Through sheer hard work, luck, talent, risk-taking and untold long hours, Dallas CEO Patrick McEvoy, Jr. has built his Western Extrusions Corporation into the largest privately held aluminum extrusion manufacturer in the United States with annual sales of a quarter billion dollars.
Not that his business success was any help at all to him when he reported for work on a very early May morning in the cart barn at the TPC Four Seasons Resort in Irving.
Beginning at 4 a.m., McEvoy and three other members of Dallas’ Salesmanship Club took turns servicing dozens of electrical carts to get them ready for a new round of their annual PGA Tour event, the HP Byron Nelson Championship.
While McEvoy was a captain of his own corporate ship and a leader in his industry, when he put on the trademark bright red Salesmanship Club pants, he was just another week-long worker bee, annually raising more than $6 million dollars for charity.
“I was there at 4 a.m. each morning and I am not a 4 a.m., morning type of guy,” he said.
In the pre-automation era, water had be to added to each golf cart battery, making sure the cart would maintain the desired speed to last throughout the tournament day. Plus, if, heaven forbid, some volunteer or official failed to return a cart at the end of the night, it was up to McEvoy and his crew to trudge through the North Texas night to find the missing cart for the next morning.
“It was a tough job. I certainly wasn’t using my college degree that week,” he recalled.
That clearly made McEvoy the highest paid cart jockey in Salesmanship Club history, with the exception of the three other executives who labored with him over the three-year stint in the cart barn, and the dozens more who have preceded and succeeded him in that blue collar task.
That, in a nutshell, is the genius and the uniqueness of the 89-year-old Salesmanship Club of Dallas. It has raised more than $100 million for its locally based Youth and Family Services Centers via its annual PGA Tour tournament, which began in 1968, making it the most successful professional charity golf event in the U.S or anywhere else in the world.
There are currently 650 members in the club with an average of 16 new members accepted each year. They pay annual dues of $600, plus attend and pay for the weekly Thursday lunch, not to mention wear the red pants, which they have sported at their PGA Tour event since the early days of the Tournament.
They are responsible for selling millions of dollars of tickets and sponsorships to the annual HP Byron Nelson Classic, held May 21-24 this year at the TPC Four Seasons Resort in Irving, then putting in hundreds of hours running the tournament from the cart barn to trash pickup, marshalling and crowd control.
Millionaires doing the mundane. CEOs mixing manual labor with mutual friendship for a cause they hold dearer than any lofty board or grandiose civic achievement.
“We’re a bunch of Indian chiefs willing to be Indians to give some back to the community,” summed up recently deceased long-time member Lloyd Gilmore.
From McEvoy and Container Store CEO Kip Tendell, to deceased historic members such as car dealer Rodger Meier, lawyer Woodall Rodgers and civic leader Julius Schepps, plus many others, the business executives continue to put in hundreds of hours each year in sweat equity for their vital cause.
It didn’t take famed Dallas orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Schubert, who has performed hundreds of hip and knee surgeries, long to find this out. In his second year in the club, there was a slightly different operation he was called upon to perform.
“We had some really heavy rains before the tournament started, so we went over to (tournament second course) Cottonwood Valley, to clean out the drains and dredge out the creek beds near the course.
“We were in water up to our ankles,” he recalled. “There were snakes everywhere and I thought this is definitely something they didn’t teach me in medical school. I could have probably helped with any snake bites, but the reason we were there was to make the course and the creek look good for the fans and TV.”
They are fiercely loyal to their duty of shared sacrifice, and just as disdainful for any newcomer who wants to treat membership in the Salesmanship Club as another check mark off the corporate do-gooder list.
“I always chuckle when I meet some new CEO whose corporate PR team has given him a list of things he has to do to be accepted as a new business leader in Dallas,” said Dallas PR firm owner Andy Stern, a member since 1985. “He has to join the right civic organization, get in the correct country club and lastly, join the Salesmanship Club.”
He met just such an individual a few years ago when a new CEO arrived at the club’s weekly Thursday noon meeting.
After a half-hour of corporate fellowship and listening to NBA commissioner David Stern speak, the visitor leaned over to the Club member and gushed, “This is great. I’m really enjoying this. How often to you do this?”
