Golf. It ranks high on the list of America’s favorite pastimes. The often-elusive goal of sinking the ball in the hole becomes even more challenging when government gets in the way and creates a jungle for the golf course owner. What is par for the course when it comes to government rules, regulations, and due process? Business owner and sales expert, Rob McDonald, tells Linda the compelling story of how he dealt with egregious government overreach and used the opportunity to educate employees on the effect policies have on paychecks. Don’t miss this episode if you want to “read-the-green” in your business amidst changing landscapes and government red-tape.
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Linda J. Hansen: Welcome. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Prosperity 101 Breakroom Economics Podcast. My name is Linda J. Hansen. Your host and the author of Prosperity 101 - Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck, and the creator of the Breakroom Economics online course. The book, the course, and the entire podcast library can be found on Prosperity101.com. I seek to connect boardroom to breakroom and policy to paycheck by empowering and encouraging employers to educate employees about the public policy issues that affect their jobs.
My goal is to help people understand the foundations of prosperity, the policies of prosperity, and how to protect their prosperity by becoming informed, involved, and impactful. I believe this will lead to greater employee loyalty, engagement, and retention and to an increased awareness of the blessings and responsibilities of living in a free society. Listen each week to hear from exciting guests and be sure to visit Prosperity101.com.
Thank you for joining us today. I do have a longtime friend with me. Rob McDonald is a friend from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin originally, lives in the Milwaukee area now, and I watched him grow up. Our families had enjoyed swim team and other sports together. And as Rob was a lifeguard and on swim team with my kids, I know he taught some of my younger kids how to swim. And I do remember when he was in college, he originally wanted to be a dentist. And I remember talking to him at the lifeguard chair, learning more about him and thinking, “Hmm. He sounds much more like a businessman or a political person.” And interestingly enough, his life has taken that turn.
Rob is not only a husband and a father of beautiful kids, but he is an experienced senior business leader, entrepreneur with a demonstrated history of success in multiple markets. He is skilled in negotiation, operations management, coaching, and exceeding sales. He is a strong professional with P&L experience. Currently, he is the owner of 3Putt Group, LLC, which is a golf course management company based in Sussex, Wisconsin. The golf course that he manages and runs is Fairways of Woodside in Sussex. And I think you’d love to go golfing there, listeners. So, with that, I will welcome Rob McDonald to the episode. Thank you for being here.
Rob McDonald: It’s great to be here, Linda. Good to see you again and talk to you again. And always happy to hear your kids haven’t drowned after all these years.
Linda J. Hansen: [Laughs] Now, they’re all strong swimmers and the grandkids are fish, too.
Rob McDonald: That’s awesome.
Linda J. Hansen: So, they all love to swim, so it’s great. Yeah, we had great – actually a funny story, I think our families got to know each other best when my youngest daughter was at the sidelines of the swim meets, and she found your family’s cooler the most inviting. And she would come back to my blanket with all these things. And I said, “Where did you get that?” and she would toddle over to your family’s cooler. So, that’s how I got to be friends with your parents and get to know your family quite well, and it was fun. So, a small town is like a large family, so it was great to grow up together in a sense. So, thank you. And now, we’ve come full circle in so many ways and you have a beautiful family of your own. So, your wife, Melissa, and your kids. It’s just great. How old are your kids now?
Rob McDonald: I’ve got 4- and 5-year-old girls and 11- and 13-year-old boys, and all of them are at four different schools and all attending school in person for the time being, so it’s a big deal.
Linda J. Hansen: Oh, that’s amazing. Yes.
Rob McDonald: Yeah.
Linda J. Hansen: Not all parents can say that right now in the midst of –
Rob McDonald: I know.
Linda J. Hansen: – the virus. For those of you who may be listening to this episode at another time, we are recording this in mid-September of 2020. And so, lots of parents around the country are wondering which end is up when it comes to schooling. So, it’s great to hear yours are having a good routine and getting back to some semblance of normal. So – but today I really wanted to talk to you about your business career. You know, you started out wanting to be a dentist. What made you change from that?
Rob McDonald: Well, I guess, you got to pass Biology in order to get through – on to kind of be a dentist and so, my freshman year as a non-biologist, I think I found pretty quickly that I’m not very good at Biology. And so, after trying to take it a second time, I decided, “You know what? Maybe I should take a look at my career and maybe move on to something different.” So, you talk about those days where you make changes based on what your strengths are and that was one of them.
