As Tal Czudner took the stage in Halifax in October 2018 to accept his Club Manager of the Year award, no one was surprised that he was the winner. To know Czudner is to know a personality that’s larger than life, and a man who brings the same enthusiasm and undivided attention to everything he does, whether it’s to his job, volunteering at his children’s school, or playing tennis outside during an ice storm.
The general manager of Essex Golf and Country Club, Czudner is also an espresso aficionado—if it’s not perfect, he’s not drinking it. He dances like no one is watching (even though he knows everyone is watching), hopping around the dance floor like a pogo stick on a trampoline. He wears such funny and unusual socks that everyone buys them for him. He has nicknames for each one of his friends. He’s contributed countless hours to his community, and will devote all of his attention to a single person who needs his help.
He’s also the best husband, father, friend, and colleague that you could hope to meet, a man with seemingly unending energy, who makes you feel better by just being in his presence.
Paul Morrell, the GM of the Ontario Racquet Club, met Czudner through a conference for the Canadian Society of Club Managers over 10 years ago, and they’ve been friends ever since.
“The first time I met him [was] in Winnipeg and despite it being ridiculously cold, he was wearing sandals,” Morrell laughs. “When I first met him his nickname was Sandals because he would always wear sandals with socks—the most ridiculous look ever. For a guy who can be so fashionable, he can also be so unfashionable. He’s got the dad look down really well.”
During the day, you’ll find him at Essex, handling all aspects of the club: golf, food and beverage, finance, membership, and facilities. Czudner has been the GM at Essex since 2011, after having worked at Beach Grove Golf and Country Club as clubhouse manager for seven years.
After home and work, Czudner wants his members to think of Essex as that third place to go. “The club can be the place where you come to have a nice dinner, a round of golf, or hang out here and lounge, take your tablet, and read some reports,” he says.
“As GM, I’ve tried different things to engage members. Our society has changed, so clubs need to change. You try to do things that engage children, engage grandparents, some of the things you do are very formal like wine dinners, but you also need silly fun things like date nights and Halloween parties.” Czudner even dresses up on occasion as Batman or Captain America “to surprise the kids at the club.”
Some may think of clubs as elitist or unattainable, but Czudner believes in a more positive definition.
“The old reputation is that clubs are stuffy and no fun because you have to get all dressed up. I think there’s a component of that that we have to hang onto. It’s still a special place. Clubs are a place where people who have worked hard maybe want to unwind a bit, and enjoy some time with friends, have a bottle of wine. We have to provide that.”
While general managers are expected to be the enthusiastic face of the club, Czudner still stands out among his peers. Morrell calls Czudner “one of the most stand-up people I know. He’s genuinely a nice guy, he’s not just putting on a show. [And] he’s one of those guys who has a motor that never stops. He’s all about his family. He’s a huge fan of his family and they definitely take up the number one spot in his consideration for doing things.”
Jeremey MacRae, chief operating officer at Weston Golf and Country Club, has been one of Czudner’s best friends for over 20 years and marvels at Czudner’s energy level. “He is the Energizer Bunny times a thousand. His motor does not quit. It is always going and he’s full of life, full of energy, [and it’s] infectious.”
While community volunteerism was a requirement for the nomination of Club Manager of the Year, Czudner didn’t start to volunteer to simply check off that box on the ballot. “I’ve been a big part of the community my entire life,” he says. He believes it’s his “obligation” to give back to the community. Czudner volunteers on both of his children’s school councils and at the Windsor Essex County Cancer Centre Foundation, and he is chair of the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation, “an organization that helps bring groups and chief businesses into Essex County,” he clarifies.
Czudner wanted to serve as a chair because he’s “a big believer in Windsor-Essex County.”
“Windsor-Essex County is such a small area. If someone new is moving to the area, I’d love to help them get settled in Essex County and maybe they’ll end up becoming members. Windsor-Essex County is a nice retirement community. People are selling their homes in Toronto and Ottawa and Calgary and moving to the area for reasonable real estate and wonderful amenities including golf clubs.”
It helps that Windsor is smaller compared to bigger cities like Toronto and Vancouver, and that it’s in close proximity to Detroit, where sport and food options are plentiful.
“There’s one degree of connection in Windsor. Everyone’s connected. I like being able to go to Zehrs and bump into people and say hello. I like the Windsor community, how we care for each other and prop each other up.”
Much of Czudner’s appeal at Essex Golf and Country Club is that he treats the job as a fun activity, and much like his community work, he applies a style of leadership that involves everyone, so no one at the club feels left out. It’s a style that works with all of his employees, regardless of their age or the length of time they’ve been there.
“People want many different things,” he explains. “In terms of the younger employees, they want flexible schedules, a little bit of fun at work. Money is relevant but they want to work in an environment that is stimulating, where in the past the Baby Boomers are more interested in steady employment and a paycheque and a consistent work environment. As general manager, you need to be cognizant of all those different demographics to manage them and also provide a service to five different demographics.
“A good club manager needs to be a chameleon on a daily basis,” he adds. “I work for thousands of members, each of whom often has strong opinions on topics, and I have to do what I can to manage the expectations and wants of those people. I’m Switzerland.”
