Business View Magazine interviews Peter Tschernitz, CEO of CCM Golf Management LLC, as part of our Executive View series.
A search for the basics to write a one-page Corporate Executive profile normally unearths more than enough relevant info about the subject – website, business articles, images. In the case of CEO Peter Tschernitz, however, the results were surprising, to say the least: A personal LinkedIn profile; an out-of-date Crown Colony Golf Management (CCM) Facebook page; a handful of hazy photos; one brief article from Golf Business News Jan 2011; something about Horse Performance – and a recent hockey-related piece, from Florida of all places. No company website. Which begged the questions… just who is this guy? And why should we be interested?
Two minutes into the interview, I had my answer. And a single-page, CEO profile grew into a full-on feature story. It could be a book. Enjoy the highlights…
LS: Peter, these days it’s highly unusual for a company to be successful without a substantial web presence. Yet my research turned up very little about you or CCM. Why is that?
PT: At my company, CCM Golf Management, we focus on the consulting and management of high-end, private golf clubs and city clubs; an industry which probably contains less than 0.5 percent of the population worldwide. We have a very small niche position in the market, and our business is done through word of mouth rather than through a website. The people we get referrals from are the Who’s Who of the CEO world or the ownership world, and we only have so much capacity.
For example, in Europe, we operate four exclusive facilities, stretched through four different countries. Four different cultures, four different kinds of restrictions, four different languages, which obviously makes management a bit more complicated. We also manage three high-end facilities here in the States that are the crème de la crème of private clubs.
In a nutshell, CCM management solutions include financial and HR management, administration services, Association management, agronomy for the golf course, golf course management, food and beverage. We operate all the restaurants, all the retail shops, the golf pro shops. We also help improve retail sales, and provide all the development services.
LS: How would you define a city club?
PT: The city club, by definition, is a dining club. For reference: the London Capital Club – a 155-year-old private member club in the heart of the London business district. We cater to all the bankers and anyone who can spend a lot of corporate money. In fact, I just gave a speech at the National Golf Foundation a few weeks ago and my opening line was “I’m not in the Golf Club industry” which caused a little bit of an uproar. I added, “I’m in the entertainment industry, I entertain wealthy people.”
It’s an interesting industry, 50 percent of members are retired or semi-retired business owners who know the finer things in life. They want the best food possible, the nicest $100 shirt, the best golf course, the best golf instruction, the fantastic tennis program, and amazing pool area. They want that service delivered daily, and are willing to pay for it.
LS: What is the most unusual or unique situation you’ve worked in?
The most unique thing we’ve ever done is got involved in a private club in Florida, which only had 18 members; hand selected by the family who owned the club. The property had a golf course, a hunting lodge, lakes for fishing, and a private airstrip. Besides those 18 people and 50 staff members, nobody knew it was even there. The staff was employed year-round, yet the owners only came down during spring for a month, and maybe two weeks in fall.
It was at the level where friendship is more important than money. Where connections are way more important than your bank account. We observed those 18 members and their families come in for weekends, or weeks at a time, and there must have been multi-billion dollar deals done, but the interesting thing is that they were all respectful to staff. During our time at that unbelievable facility, we never overheard one conversation about business. It’s amazing nowadays to see any club that’s driven by money and ego, where you don’t hear about corporations, or the stock market, or POTUS.
LS: What brought you into the folds of such an exclusive industry?
PT: I grew up in Austria where my parents owned hotels, and a Michelin Star restaurant which was unique 40 years ago. So, I was always exposed to the hospitality industry in one way or the other. After getting an MBA, I worked for a few years in Hong Kong, in the early 1990s when it was still a British colony. This was my first exposure to the private club industry. Back then, when Hong Kong was booming, money was no object. And the company I served on the board for provided unbelievable services to the wealthy Chinese and Hong Kong-Chinese people. It was an eye-opening experience.
One of the greatest things I learned there came from my mentor, who told me, “If you want to be successful in Asia, you need to be like an egg. You can be white on the outside, but if you want to do proper business here, you have to be yellow on the inside.” Meaning you need to respect the business life and traditions of whatever culture you’re living in. I tried to apply that in my time in the U.S. and Europe, and it worked well. Because, born in Austria, I’ve always been a foreigner wherever I worked – in Asia, America, and the UK where I spent four years working out of London.
Between 1995 and the early 2000s, I founded and ran a company that developed many high-end golf facilities. In 2003, I sold it to a publicly traded company called Centex Homes, which was the largest American-based home builder. It was a good move because a few years later the whole housing market fell, and I was glad to be out of it.
