Club Insider

The "Insider Speaks"

A Letter From Laury Hammel

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Laury HammelLaury Hammel

Dear Norm and Justin,

Congratulations on the excellent hat trick of interviews about the Schwartz Family and their iconic business, Midtown Athletic Club. You were exactly right when you warned readers about the length and promised us that it was well worth the time to read the whole thing. I read every single word (although it took me three of my favorite flavored sparkling waters), and I learned much I didn't know about this fine family and their successful business. I personally have gained much from their wisdom, know-how and essential truths of prosperous entrepreneurship.

It was special to digest a dynamic father-son combo from Club Insider interviewing members of three generations of a legendary family-owned business: Alan, Steve and Alex Schwartz. I am also part of a family-owned business. My father and mother managed the Salt Lake Tennis Club in the '50s and '60s and transformed it from a historic tennis club to one that included swimming. I now proudly own it and will soon be celebrating its 110th year of serving the tennis and swimming community. My children grew up at my Boston area clubs, and my two sons have also worked at the club. To see how well the four generations of the Schwartz family work together and to read about the insights and lessons learned in a multi-generation family business was inspirational and instructional.

As pointed out in the interview with Steve, my business partner, Myke Farricker, and I have leased a facility from Midtown in Natick, MA for 36 years. I can attest to the integrity and collaborative spirit of the Schwartz family as they've supported us through good times and rocky times. I've known Alan Schwartz for 41 years and Steve for nearly two decades, and these two men have formed an extraordinary team.

As Kevie Schwartz shared with Alan early on:

"The third thing he told me was: 'If you ever want to get anywhere, you've got to be willing to delegate because you can't do it all yourself; you've got to have a team."

It is standard for the Schwartz family ethos to give credit where credit is due. Giving a shout out to current and former Midtown leaders like Doug Cash, Spike Gonzales and Debra Siena is impressive. These three pioneers in our industry and other current and former Midtown leaders continue to make a big impact, whether continuing to be on the Midtown team or having moved on.

I also want to thank and acknowledge the Schwartz family for building what some call a "Legacy Business" that stands the test of time. The Schwartz family made the conscious decision to build something that lasts and to make a positive impact on people's lives every day. We have seen others in our industry whose only concern was to maximize profits without much care for their community or have built a business so they can flip it and leave with a tidy profit. Neither of these strategies have proven to be successful in the health club industry in the long term.

The part of the interview where Steve speaks about the steps that Midtown has taken to survive and thrive even during the pandemic was profound. This strategy for handling a health and economic crisis serves as a handbook for us all to find opportunities in the middle of difficulties. My hat is off to Steve and the Midtown team.

So many great things were shared about the Schwartz family, but I want to emphasize even more the essence of what really makes Midtown move from good to great on my "Community Impact Scale." When Kevie shared with Alan his secrets to lifelong happiness and success, he said:

"In defining yourself, be sure you are more than just your job. It may be you as a contributor to society... you as a human being... it's NOT JUST YOUR JOB. Be a contributor, be a giver and not a taker so you will be proud and feel good about yourself."

I can vouch for this attribute of the Schwartz family. Alan talked about his experience as a leader and the Chair of the USTA. As a proud member of the USTA for over sixty years and heavily engaged with the USTA all of my adult life, I can attest that he understated his impact. Alan Schwartz completely transformed the USTA in so many wonderful ways. I know Alan; if he feels strongly about something, his Yale Bulldoggeness comes out, and he harnesses his immense verbal and intellectual skills to get the job done or know the reason why. He spent over ten years of his life growing the game of tennis through his USTA leadership and dedication, and anyone who loves the game of tennis should thank Alan for his lifetime of unpaid service.

During the pandemic, several club owners have stepped up and dedicated hundreds of hours to bringing the club industry together to mitigate the damage done. Steve Schwartz was the leader who stood strong and successfully guided Midtown through this existential crisis. But, in alignment with the Midtown legacy, Steve went even further. A former IHRSA Board Member and influential industry leader, he stepped up BIG TIME to bring together the Chicago and Illinois health club industry to protect health clubs. He didn't stop at the borders of Illinois, Steve has been one of the leaders in IHRSA to influence public policy, develop strategies and find ways to bring health club owners together to speak as one voice and act in harmony to preserve our industry. Thank you, Steve!

Finally, there was one person who played a key role in the life of this wonderful family: Ronnie Schwartz. Ronnie is the daughter-in-law of Kevie, the wife of Alan, the mother of Steve, the grandmother of Alex and an unsung heroine in the Schwartz story. She is smart, strong, versatile and a truly wonderful human being. Wherever Ronnie travels, she leaves a trail of loving thoughts and experiences. People always feel better about themselves when they interact with this kind, sensitive and elegant woman. She has been there for her whole family every step of the way. When I see Steve in action, I see a merger of two talented and giving spirits that I'm sure helped make Alex the fine young man he is today.

My final word and the only slight disagreement with the interview was when Steve referred to Laury Hammel as a "tennis fanatic." I feel that understates things dramatically. A more appropriate might be tennis addict, extremist, radical and zealot.

With Gratitude,

Laury Hammel
Founder and Owner of the Longfellow Health Clubs in MA, NH and UT

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