When Sean McLaren, General Manager and Chief Operating Officer of the Quechee Club, first came to Quechee to meet with the Search Committee they asked, “Why Quechee?,” he says he “thought of the first inhale of fresh pine scent and the comfort of the conversation we were having.” His answer, “Every day the members are on vacation while at The Quechee Club. I want to be part of organizing the fun. The campus and facilities are vast, the diversity of activities fills the calendar, and the members are inviting. Sign me up!” And they did. He completed his first year on July 17th. He’s learned a great deal over this year and says his goal is to enhance the “buzz of Quechee.”
Sean is an experienced club manager and has been in the industry for almost 30 years. Prior to coming to The Quechee Club, he held several club manager positions, the most recent as the General Manager of the Dominion Club in Glen Allen, Virginia, a highly rated club with the range of amenities that Quechee offers as well. He knows golf, tennis, aquatics, food and beverage, fitness; pretty much all of it. He has been a Certified Club Manager (CCM) since 1997 and was very active in the Virginia Club Managers’ Association including two terms as the association president. He is already visible at the New England Club Managers’ Association meetings and socials. His knowledge of, and comfort with, the basics of club operations are apparent as we talk. He has been actively working this first year to understand The Quechee Club culture from all perspectives, and has even had some time to enjoy the beautiful place where we live.
As we sit on the deck having lunch and chatting, Sean greets each service staff member by name. Yes, he knows pretty much all the staff... although learning the names of all the seasonal staff who support the club throughout the year can be a bit of a struggle!
A typical day for Sean includes the goal of checking in with each department as is feasible. He wants to keep a pulse on what’s happening in each facility and to make himself accessible. Describing his regular visits to the golf maintenance area off Murphy Road, he smiles and says he really enjoys the “show and share” with the staff. Of course, there are lots of emails and administrative work to be done each day too. Sean goes to all the Quechee Lakes Landowners Association (QLLA) Operating Committee and Governing Committee meetings, and meets weekly with the President of the Board of Trustees. He sees his role as primarily “in the background providing support and encouragement.” He is flexible, inclusive and can apparently be creative; I heard that he even designs flower arrangements for the clubhouse!
Connor, Madailein, Sean, and Cassie
Finding club management as a career
Sean grew up in a small town in New Jersey, the youngest of five children. After college, he taught elementary school for a year, then thought about going into social services and worked at the Lynchburg Training School & Hospital. Needing a change, he moved to Richmond, Virginia, and worked at The United States Historical Society making wigs and porcelain hands for Ben Franklin and Abigail Adams dolls. A friend convinced him to partner in opening a delicatessen in Richmond. When they sold it two years later, one of their regular customers encouraged Sean, clearly service-focused and well suited to the hospitality industry, to go to work for the Country Club of Virginia and he began his career in club management at the fourth largest private country club in the country.
Certainly, the service side of his job – “the member experience” and growing the membership – are high priorities. As he says, watching people at the club through the seasons is interesting. The winter group is very different from the summer group. In the winter, the Base Lodge is ‘abuzz’ with skiers. There are a lot of new seasonal members and renters with young children. The younger members are certainly important for the longevity of the club, but a key group, Sean says, are those members and potential members who are in the 55- to 70-year-old age group who have more time to use the amenities and share them with their families. This is the way to encourage the legacy of The Quechee Club. Sean receives suggestions from members and encourages input. When looking at a new idea, the question he keeps in mind is, “Who is it going to serve?” This is the “essence of the job.”
Guiding The Quechee Club into the future
What about his thoughts about The Quechee Club and what he hopes to accomplish? Sean says that this “hidden gem” has a solid supportive future. Members have the amenities of a private club and the atmosphere of a Vermont vacation. Whether a primary home or second homeowner there is a lot to be proud of. The facilities are up-to-date and attractive, the balance sheet is healthy thanks to the strong stewardship of the QLLA Board of Trustees, and the members are involved.
He has enjoyed working with the QLLA Board. “All of the Trustees are invested in doing good work and securing the future of Quechee Lakes. The volunteer spirit is strong at Quechee, internally and for the community. Women have a strong presence, which is not true of all clubs.” He is impressed that three women were running for trustee positions this year.
Several of the significant challenges that face any general manager is finding the efficiencies in resource utilization and managing a diverse employee base. Are there places where we are wasting money and/or energy? With the goal of keeping any dues increase minimal and capital constant, he says it's important to stay on top of operations and invest in projects with significant returns. He has established a new group orientation for employees. They are introduced to all our operating managers, advised on and given the tools to succeed at the club. His message to them is, “If you have an idea, use your voice and make a positive change. The members and their guests are on vacation; our responsibility is to keep Quechee service oriented and peaceful.” Sean doesn’t like to take credit for any specific accomplishments; it’s all a team effort. “My job is to keep suggesting helpful ideas. My success and satisfaction come when the idea blossoms and is beneficial to the membership.
Sean is impressed with the pool complex – a super asset, which is becoming increasingly utilized with new ping-pong tables, the new teen room, and Friday Night Pool Parties. It is truly a member-meeting place. Tennis and skiing are “booming” right now and such great intergenerational sports. The work of the Trails Committee is outstanding as are the fitness and recreation programs. Golf’s growth is steady and will only increase as the younger families become involved.
An important future project is to give golf its proper representation in the form of a “Gateway for Golf” with a new pro shop and amenities. I spoke with T.J. Anthoine, The Quechee Club's Director of Golf who says that he and Sean share the same philosophy about golf. The message that “it is fun, come, join us and get the kids into it” is getting out there. The tournaments are oversubscribed this year. T.J. also thinks that a central golf facility is important as well and is excited to get it going. “Right now, the operation is scattered; it would serve the membership best to have all the components together in one spot – the pro shop, golf carts, starters, and even a dedicated food and beverage service for golfers,” T.J. says.
The other element that draws Sean to Quechee is the landscape and the QLLA mission to preserve the natural beauty of the valley, to be stewards of the land. When he and wife, Cassandra (Cassie), started dating, she was living north of Putney, Vermont. When she moved to Virginia, he promised her that one day they would return to Vermont. And he says that "thanks to Quechee, I had the opportunity to keep that promise to Cassie.” She is a licensed clinical social worker who will transition her practice to Vermont over the next year. Sean and Cassie have three grown children, Morgan, 27, Connor, 25, and Madailein, 20. Currently, he is on his own with his 12-week-old Bernese Mountain dog, Bear. He says he “laughs at himself as a single parent getting up in the night with the dog.” Sean, and now Bear, spend time off driving around Vermont and the Upper Valley searching for the perfect swimming hole. He has an extensive list of things to do (with the help of Mike Avery, concierge extraordinaire) to help him explore.
As Sean describes it, this is what I do all day with passion – “work to improve the Quechee experience, to create the buzz, and to experience and preserve the natural beauty, rural character, and setting of the valley.”