FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Jon Fisher
November 18, 2014
What brought us together was a strange confluence of events. I was speaking recently, about public speaking, to the Canadian Society of Club Managers at their annual convention, held this fall in Banff. After my presentation, a handshake in the crowd and a conversation. There were many that day, but this one stood out. Nattily dressed fellow with an outstretched hand, sporting a Mickey Mouse watch no less.
It was Jon Fisher’s hand. He’s General Manager at Willow Park Golf & Country Club. His invitation was to talk again, which we did the following week. That conversation over a delicious lunch (he’s wooing me to join his club), we had a great visit – cook to cook, golfer to golfer, writer talking to writer. This interview unfolded …
Writing poetry, since he was eight years old. Not your average golf club manager, indeed.
He entered high school with three career ambitions: be a chartered accountant, be a golf club manager, or be a writer. He described his high school days as ‘very social’, but a B student. Accounting? He took a course his Grade 13 year, “really hated it. I’m really good at hiring people who are strong administratively.”
And, about the poetry – Jon tells me there is a children’s book in the works, with pictures, expected to be published in the spring. And something more. He won’t tell me the details, but it’s autobiographical. I’ll have to wait for the book to come out … so stay tuned.
Jon, born and raised in Cobourg, Ontario finished his Grade 13 year in high school He was a 10 handicap, growing up the middle child with two sisters in a community where Fisher’s Dairy employed mom and dad. Dad got him golfing. After high school, he attended Ryerson University - a three-year diploma program in Hotel, Restaurant & Entertainment Administration Program. His three year diploma in hand, he ventured off to Dawson Creek to open a hotel. That early taste confirmed his career mission – next stop Calgary in 1981 as manager of Gulliver’s Restaurant (a work-out situation). He met his wife Janica here that year. Further work in hotel management/bank work-out situations might have been his life, but Jon met one of the owners of Willow Park Golf & Country Club in 1992. Hired, he hasn’t left.
I asked Jon what he felt had most contributed to his success? “Tenacity, coming to work every day caring for the member. Treating this business, a sport social club, as if it was my own business. A remarkable wife – nicest person I’ve ever met. Influence of Keith Kerr who instilled in me the notion that, if one person wasn’t happy, then we had not succeeded.”
And, what held you back? “I got comfortable. I missed out on some opportunities – because I chose the comfort of staying here. No regrets.”
Along the way, Jon’s been busy: Past President of Calgary Centennial Rotary Club. Rotarian of the Year in 2009. Golf Club Manager of the Year, Canada, in 2006. And a good host. Thanks for lunch!
What’s with the Mickey Mouse watch? “It was a gift from Pat McMahon, former manager at the Ranchmen’s, who taught me the art of club management."
I asked Jon how he sees his businesses – food & beverage, golf & social club – generally; ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter?
… great. Our product is remarkable, business is thriving – club is in its 50th amazing year.
And over the next five years?
... realizing golf is a luxury that requires an investment of time and money, we need to create value for our members, and for the next generation of golfers. We see the need to innovate, to make the game more fun, entertaining – to make the club more casual while loving the traditions of the game. We get an opportunity, every day, to alter people’s lives.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
... that they be remarkable. Authentic. Care passionately about the product.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Jon Fisher and Willow Park Golf & Country Club, why do they do business with you, why have they chosen you, over your competitors?
... remarkable! Authentic! Willow Park is the most highly social engaging country club in the land. This not my work.
How would you describe your leadership or management style?
... this is not my work, this is my calling – to create a remarkable experience for people. Taking care of my people. I don’t suffer fools …
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… the welfare of my family.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my uncle Ed Purly, a Korean War Vet with a grade six education (he used his brother’s I.D. to get in), had a dream of owning his own gas station, and made his dream come true. He provided a remarkable experience – same service for everyone; Keith Kerr, one of the partners at Gullivers – he taught me how to dress by his example. My wife makes an extraordinary contribution to the community, helping kids do volunteer work. My children.
… golf, curl, cycling (have done Calgary to San Diego – family trips over several years; we do 100 miles a day). Jim Hope got me into cycling by saying “Let's ride our bikes to California” when I didn’t even own a bike. Attending Word Fest.
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