Linda J. Hansen: Very good. Yeah. It’s hilarious that you didn’t pass Biology, but it’s great because you have so many strong gifts. And I remember even just watching you and your brother grow up and seeing these amazingly talented young men thinking, “I wonder what they’re going to be when they grow up.” And it’s just been fun to watch your career and to watch you expand in so many different ways. It’s been exciting. So, when you first entered the business world, what did you do first?
Rob McDonald: Well, I mean, I think the original business that I had was mowing lawns when I was a kid and I did really good at it. I loved it. I loved having my own schedule. I loved to, you know, be able to create the business, right? Knock on doors to get and talk to people about their lawn mowing needs and then coming up with my own price. And then, of course, getting that paycheck, right? So, getting that work and getting that check. And that started out pretty early in my lifetime. And then I guess the biggest like – I grew up in a business, right? My parents had a RadioShack when I was a child and I was in the store working a lot, whether it be sweeping, whether it be shoveling the sidewalks or the – you know, the parking lot or even other things. So, those are the things that I did early on and those are things that got me into business world early on.
Linda J. Hansen: Yeah, it’s great. I – my family always had businesses, too. So, it really helped. And I remember shopping at that RadioShack. Yeah, I do remember that and then you worked – you had different experiences moving forward.
Rob McDonald: Well, you know, fresh out of college, I was in politics, right? Worked for Governor Tommy Thompson and then there was a time to – whether we were going to go on to Washington D.C. with him or not, and everybody stepped forward. And I kind of stepped three steps back, not wanting to go to D.C. as well as I was kind of chasing this young lady down in Chicago, by the name of Melissa, who I ended up marrying. And that was more important to me is to kind of stay that way.
And so, I made a career change from politics into sales and started working for a company called Lifeline, which is a – I’ve fallen and I can’t get up business, right? The originator of it and worked there for 12 years – I think it was eight years that I worked there as a young sales professional and then moving up into the mergers and acquisitions and, you know, kind of being their top sales dog for a long time. And just moving on up and working on up. And then over time, you know, when we sold – that business got sold to Philips and I decided I didn’t want to be a part of a billion-dollar company. I wanted to be still in the small world because you could make a difference. And so, I came home and started doing some other sales, but a lot of my sales experience is in that healthcare world, right? With medical monitoring, in-home medical monitoring, and found a niche in that and built a lot of relationships in there and spent probably 15-20 years doing that in my career.
Linda J. Hansen: Yeah, and you were very, very successful. So, when you were into politics, what drew you into politics first?
Rob McDonald: [Laughs] You know, I think the biggest piece that I saw for politics was, you know, back in the day when I was in college, you were supposed to be an individual, right? You were supposed to – and you were taught to question things. You were taught to do things. You weren’t indoctrinated, I guess, as – that I think is happening today on our college campuses. And so, I was the button-up shirt, khaki-wearing kid and I – all through college and questioned things and got involved in College Republicans at the time. That’s how I met my wife, interestingly enough. Sidenote, my grandpa – I was bringing some different ladies home to meet my parents and my grandpa thought I better go to church and find me a better lady. And so, I came home with Melissa over Thanksgiving and he said, “Well, what church did you go to? She’s amazing.” And I said, “Grandpa, I met her in College Republicans,” and he said, “That’s even better. That’s even better.”
Linda J. Hansen: [Laughs].
Rob McDonald: So, it was a good story. It’s a funny story. But, you know, I was torn to the conservative piece, right? We were born – I mean, I was raised in the church. I was raised to be a hard worker. I was raised to be held responsible for my own actions. And that was what drew me to the Republican Party at the time, right? Or to conservative politics and not with, you know, what was happening on the college campus at the time. So, it was kind of fun, and I enjoyed – at that time, you know, this is 20-plus years ago, you could have a conversation on a college campus and you could sway people to your side, right? You could bring people on and join the party. It wasn’t as – I don't know – it just wasn’t as hard as it is today, right? There’s so many people that are dug in and there’s so much vitriol and things like that in politics. It’s very difficult to have a conversation and there’s – but you can still have them. It’s just – it’s a tougher conversation today.