Subsequently, I went back to Austria, and didn’t do much – except manage one of the most prominent hockey clubs in Central Europe.
The next really big thing happened when I became a board member of Palmerston Resorts & Hotels, based out of London, England. It’s the leading resort management company in Europe. I was invited by the main shareholder, a German citizen, and became the Chief Operating Officer for almost five years. We operated the top six private club facilities in Europe, and I was so fortunate to help guide that great company in the directions where we were able, in one year, to show a fantastic increase in value that they paid out to our shareholders. In 2011, the HSBC Bank out of London recognized me as the turnaround specialist in the hospitality industry for all of Europe.
LS: Brilliant! And you’re so humble when you speak of these things…
PT: It was pretty cool, because it’s very difficult to get the banks to do anything, especially Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank because they are so large. To work with high-end bankers who see the big picture, and receive that award from them as Restructuring Manager of the Year in the hospitality industry was just a phenomenal accomplishment. Which I was happy to accept. But it wasn’t only my fault, there were many people involved.
In 2015, I decided it’s time to move back to my good old U.S.A and start from scratch. To get a couple core management contracts, which I’ve done, and begin catering to the very wealthy members and individuals in that niche market. That’s basically what we’re doing today.
LS: “And you’re running a hockey club, I hear?”
PT: Yes. In my ventures, everything involves hospitality; providing experiences to people. So, I ended up buying a hockey franchise, which sounds glorious, but… it’s a junior hockey team franchise, Florida Jr. Blades, in the USPHL (United States Premier Hockey League). I feel strongly that there is a big need in southwest Florida to add a second team into this US-wide league, because there is already one. Your publisher, Marcus, is very helpful with this whole process.
It is a new venture, but I have experience from playing professional hockey before and, also, I managed the largest club in central Europe, with an unbelievably high budget. So, I understand the numbers. This is really close to my heart, because it has to do with the development of junior players and making them ready either for college level or professional, but more importantly to get them up and running for real life. Hockey is a good school for a lot of things.
And there is one other aspect of CCM, our horse performance company, CCMH. We own and breed equestrian jumping horses. It’s probably the most expensive hobby of the wealthiest people in the world. I spend a big part of my day with the stable manager, and time with the breeder. We have a few clients which we cater to, and it all goes back to the same thing, providing high-end services – mainly in the golf and club industries, but also as it relates to any sports activities.
LS: Tell us about your typical day, are you an ‘office’ person?
PT: It’s an interesting question. Breakfast is at eight o’clock every day at the same place. My senior managers are always invited to come and talk about issues in a very casual format. I learned it from my Dad, who used to do the same thing at his hotels. Sometimes there is one person, sometimes eight people and we just chit-chat about things. Mornings are spent in my office talking to my assistant, or in organizational meetings. Lunch is always around a business meeting – with potential clients, senior managers, my bank – it’s a culture in the U.S. which is very trendy for whatever reason. Afternoons are spent discussing how to acquire new customers, preparing board documents for clubs we represent, and talking to my CFO and controllers about different issues.
I’m at the office two or three full days a week, making sure we manage it properly, that we follow rules and regulations, and stay in constant contact with our customers. The other days I travel between different clubs, or the stable, or with hockey, and I try to take weekends off. However, if a client comes in and wants to talk, or if I have an opportunity – like when I’m watching my daughter ride or some of our professional riders – I always end up meeting with horse owners or companies.
LS: Your business is all about catering to other people’s whims. How do you chill?
I get my downtime by playing Peer League Hockey, it’s what I look forward to – my Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday line up. We’re all excited, middle-aged, a little overweight (except Marcus) guys, and it’s a highlight of the week. You go to the rink, see your friends, have a beer, do some exercise… having been attached to that sport, and playing professionally for so long, it’s difficult to get away. You can play and enjoy hockey, until you almost die. It’s fun, but more importantly it opens up your mindset. On my team, we have a great mix – from the neurosurgeon, to the business owner, the electrician, the plumber, the baker, the administrator –everybody brings something to the table. And everybody is the same in hockey gear. It’s a unique camaraderie that helps us all relax and unwind.
AT A GLANCE
Who: CCM Golf Management LLC
What: Consultancy and management of integrated resorts, boutique hotels, private golf, city and country clubs. Leisure industry focus on Golf Residential and Golf Resort/Hotel Developments
Where: Based in Fort Myers, Florida
Website: Exclusive private business, personal referrals only. No online presence.