The Bottom Line: 10 Questions with Phil Norton

Phil Norton

Every month, Club Solutions sits down with an industry expert to share in their wealth of knowledge. In the August issue, the conversation features Phil Norton, the operations manager of Cincinnati Sports Club.

1. What was your first job in the fitness industry?

I spent the first 20-plus years of my career as a tennis pro, working my way to management. Toward the end of this path, I was a regional tennis director at a medical fitness organization that had three clubs. In that position, I was part of the senior leadership team working on the direction of all aspects of the operation, including fitness.

2. How did you get your start at Cincinnati Sports Club?

When I was looking to grow from my role in tennis, I was contacted by the CEO of the Cincinnati Sports Club about the operations position. After the interview, I was not sure I would enjoy it, but I knew this was the type of company and boss I wanted to work for. Previously, I had always looked for a position I thought I’d like, but this time my decision was based on the company.

3. What do you enjoy most about your current role?

What I love to do most is develop people. My job is to do that through hiring, training and personal development. Sometimes it’s hard, as people can be complicated – but it can also be tremendously rewarding. I sometimes joke my job would be great if I didn’t have to handle members or employees, but the truth is my best days always revolve around people and seeing them grow.

4. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome, personally or professionally?

The word “biggest” stumped me on this question. I am not sure this is the biggest, but it is the most pervasive challenge, and that’s hiring quality people.

5. How did you overcome that challenge?

I don’t believe I have overcome it, as I believe hiring the best will always be a challenge. But I will share a few of the things I am learning. It starts with a commitment — this must be a priority and cannot be something that gets pushed down the list. Recruitment is probably the hardest part of hiring – hiring websites, networking with universities, current staff incentives and certification workshops are a few things that have helped us recruit. Having a thorough process – interviews, personality profiling, practical interview, etc. are critical, but the process must move fast because the best people always have options.

6. What is one key to Cincinnati Sports Club’s success?

I could cite a lot of them, but I would start with direction. We know who we are, and we know where we are going. As a hybrid club, we are one of the only clubs in the country that is part fitness (IHRSA), part medical fitness (Medical Fitness Association), and part country club (Country Club Association of America). We try to focus on the positive aspects of each of these associations to create a club that is one-third health club, one-third medical fitness and one-third social.

7. What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever been given?

That in order to be a great leader, you have to be self-aware. Leaders who know their weaknesses get other people to do those things they are not good at. Those who don’t tend to surround themselves with people more like themselves, and the organization suffers.

8. What is your favorite leadership book and why?

“First Break All the Rules.” It has been awhile since I read it, but what stuck with me were the four things you do when managing people, including hire well, set expectations, motivate the person and develop the person. This simple summary stuck with me and comes to mind more often than I anticipated.

9. What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to golf, but in the last 10 years I have only made it out a handful of times. My kids are pretty active with sports, so between sports and church activities my spare time usually evaporates.

10. What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

I once played doubles with Rod Laver.

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