Linda J. Hansen: Definitely, yeah. And I remember your College Republican days and things as you were leading, you know, into getting more involved with politics. It was very interesting. At one point, you did serve as an elected official. Can you tell us about that?
Rob McDonald: Yeah. Melissa and I had just been married. We had purchased our first home. We were in it for roughly three to six months, somewhere in there. And there was a somewhat of a scandal happening in Milwaukee County at the time. The County Board Members had decided that it was in their best interest for the county to give themselves these amazing pensions. And I mean, amazing pensions, where the more years you stayed, the bigger the pension payout would be. So, you were getting major bonuses based on pension. But at the same time, they were unfunding them. You know, they weren’t funding them to the proper needs. So, they’re creating these amazing retirements but not funding it correctly. And it was – you know, it was kind of a recipe for disaster. And at the time, when people figured it out, when the paper finally wrote about it, and moving on to that, the taxpayers started to learn about it. There was a huge upheaval in the Milwaukee County area. And so, the County executive as well as County supervisors, we were recalled.
And it started up in our kind of neighborhood and I remember being one of 90 volunteers who were going to recall our County Board Member, and it was mostly seniors. And I think Melissa and I, when we walked in the room kind of brought the average age down about 30 or 40 years. But we sat in there with all these amazing seniors that have been in the neighborhoods for so long and we talked about doing it, and you needed 2,000 people’s signatures in 60 days. And within three days, we had 4,000 signatures. And we sat around that room and said, “All right, who’s going to run?” And we were sitting at the table. Everyone said, “You’re going to run, Rob.” And so my original move into elected was voluntold, right? I was voluntold I was going to run for County Board. And in Milwaukee County as a conservative, it was unheard of, right? So, that’s how I got into politics in Milwaukee County and ended up winning, and not hiding my conservative positions, and things like that in the City of Milwaukee, as well as the village of Brown Deer on the northwest side of the city.
So, amazing time, I was 26 or 27 years old. I was one of the youngest ever elected to County Board and ran on a true thing, which was we were not going to, you know, balance that budget on the back of the taxpayers, as well as it was a part-time position. Interestingly enough, eight hours a month were required for the County Board Member, and they made $55,000 a year. Now you and I both grew up in Prairie du Chien and there’s no part-time job that pays $55,000 a year in Prairie. I think the average median income when we were growing up was $25,000 to $30,000 for the family. And I just couldn’t believe that, so I pledged to give 70% of my salary back and keep my job in the private sector, as did all of the County Board Members. None of them were, you know, just County Board Members only. They had their own jobs elsewhere. And so, we ran on that and did amazing things.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, Rob, thank you for serving. You gave a wonderful illustration of what it means to be a citizen legislator, in a sense.
Rob McDonald: [Laughs].
Linda J. Hansen: And I loved your term, voluntold. That’s actually how I got more officially into politics as well. It was like I wanted to make a difference. I was helping. I was involved in these meetings. And when it came time to choose a leader, everyone looked at me like they looked at you and said, “Well, you’re doing this.” I’m like, “What? I am? Can I do that and be a mom?” You know? So, that was my beginning as well. I was voluntold. But that’s great and that shows your passion for helping others, your passion for making a difference, a passion for using your gifts to a better society, and make a better environment for all the people that, you know, live in your state and your city. So, thank you for serving in that role. What happened next?
Rob McDonald: Well, I mean, everybody asked me how I became a 28-year-old retired county board member and that was because I actually want to – you know, you’re a conservative and conservatives believe in less government and I felt like less politicians would be even better for Milwaukee County given their history. And so, I sponsored the legislation to reduce the County Board from 26 members to 19 and wrote myself out of a job. It was amazing. It was great. And so, that’s how I became a retired County Board Member is I wrote myself out of the position, and in – at the same time, reduced the cost, as well as the number of politicians at the County Board level and continued interestingly enough to – they lowered it a few more years later and then recently, it’s been moved into a part-time position with part-time pay. I think that was with help from the legislature in Wisconsin.
