Talking business with Joe Guerra
by Clay Neely
Joe Guerra, president and CEO of Sequoia Golf, announced last week the acquisition of three premium, private golf and country clubs in the north Atlanta metro area: Atlanta National Golf Club, Polo Golf & Country Club and White Columns Country Club.
The Newnan-based Sequoia Golfer owns or operates more than 50 private clubs, resorts and daily-fee facilities across the United States. Following the announcement of the latest acquisitions by Sequoia, I was fortunate enough to speak with Guerra to discuss not only the newest additions to the Sequoia family, but some insightful business practices as well.
When it comes to basic business philosophy, Guerra breaks it down into two fundamental values: brand recognition and trust. To Guerra, maintaining a brand that is honorable and trustworthy is the cornerstone of any current or future successes. And by striving to meet these two important criteria, the company doesn’t set specific rules or policies for their employees. “It all boils down to self motivation,” Guerra emphasizes.
“We place a premium on personal judgment and hard work. We don’t need proxies for good management. We were also very straight and direct with our employees. We like to give any bad news up front: again adhering to our emphasis and value on trust.”
Following the recession of late 2008, one may wonder how a company that specializes in recreation would remain profitable. But not only were the expectations met, they were exceeded with the acquisition of more courses.
“It gave our members more options than having one exclusive course,” explains Guerra.
“We also diversified and created new businesses such as Short Grass and In Play Magazine, a world-class publication for golfers and families who understand that golf is more than a game, it’s a lifestyle.”
In 2009, Sequoia began to diversify by way of the creation of Sequoia Greenscapes, a course design, renovation and maintenance company. In addition, Sequoia assumed management of 13 properties located throughout the eastern United States.
The managed properties ranged from mid-range public to high-end private clubs. By leveraging many in-house talent teams and agencies, Sequoia continues to successfully manage these initial contracts, as well as an additional 10 clubs that added in 2010.
And just how does Sequoia determine which kind of clubs fit into their criteria?
It comes down to the location of the club and how the brand, the membership and the property is managed. All these things involve an investment and carry a value, either financially or through reputation. A brand that has a poor reputation is simply not a worthwhile investment. A course that doesn’t practice proper maintenance and upkeep is certainly not a viable candidate.
All these factors can be traced to Guerra’s fundamental business ethos: brand recognition and trust. If an existing club is lacking in these departments to a degree that seems irreparable, there would be little to no interest in their acquisition. In terms of one of the biggest business lessons he’s learned along his journey, it can be boiled down to one, simple objective: survival.
It’s very apparent that Guerra has not grown accustomed to resting on any laurels or spending too much time recognizing his own achievements. How does he envision any future successes?
“Think about the future as survival,” he flatly states.
“Will the same tools you use today be the same ones you use in the future? No.”
“Is today an achievement? No, it’s survival. What about tomorrow? One of the most important things to find yourself practicing is finding new ways to do old things.”
Guerra emphatically stresses the need for adding new tools to an existing skill set which will most likely aid you in the objective of survival for the future.
So what words of wisdom would someone like Joe Guerra have for a person who finds themselves at the beginning of their own journey to prosperity?
Guerra responds without missing a beat: “Work Saturdays.”
“It’s the hustle factor. I would suggest seeking out people that you admire and want to emulate. Learn their secrets and assimilate. Successful people, as a whole, generally feel obligated to share their experiences and enjoy giving back to those who seek their knowledge and insight.”
So what does a person like Joe Guerra do in his spare time?
“Really?” I ask.
“Absolutely,” he responds.
“It recharges my batteries. It’s a lifestyle.”
“I’m an average player,” he admits. “But it’s one of the activities I cherish the most. I also love to read and listen to audiobooks while I work out.”
Listening to Joe speak feels motivational in itself. From the emphasis he places not only on practicing sound, common sense business philosophies but also speaking to the importance of self-improvement, it’s no wonder he stays as active as he does.