Without a smile or a second thought, Stern quickly shot back, “every Thursday for the rest of your life.”
The grin quickly faded from the corporate visitor’s face and he was not seen making many more visits to the club.
“The Salesmanship Club is not for everyone,” warns Dallas lawyer Mike Massad, Jr. “It’s a great time commitment. You have to check your ego at the door, give up any title or kingdom and get in the work to make it happen.”
Tournament jobs are rotated every 2-3 years, meaning just when you’ve mastered the art of putting early morning battery water into the electric carts, it’s time to move on to marshalling a cross walk, working the noisy pavilion or being the human answer man for thousands of North Texas golf fans.
“It’s really purpose driven fellowship,” said Tendell, who has served as a hole marshal on No. 14 at the TPC Four Seasons for the last couple of years.
After his three-year stint in the cart barn, McEvoy spent three years in tournament administration culminating as general tournament chairman in 2001. But, unlike some chairmen or presidents who retire to building their library and a six-figure tour of the lecture circuit, he was shuttled back down the assignment ladder at the club. Now, he’s back to marshalling a hole, the job he started with in 1985.
Excuses of work, travel and busy schedules are not taken lightly, or at all.
Just ask Dallas’ Southwestern Medical Central Foundation Chairman Emeritus and private money manager Paul Bass about work-related excuses and the Salesmanship Club.
Bass had only been in the club a few years when his job transferred him from Dallas to Houston. Wanting to stay associated with the club, Bass approached the member who had sponsored him for membership and asked if there was some type of inactive status while he was living out of town.
The response may have surprised him, but was well within the Salesmanship Club “no excuses” mantra. “You’re only going to Houston, you can still come back for the Thursday meeting,” which is exactly what he did for three years before moving back to Dallas full-time.
“Paul has no tolerance for people who won’t work in the club,” said one long-time member. “This isn’t just a “put your name on the list” type of organization.”
Since 1920, when the club was founded by civic leaders such as James K. Wilson, Sol Dreyfuss, Conrad Hilton and Rogers, its first president, the members have shouldered on with their task of raising money for local boys and girls who need help to better their current circumstances and their lives.
The club operates the J Erik Jonsson Community School in Oak Cliff along with the newly opened Family Works Center located on Harry Hines Blvd. in Dallas. They also have a non-residential camp in East Texas, which is used for a variety of therapeutic and recreational school and family purposes.
The club services 7,500 kids and their families each year with a budget of approximately $9 million, provided by the golf tournament proceeds and other club projects.
“We’re not raising for charity, we’re raising money for our charity,” said 2008-2009 club president Frank Swingle. “That’s a huge difference.”
The club first organized golden glove boxing matches in the 1930s and 40s, then helped run the 1963 PGA Championship at Dallas Athletic Club, their first golf venture, and spent nearly 25 years sponsoring the first Dallas Cowboys pre-season football game until 1989.
The first official PGA Tour sponsored tournament began in 1968, with namesake and golf legend Byron Nelson. Upon retiring from professional golf in the late 1940s, Nelson, a native North Texan, settled at his beloved ranch in Roanoke, never to leave again.
The partnership between the hard-working group of Dallas business leaders and the local living golf legend simply turned out to be the most successful professional golf partnership of all time.
For more than three decades, they raised more than 10 percent of all charity dollars given on the PGA Tour, and in 2007 were honored as the first golf tournament organization ever to raise $100 million dollars for charity.
“When I’m getting ready to go out and sell $100,000 worth of golf tickets, sometimes the thought will come, ‘I could be doing something else,’” said McEvoy. “But then I think about the kid whose life we’re changing and the needs we’re meeting.
“We have a few unwritten rules,” added Larry Haynes, Managing Director Americas for Ernst and Young in Dallas. “Number one, check your ego at the door. Number two, never say “no” to any assignment. At the club, everybody else is doing their part, you want to as well.”
The combination of Nelson and the Salesmanship Club brought record sales and heady days through much of the 1980s and ‘90s. While Tiger Woods turned down President Bill Clinton’s request to join him at a Civil Rights ceremony a month after winning his first Masters Golf Tournament, he accepted Nelson’s invitation to make the Dallas tournament his first since his record-breaking win.