But anyway, continued – you know, you look at something and you say, “Did we do something? Did we win?” And 15-20 years later, they’re still reducing costs, reducing the size of the Board and, you know, looking at that budget and trying not to be raising taxes. And we were one of the first ones ever, in so long, that kept the taxes straight, right? We didn’t raise taxes and I remember, and I still had it – we reduced taxes one year by $214 for the entire county, which wasn’t a big deal. But the victory was this long-term look at debt, as well as the budget and trying to create a budget that didn’t inflate itself year over year, over a year, over a year in Milwaukee County, and that continues today.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, thank you very much for that, and that sets an example for so many people all over the country serving in various positions. We can actually reduce the size of government. We can actually reduce the cost of taxes for individuals and businesses, and it can be done with strong leadership. So, thank you that even at your young age, at that point, you were showing strong leadership and good common sense. As my good friend, Herman Cain, always said, you know, “Common sense solutions that can provide remarkable results.” So, that was a good common sense solution. So, thank you for doing that. So, then you were still involved with the private sector, so your business career was still taking off. How did you get to where you are now managing a golf course, owning a golf course management company?
Rob McDonald: [Laughs] Well, it was one of those things. I think over the years, I had grown towards fixing, right? So, looking at a good business model or a good business, right? A good product with some pretty decent people, and saying that it had a sales problem, right? We could see a sales problem or you could see something in the business. So, over the years, one of the companies I went to was a local Harley Davidson dealership in the middle of a recession. Most people would tell you, “What the heck are you doing?” But moved over to that from the healthcare perspective and, you know, over three, four years grew sales time – you know, grew the sales business piece, as well as doing an amazing net revenue based on common sense, as you said earlier, but just, you know, fixing it with a good sales process. And that kind of became my niche was a discipline sales manager with and – you know, sort of a niche in what I like to call Groundhog’s Day, and waking up every day and doing the same thing so that customers get the same experience.
And at the same time, you’re continuing to increase sales, right? You’re always, you know, changing the business or changing the model, or changing salespeople, unfortunately, if you have to. But training and you know, inspecting what you expect and that discipline that’s needed on a day-to-day basis to be – you know, to be prosperous, right? We’re talking about Prosperity 101. But to be prosperous, everybody wants what you have, but nobody usually wants to do the work to get there. And I think that’s the key that I try to instill in people that work with me or work under me, or work in my businesses is that it’s the discipline, the Groundhog’s Day of – that we have to do every day where we wake up and do the same thing over and over again, and do it better than we did yesterday. And get ready to do it again the next day, so that we can be the best, whatever we’re doing.
And so, I got into the golf business, interestingly enough, by purchasing a home on a golf course, and realizing I could see some of those things in the business model that I could see issues, right? I could see customers, not enough customers. I could see weeds in areas that weeds weren’t supposed to be on a golf course and saying, “Hey, they’re making decisions based on some economics here that we could do some things with.” And so, that’s what drew me to have a conversation with a gentleman who has an amazing story that built this golf course that I’m managing today for him with my company. And we’ve been able to, you know, over the last three and a half seasons just take it to the next level.
So, I got into the golf business because of dandelions, I like to say. I could see dandelions at the golf course and I knew something was there that we needed to help out, and I bought a house. So, selfishly, I’m in the golf business because I wanted to help the golf course that I purchased the home on. And here we are today as one of the fastest-growing golf courses in the state of Wisconsin, as well as probably one of the most profitable golf courses in the state of Wisconsin, just based on a level of sales, right? Just creating a customer experience that was like no other in the golf business. So, that’s what we’re doing today. That’s how I got into golf business.
Linda J. Hansen: That’s great. What do you feel sets you apart – sets the Fairways of Woodside apart?
Rob McDonald: I think – well, Woodside because we are a – we changed from being a golf course to being in the entertainment business. So, we’ve changed and said, “Look, people are –we’re in the business of getting away from your life, right?” And so, for that four and a half hours that somebody is going to play golf, they don’t want that phone to ring. They don’t want that – they’re out there to sport, so to speak, but we provide a different experience out there. And so, that’s the difference. We have amazing electric golf carts with GPS and Bluetooth speakers. And that’s kind of unheard of at most golf courses because, you know, it’s supposed to be a quiet sport and you’re supposed to do all these things. And I mean, to be candid with you, we’re a 150-acre bar with a golf problem. And we wear it as a shiny, shiny piece of our shirt and people come here to have fun. And they know they’re going to have fun and we deliver every day.
Linda J. Hansen: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s great. You did some really creative things, too. And I know in this season of Coronavirus, this has not always been the best season for golf courses or any type of sporting, entertainment, anything business during this odd year that we’re experiencing. But you have found ways to create revenue, not only in this season but also during the winter months. Would you like to share a little bit about that?
