for all of our membership to pay attention to those.
Then, you’ve also got State versus Federal. To the degree that you can really have some impactful legislation, today may require more of a strategy toward tipping potentially favorable legislation. What Chuck Runyon and some folks are doing in Minnesota at the State level is pretty exciting. That’s a State and IHRSA kind of coalition working to create favorable legislation for the State of Minnesota. I think that one of the critical functions of IHRSA is not being supported by a broad enough umbrella or broad enough participation of our overall memberships. There are about 100, or slightly less than that, organizations that are actively engaged in public policy. It would be nice if more clubs got involved in that and more clubs helped, because that’s one of the key things about together we’re stronger. We can do more for the industry overall with more involvement.
C.I. – What do you see for IHRSA’s future?
BM – I think IHRSA becomes more and more of a player at the table, if you will, with regard to things that affect activity in governmental and societal issues. It will become an even stronger resource with regard to research and involvement. What the Association did with the current administration on allowing Military Reservists’ families to use commercial health clubs while their spouses and partners were deployed was a great way. There’s a distribution network within the health club industry that a lot of other agencies and associations don’t have. IHRSA can rally a large quantity of distribution of clubs around the country in short order, and that should be a very powerful mechanism to support some of these lifestyle issues.
So, IHRSA has got a bright future. It’s fiscally sound. It’s very focused. It’s going to have a bigger role at the global table with regard to activity issues. It’s typically been a North American trade Association with global leadership. I think that’s going to continue with more and more international presence through education and support, and I think it’s going to become a bigger entity.
C.I. – As you prepare for your last Board Meeting in June and soon will become Ex-Officio Chairman, what advice might you have for incoming IHRSA Chairman, Brent Darden, of Telos Fitness Center?
BM – I’ve known Brent for a long time. He is the right guy at the right time to help support Joe and the IHRSA Team and gives some directional guidance and support for our distinguished Board. I don’t have any advice per se. He and I will talk regularly, and we will be working closely together throughout the next year. Brent is just a class act, and his heart is completely committed to our industry. We could not ask for a better Chairman for our Association. Brent is the real deal.
C.I. – To those reading this who are not IHRSA Members… what would you say to them about why they should join IHRSA now?
BM – Together… we’re better. Together… we’re stronger. This is not a club that’s clicky. This is an accepting community that, if you believe in doing business with integrity and you’re committed to the industry of helping people change their lives, you have a home within IHRSA as a “for profit” health club operator. So, this is a big tent that’s welcoming… And, together, we’re all better. So, my strong encouragement is for clubs to join and be a part of all of that we are working together to do. You have a family and a home just sitting there waiting for you. I think a lot of people don’t understand that IHRSA is completely open, available and welcoming. By other people not getting involved, it hurts THEM and it hurts the collective US! To non-IHRSA club owners everywhere: We want you! We need you! And, together we’re better!
C.I. – Sounds like a great song to me! Great interview, Mr. Chairman! Anything you’d like to add?
BM – (after chuckling about song comment) No, I think that’s pretty much it. It’s been an honor to serve IHRSA.
C.I. – It’s been great to have you leading IHRSA this past year! You’re wonderful, and we appreciate what you’ve done. I want to Thank You very much for your great IHRSA service, Mr. Chairman.
BM – You’re the one who set it all up!
C.I. – Well, Uncle Rick and I burned a lot of midnight oil on the telephone when we were starting up IHRSA way back in 1980/81. But, Rick and Big John McCarthy really did all the work! It’s pretty much a big thrill for Rick and I every time we get to go to our IHRSA Annual Conventions and Trade Shows. And, I was so thrilled that you guys honored Rick with IHRSA’s first ever Lifetime Achievement Award! You could have looked forever, and you’d not have found anybody more deserving of that honor than Rick Caro.
About this interview, Mr. Chairman, I think I should point out to my readers, especially my non-IHRSA Member Club Owners, that I’ve been doing interviews with IHRSA leaders for years… 19 years and 6 months to be exact. So, after hearing your comments noted above about “Together we’re better!” I want to mention that I think you’ve articulated IHRSA’s open-door policy and acceptance of all clubs in this great industry as well as any IHRSA leader ever has in the past 32 years. So, good on you for that, Bill. And, Thank You, Mr. Chairman!
BM – I am very proud to have played a small role, and I’m honored to be a member of IHRSA. Kudos to all of those who have built this industry and association, and special appreciation to Joe Moore and his team.