Building a stronger club
CFO brings construction experience to finance role
Large Nonprofit | Julie Brown, CFO
Farmington Country Club, Charlottesville
Julie Brown uses her construction industry experience to inform investments in capital projects at Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville.
Before her time at the club, Brown served for five years as controller and CFO of Charlottesville-based construction company Martin Horn Inc. And she brought that industry knowledge with her when she joined the club in 2012. Since then, Brown has built member support and buy-in for approximately $25 million in capital improvement projects at Farmington Country Club.
She’s also focused on growing the club’s bottom line.
When Farmington hired Brown, the club was bringing in $13 million in annual revenue, and it had 2,394 members. Eight years later, the club boasts more than $21 million in revenue and has increased its membership to more than 2,600 members.
Projects have included a $10 million project to renovate Farmington’s kitchen and guest rooms and add a grill and locker room. The club has 40 guest rooms, several dining rooms and a ballroom, along with amenities such as golf and tennis.
“In order to do capital projects, you’ve first got to educate the membership and get them to have confidence in the project,” says Farmington Country Club CEO Joe Krenn. “During the first round of projects, having [Brown] help me manage all of the [purchase orders] and understand all of the inner workings of how the construction world works … that was a huge help.”
Luckily, the club had already begun to reap the benefits of the projects by the time COVID-19 hit, which rocked the hospitality industry. On March 17, Farmington Country Club closed its doors for nearly three months until Gov. Ralph Northam eased restrictions in early June. In the interim, Brown was faced with seeking ways to avoid laying off the club’s 450-plus employees.
The club had to furlough 225 staffers, all of whom have since returned, Brown says. But with cash on hand, she was able to pay furloughed employees for six weeks while they filed for and received unemployment benefits through the state, costing the club approximately $2 million. The club also laid off a few employees in its child care center (which is still closed due to COVID-19 restrictions).
Brown oversees the club’s Lend a Hand initiative, which raises donations from staff and club members to help club employees during times of need. “[This] has in turn helped a lot of our employees maintain mortgage payments, car payments and medical bills [during the pandemic],” Brown says.
To prepare for 2021, Brown has a traffic-light-inspired financial plan for the club. Depending on the stage of the pandemic, Brown will implement one of three budgets: red (back to stringent restrictions), yellow (operating at a limited capacity) or green (returning to normalcy).
“We budgeted for 2020, and that budget pretty much became irrelevant on March 13,” Brown says. “I had to take a hard look at how I was going to budget for 2021 because … I don’t think this is going away anytime soon.”
Brown’s 2021 budgeting pivot and initiative to help employees during challenging times illustrates her evolving duties.
“The role is changing dramatically, insofar as that the traditional CFO is a numbers person taking care of the financials,” Brown says. The role of CFOs “is really changing to be that strategic partner with CEOs and COOs. [We] need to get out from behind [our] computers and really be a part of the entire organization … to be that strategic partner who is so desperately needed during these times.”
As a self-described “education freak,” Brown shares her financial knowledge outside of the club as a guest speaker for James Madison University’s Hart School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management and the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, helping students understand how their education can inform their careers and build acumen in the country club sector.
“She’s a big part of our industry in regards to education,” Krenn says. “She’s helping teach what we’re doing here to all the other clubs in the nation.”