Superintendents work collaboratively to solve common issues at Syngenta Business Institute

Photo caption: Superintendents participate in a workshop at the Syngenta Business Institute. (Photo courtesy of Syngenta) 

It really is a brilliant idea.

Take 25 golf course superintendents from 18 different states and bring them together at a luxurious and thought-provoking academic setting to discuss ways to improve their operations and be better at their jobs.

Who in the industry wouldn’t want to attend such an event?

These 25 superintendents, chosen from a batch of about 80 applicants, engaged in the educational, informative and ultimately fulfilling sixth-annual Syngenta Business Institute (SBI) in December at the Graylyn International Conference Center on the campus of Wake Forest University (WFU) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

As a newcomer to the golf industry and to this magazine, I had no idea what to expect at this three-day event, but I heard nothing but great things about it.

It didn’t disappoint. And that’s an understatement. I felt smarter after attending this event. I would bet every attendee felt the same way. I know the ones I spoke to did.

What impacted me the most was how well this collaborative environment really worked. Also how it provoked and stimulated discussion. The amount of knowledge and insight presented was staggering.

When I left, I felt I could become a golf course superintendent! After all, I had just taken in an immense amount of knowledge, expertise and valuable insight over the three days. I thought to myself: “I could do a great job as a superintendent. Sign me up!”

That’s a joke, of course.

I could never do what these guys do on a day-to-day basis. They worry about finding employees. They worry about finding good employees. They worry about maintaining a pristine golf course every day. They worry about financial issues, making money for their clubs, satisfying all of the daily requirements that need to be met and handling problem employees. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, I learned.

That’s why SBI is such a unique event. It provided solutions to some of these problems.

“It’s important to be able to discuss current affairs in the business with your peers,” said Tim Huber, superintendent at The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas. “This is a difficult business, and while it’s competitive, it’s important to be able to lean on your peers and know that there’s a mutual respect in what we do. We get each other. We know what we’re up against, and especially at an event like this, you meet guys and you can relate to issues they’re facing. You talk it out, get different perspectives, and it helps out a lot.”

Scot Dey, superintendent at Mission Viejo Country Club in Mission Viejo, California, echoed Huber’s statements about the positives of discussing industry issues with peers in a collaborative setting like SBI.

“I find it very valuable when I’m around colleagues,” Dey said. “There’s so many experiences out there, that when you get into a setting like SBI, it offers that sharing of knowledge and guys are sharing ideas, talking about things. You get to see how other superintendents go about problem-solving techniques.”

Regarding problem-solving, specifically of financial issues, Ken Middaugh, director of WFU’s Institute for Executive Education and former associate dean and associate professor of management of WFU’s School of Business, provided attendees with an overview of key financial statements that are used to assess the financial health and performance of organizations. Specifically, he focused on the financial metrics that are useful in evaluating the performance of golf and club operations.

Dr. Amy Wallis, professor of practice in organizational behavior at WFU’s School of Business, led two fascinating and spirited sessions regarding managing employees: The first about the elements of cultural and generational diversity in how people go about doing their jobs, and the second focused around leveraging and respecting the value of differences in each employee.

In talking with many of the superintendents, it was clear to me that managing employees and their differences is a key issue many face. Whether it’s different generations, race or cultural background, attendees learned various ways to reach employees and relate to the issues they might have.

Dr. Bill Davis, professor of the practice of management at WFU’s School of Business, gave a lecture on the power of negotiating and how it can be used to create the best possible outcomes in finance, personnel and other aspects of course management.

Continuing with the collaborative theme I found so intriguing, attendees participated in negotiating sessions and discussed effective ways to negotiate things like equipment purchases and even course enhancements and upgrades. But, as Davis pointed out, “Some things are not negotiable issues, like values and identity,” a sentiment all in attendance agreed upon.

Dr. Sherry Moss, professor of organizational studies at WFU’s School of Business, provided sttendees with fundamental tools and ideas to help manage employees. Working together and examining the scenarios they face daily with problem employees provided the superintendents with invaluable knowledge to take back to their respective clubs.

“Looking at how you manage staff … being a good manager is about finding ways to get better,” Dey said. “It’s about people and how you develop people.”

It is about people, and at SBI 2014, people, collaborating with each other in productive ways, is what made this event a fascinating, rich and rewarding experience for all in attendance.