The goodwill that Czudner spread to everyone over years of his generous leadership style came back to him a couple of years into his position, when Czudner’s wife, Daniella, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “At Essex, when the diagnosis came in, the club members were very supportive during that process and that is one of the wonderful things about Essex County. You go to the hospital and you’re going to see someone that you know there. It helps you with the battle.”
It was an extremely difficult time for the Czudner family, including their children Alexandra (now 17 years old) and Isaac (now 15).
“With any battle, and certainly with cancer, people can tackle them in different ways. Daniella and I believed that we had to listen to the doctors, fo llow the protocol to a T, and don’t give up,” he says. “Every single day during treatment, during chemo, we walked 5K. There were some days where she didn’t need any motivation and there were some days where I had to help her put her shoes on. That was one of the things we chose to do together to tackle this illness. She was very vocal about what she was doing. We wanted to dive in and fight as much as we can.” Daniella is a survivor and “just passed the five-year mark.” The couple has been married for 23 years.
After the support the family received during Daniella’s treatment, Czudner and Daniella both give their time back to the community to support others diagnosed with cancer and believe in the importance of letting those around you support you during tough times, just as they’d celebrate with you during the good times.
MacRae recalls a time when he needed to lose a lot of weight on his doctor’s orders, so he decided to start running. Czudner, already a seasoned runner, was right there beside him.
“Tal was like, ‘I’ll run with you then.’ I’ll never forget that. He said, ‘There’s a simple rule. You walk, I walk. You run, I run.’ Here’s this guy who could have pulled off a 10K run and we’re running down by the waterfront on Riverside Drive and he says, ‘Listen, if you gotta stop and walk, I stop and walk with you.”
MacRae ended up losing 100 pounds and running his first marathon, the Detroit International Marathon. He knows that Czudner’s role as a supportive friend was integral to his success.
MacRae isn’t surprised by his friend’s undying energy.
“If all of a sudden he said, to me, ‘Hey Jeremey, I’m going to swim across the frickin’ Atlantic Ocean,’ it wouldn’t surprise me,” he laughs.
For Czudner and his family, giving back to the community is what makes where we live better. Spreading goodness creates positive ripple effects.
“Somebody in our past contributed to what we have today,” says Czudner, “and it’s our obligation to continue to volunteer and contribute so that our children and our grandchildren have good hospitals, nice work environments, and good school boards. Wherever you choose to contribute, everyone has a role to contribute in some way.”
Czudner believes you can start anywhere. “That might be to coach a baseball team, help at a local church, assist with city or county programs, work at the downtown mission.”
Czudner encourages his children to give back also. Alexandra and Isaac are both involved in the WindsorEssex Community Foundation (a philanthropic network that reaches across Canada), while both are students at Holy Names High School, playing multiple sports, and achieving competitive grades. Alexandra moves to the University of Guelph in the fall to work towards becoming a veterinarian and Isaac wants to be involved in sports journalism.
Czudner considers himself part of a different kind of family also, with the “fraternity of managers” of other clubs across Canada.
“We don’t compete with one another. So if I’m looking for ideas for junior members or programs or food and beverage events, you can reach out to 20 clubs all throughout Canada and you’ll get 20 responses back. We all help each other out,” he gushes.
He doesn’t consider the competition of different clubs in Windsor-Essex either.
“If you live in Tecumseh or St. Clair, you’re likely going to join Beach Grove. If you live out in Belle River, you’ll join Beach Grove or Rochester Place. If you live in Lasalle, South Windsor, even Walkerville, you’re likely to join Essex. But most of the time you’re asking help from people in London, Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver.”
Czudner sees those he works with, ranging from club managers to members, people in his community to family members and friends, as his mentors.
“I’m either going to name zero people or I’m going to name a hundred people. The relationship with members is so important to me personally. I work hard at developing and maintaining those relationships. You get to meet a lot of interesting people in the club business.”
Czudner believes each person you interact with can offer you something to learn.
“I think you can learn from everybody. You can learn from the really successful doctor and you can learn from the 15-year-old dishwasher. Everyone has different experiences and different perspectives.”
When it comes to success and achieving your goals, passion is on the top of Czudner’s list along with surrounding yourself with good people. Ultimately, he wants people to remember him as “one of the most positive people” they’ve ever met.
“You need to have a lot of great relationships with your family and your friends, you need to do the right thing, and have fun. When I put my head down, I can generally go right to sleep because I know I’ve worked hard, done some good things, I’ve helped some people, I made some people smile, and I’ve probably worked in some exercise.”
This may all sound easy, so I ask about fear and the worry that comes along with taking risks.
“It’s very hard to take risks. It’s easy to stay in the slow lane. But in life there are some risks you have to take. Sometimes it’ll work out for you, other times it’ll be a learning experience for you. I’m almost 50 and I still learn all the time.”
Near the end of our conversation, Czudner tells me about an assignment his Daniella gives to her students as an English teacher at Holy Names High School.
“You have to put six words on your tombstone that describe you. I’ve got six words and two sentences: Do the right thing. Have fun.”