2015-10-29 / Business News

John Wash

President of Club Operations, International Polo Club Palm Beach
‘Our goal is to grow the popularity of the sport along with our club’

WHO AM I?

FULL NAME: John Wash

TITLE & COMPANY: President of Club Operations, International Polo Club Palm Beach

YEARS WITH THE COMPANY: 9

YEARS IN PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: 9

NATURE OF BUSINESS: Private Club and Sporting Facility

EDUCATION: Culinary Institute of America

HOMETOWN: Long Island, New York; Setauket, New York

How did you first get into business?

I was first employed as an executive chef at a luxury resort property after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. I moved up to food and beverage manager, then leveraged my career by accepting a position as vice president of club operations at the prestigious Country Club of the South in Atlanta. While at the Country Club of the South, I was instrumental in securing the club’s inaugural PGA Champions Tour. My first position as a club manager was at the Gleneagles Country Club, and later, the Bentwater Yacht and Country Club (both in Texas). In 2007, I was recruited to my position as president of the International Polo Club (IPC), the premier polo facility in the world.

What are some recent trends you’ve seen in your industry?

With the growth of the sport, we are seeing greater competition on the field. Players are devoting more hours to their training, conditioning, and game strategy. Polo is an extreme sport, especially at the high-goal level we play at IPC, and both player and pony are high-performance athletes. We are seeing a faster pace of play. Through advanced technology, polo ponies are now bred with the specific traits required for the sport, which recently includes cloning of famous polo ponies. Science has improved the nutritional delivery in feed, grain, hay, and fiber, resulting in healthier, stronger ponies. Professional umpires have increased safety on the field. Also, the agronomic advancements in turf management have improved the condition of polo fields.

What lessons did you learn from the Great Recession?

Clubs that scaled back and let their assets deteriorate are the clubs we see today chasing the market for new members. I saw many private clubs cut back on services and staff, which alienated members who eventually left, causing economic setbacks to the club. At IPC, we capitalized on reinvesting in our facilities, people, and programs.

What’s your vision for the future of your business?

Private Clubs: In order for clubs to succeed in the decade ahead, they must know their members, know their marketplace, and operate with a strong sense of mission and purpose. The No. 1 asset we have as a club is exceptional service, gracious hospitality, and consistency in the details. IPC has attracted 106 new members within the last 36 months who enjoy year-round, five-star, country club amenities, with a privileged, equestrian lifestyle.

Polo: Five years from now, IPC will be the epicenter of polo in the world, eclipsing many of the historical clubs in Europe and South America. Our goal is to grow the popularity of the sport along with our club. We will continue to attract the world’s best polo players and teams, while providing the highest standard of spectator experience offered anywhere.

What new products or services will you introduce next year?

We continuously devote energy and resources to improving the spectator experience. From parking to new menu items, facility enhancements, unique retail merchandise, and entertainment. We will be introducing new and enhanced stadium seating, as well as a few hospitality lifestyle elements that will surprise our guests in January 2016.

What are some of the challenges you face this year?

I am fortunate to have a talented and knowledgeable executive to stay within budget, while keeping them motivated to continue pushing the envelope and seeking constant improvement.

What trends do you see impacting your industry in the next two to four years?

As enthusiasm for the sport grows, sponsorships, product development, promotions, new players, and an enhanced fan base will emerge, positively impacting the industry. The immense influence of stories, images, tournaments, live video feeds that race across the Internet, and network broadcasting, will keep polo fans engaged worldwide, and will broaden the base of followers.

How do you expect the South Florida economy to grow?

Palm Beach County’s equestrian industry generates an economic impact that exceeds $200 million annually, with continued growth every year. Through marketing and promotion, we have seen greater participation at polo and equestrian events in Wellington. This excitement has served to ignite the interest and involvement of more players, investors, and sponsors. Obviously, this all results in more jobs and new residents, which in turn require more services, businesses, health care, and restaurants. IPC is steadfast in its efforts to grow the sport along with the local economy, which we believe will continue to prosper.

What do you look for when recruiting new talent?

Attitude. I truly believe in selecting the right people; those that have a passion to serve. I also believe in hiring for your weaknesses, giving people the right tools to succeed, keeping open lines of communication, and having fun. But more importantly, I get out of the way and allow people to do their jobs and have fun while doing them.

What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned?

Every day, we need to understand the importance of fighting complacency to keep our business up-to-date, relevant, and interesting to those we serve.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

The International Polo Club is to polo as Augusta National is to golf. It is a privilege to be entrusted at the helm. Many aspects of running a private club require a strong command of good business practices, which are disciplines I honestly enjoy.

I revel in the challenge of opening the gates every Sunday to 10,000 plus spectators, comprised of families, fashionistas, jet-setters, corporate giants, polo enthusiasts, residents, and travelers. One day a week, we transform from private to public, and that requires well-trained, temporary staffing, entertainment, lavish culinary and beverage stations, on-site sponsor activations, meticulously maintained grounds, sufficient parking, security, child care, staging, celebrity escorts, and intensely coordinated timelines. It’s all for the love of the sport and the elite competition on the field. Nobody does it better than the International Polo Club. But, in answer to your question, I enjoy every minute of it.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

In addition to being a Certified Club Manager (CCM) and a Certified Executive Chef, I am also an ordained Christian pastor. ¦

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