Until January 2011, Kevin Boyles had what he believed to be his dream job. He was director of athletics and recreation at the University of Calgary, and as a former Olympic athlete and member of the Canadian national volleyball team, working in such a prestigious role at his alma mater and spending each day focusing on what he loved—well, it seemed that nothing could ever compare. So when Calgary Winter Club, a private, member-owned facility offering quality athletic and social activities, came knocking at Boyles’s door with a CEO position, the opportunity was both enticing and totally unexpected.
“I’d been a member of the club for 10 years, and not once during that time did I ever have a single interaction with the administration,” Boyles says. “I also never thought about working at the club. It took a while for me to come around to the idea of being CEO; it wasn’t an opportunity I immediately jumped at. As soon as I began to understand that the club was on the verge of big things, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.” When Boyles joined in January 2011, Calgary Winter Club was on the cusp of its largest and arguably most impressive expansion yet, eight years in the making, and he has now overseen its first half while working to improve the club’s atmosphere in less physical ways as well.
The $30 million renovation, happening in two stages, promises something for everyone: a multidisciplinary gymnasium, hot yoga, a new running track, rock climbing, and teen and youth centres. The club is also correcting a problem that has had attendance waning: “Pinch points,” as Boyles refers to them, are areas of the club that have been too busy and thus inaccessible to many members. These areas include the locker rooms, tennis courts, the fitness centre, and the cafeteria, and they all have already been expanded. The club has also included more parking, which there never seems to be enough of.
“The expansion is spectacular, and what I’m most happy with is the fact that we’re finally taking advantage of our views,” Boyles says. “We’re basically situated on a hill, and there are stunning views of the mountains and the downtown Calgary skyline. Previously, these views were going to waste. You can now look out and see what looks like all of Calgary from the fitness centre and track. In phase two of construction, the major goal is [to give] our restaurant the same views.”
When he was simply a member of Calgary Winter Club, Boyles saw it undergo a previous expansion but didn’t think about it much. Now, though, as CEO, he understands the need to stay current by consistently offering members the best that the health and fitness world has to offer. Boyles says there are other clubs in the immediate area, both private and public, that offer similar services, so in order to make a member’s hefty $35,000 investment worth it, Calgary Winter Club has to go above and beyond expectations—while creating a fun, family-friendly environment.
There’s also the issue of Calgary Winter Club’s membership cap. If the club is at its maximum capacity in terms of memberships, yet members have become disengaged, it essentially becomes an empty space with no new membership coming in. That’s the worst-case scenario, and even though Boyles isn’t likely to run into it, it’s still something he works to avoid every day.
“People are so heavily invested in the club, and not just financially,” he says. “The culture of Calgary is one that embraces family values, and when someone has a membership with us, it’s like we become a part of their family. They come every evening or every weekend; their kids spend summers here. We’ve been around since 1960, so many families are multigenerational members. It’s in our best interest to provide the best value because we want members to get the most out of their memberships.”
Calgary Winter Club was under construction for the first two years that Boyles spent as CEO. And now that phase one is complete, he’s not anxious to jump into part two. The plan moving forward is to let members enjoy the new features and let staff become acclimated to all the new areas and services. Boyles and his team are not resting on their laurels, however. The CEO has a mission: he wants to return the club to its members by allowing them to have more of a say. To do this, he’s working to break down any barriers between the staff and members. The goal, Boyles says, is to have everyone work on their communication skills.
“This will be the biggest change in our culture,” he says. “We’re opening ourselves up to more member feedback. We’re like a small town; we have 8,000 individual members from 3,000 families. It’s easy for silos to go up, but we’re going to work very hard to bring them down.”