His appearance launched a string of record crowds, big-name winners and millions of dollars made for the local charity.
But dark clouds began to form over the club and its tournament by the middle of the opening decade of the 21st century.
First, the PGA Tour, which had greatly benefited by the Salesmanship Club’s lead in charity giving, took( locals like to use the word “stole”), the club’s prime mid-May date. With the Tour’s own tournament, the Players Championship getting the traditional mid-May Nelson date, they were booted back to less desirable late-April dates for 2007 and 2008.
Second, Nelson passed away in late 2006 at age 94, removing the motivation or obligation many of the top professional golfers, including Woods, had to play in the tournament each year.
Thirdly, the course at the TPC Four Seasons Resort had become worn out after nearly two decades of use and had to be replaced without skipping a tournament year.
“It’s some of the toughest days I’ve seen,” said 2009 tournament chairman Charley Spradley. “We’ve crested some tough hills before. We had some real peaks before when Tiger came in the mid 90s, but the last few years, the valleys were a major challenge.”
With their typical hours, work ethic and well-honed business acumen, club members came together to restore the image of a once grand golfing institution.
They teamed with title sponsor EDS and its tough-talking chairman Ron Rittenmeyer to negotiate with the Tour to return to May on the golfing calendar, linking up with the Colonial, Fort Worth’s PGA Tour event, once again.
They worked with the Four Seasons Resort owner Bentley Forbes, the PGA Tour and local architect D.A. Weibring in a multi-million dollar project, to fashion a greatly renovated golf course, which has drawn rave reviews from Tour players and hotel guests who play the course the other 51 weeks of the year.
“I think we’re really well positioned for 2009 and beyond,” said Doug Hawthorne, the CEO of Texas Health Resources, which boasts 18,000 employees and a multi-million dollar budget.
“When the tough decision needs to be made, the members really come together with the same principles which help at their work helping at the club. The reason this is so special is that there is nobody to delegate it, you just do it.”
In a tough economy, the sales goals of $12.5 million for 2009 haven’t been reduced because they can’t. The needs of the charity are still great and since the club is the charity, instead of just helping out somebody else, any reduction would just have to be made up by club members in some other manner.
The result has been gratifying if not surprising as members make their 2009 sales calls.
“I’ve had business people tell me they can reduce expenses all they want, but the two things they still have to buy are Cowboys tickets because their big customers want them and Byron Nelson tickets because of what we do for charity,” one member said. “That makes you feel good people recognize our work.”
To perform its annual good deeds each spring, the Salesmanship Club has found two strong allies in the City of Irving and TPC Four Seasons Resort.
“This is a city which is identified with business and attuned to the speed of business,” said Maura Gast, executive director of the Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“You have the leading CEOs of the area coming together for a common cause. It’s not their day-in, day-out job, but the true test of leadership is how to follow and you can’t tell the difference here between titles and positions.
Four Seasons General Manager Michael Newcombe agreed.
“The CEOs who join the Salesmanship Club or conduct meetings in our conference center are some of the same you’ll see at the Byron Nelson Championship. Roping and staking the course, shuttling pros to the practice range, selling merchandise, they are willing to do it all. To me that defines a true CEO.
“I think it’s understood the Four Seasons and the Salesmanship Club speak the same business language,” he added.
Perhaps the most common credo for the dirty work done well comes from legendary car dealer Meier. He spent many a tournament pulling dozens of car out of the Preston Trail courseside parking lot, which was annually turned to mud at the former tournament location due to frequent spring storms.
“You couldn’t pay me to do this job,” Meier once said, “and you couldn’t pay me enough if you did.”
When it came time to leave the dreaded muddy lot and move to their lavish new location in Irving in the early 1980s, with acres of paved parking, the members turned around and sold the well-located field to a developer for millions, donating the money to the local cause they hold so dear.
It’s all in a days work for Dallas’ top CEOs, who’ll get down and dirty if it allows them to come clean with their annual millions for the Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Services and the North Texas kids and families they serve.