Rob McDonald: The biggest growth area in golf alone is golf, not on a golf course, interestingly enough. And so, we have what we call golf simulators. So, we keep the sport going and we keep kind of the fun happening all winter long with a golf simulator. And we use TrackMan 4s, which is the best golf launch monitor you can find in the industry. All the big golf guys, you know, all the golf professionals that you see touring on TV have usually a TrackMan 4 at their house. And so, we take that experience and put it in our golf course inside. But we’re also the one golf course that will stay open until the snow flies. So, if it’s cold out, it doesn’t matter. We’re still playing golf here. Last year in Christmas time, we had about – we had weather in the 50s and we had over 700 golfers in four and a half days outside playing golf during Christmas break. And it was amazing and we were the only golf course that stayed open. But you know, as I say to my golf course superintendent, “It’ll grow back, man. Keep playing. We got to keep playing. Give the golfers what they want.”
Linda J. Hansen: Yeah, that’s great. Yeah. Well, and that’s something in sales. You know, figure out what does your customer want and give them, sell it to them, right? So, that’s a –
Rob McDonald: Absolutely.
Linda J. Hansen: – really creative way. So, we – you have talked about different industries that you’ve been involved in, and you’ve also experienced being on the government side as an elected official. So, you understand the implications of policies on businesses, of tax policies on individuals and businesses, and I’m sure in the golf course industry, you actually experienced, you know, regulatory policies that impact your business. Could you talk about a few of the policies now that can help or hurt your business and whether or not it can grow and you can continue to create more jobs?
Rob McDonald: Well, interestingly enough, this year was more than ever, right? With the Coronavirus, so we’re in 2020 when we’re recording this and Coronavirus hit. And our – I could see things happening throughout the country where they were shutting businesses down, and I remember three weeks before this business was closed down by the state of Wisconsin governor, I said, “Stop ordering everything.” Right? And I remember pulling all of my staff in and saying, “We’re going to get shut down in less than two and a half, three weeks. We need to stop ordering everything. Do not order another ounce of beer. Do not order another piece of food. Don’t do anything.” And I remember them all looking at me and my staff saying, “What are you talking about?” And I said, “I just canceled cable. I just did all these things. I’m going into hibernation mode. We’re going to get closed.” And they looked at me like I was out of my mind and I’m like, “I can see it happening in New York. I can see it happening in California.” And within a week and a half, two weeks, that happened here.
It was supposed to be one of the first nice days. It was March 15th. It was my birthday and it was my 44th birthday, and I remember coming into work that day, pretty excited because it was a sunny day. It was going to be in the 50s, maybe 60s. And we had 209 people on the golf course tee sheet, and we walked in at – we were told we were going to – would be closed at about 6:30, 7:00 in the morning. And so, I had to look at people and say, “We’re closed. We can’t let golfers out.” And we had to cancel 208 customers that day. And I remember staring at those guys and saying, “We have two options. One, you could all be laid off, or two, we can get after this thing. And we can grow our base of customers by members, and we could do a membership drive.” And they looked at me and said, “We’re in, boss. Let’s go.” And I sent an email out and we created – we had over 200 people join the golf course that day. One of our best days of the month, that day creating revenue, and I knew I was going to make – I was going to be able to make April for the next three weeks.
Those were one of those great days. But that opened up this opportunity to now start to have really candid conversations about policies and things like that. And I know you asked me what kind of policy, but that was the biggest policy, right? Closing a business without due process, and I think that we all thought, “Oh, my business is untouchable.” There’s a due process here. If the health department see something happen in my kitchen, they’re going to give me a warning, and they’re going to give me the ability to fix it. And here all of a sudden, out of nowhere, we are closed. We cannot do – we cannot let people out on the golf course. And specifically, golf courses, no golfing. That’s what the governor said in a clarification response that next morning. And so, we had these conversations about, “Well, how can they do that?” And at the time, I was getting ready to do the real estate deal here. And we were trying to close in April and I pumped the brakes going, “How does this happen?” Right? Like, do I want to own something that the government can just overall shut down? Like, with proxy, no due process and things like that.
And through this whole thing, it was kind of scary for my staff, because I was working hard. I’ve got a newlywed golf professional who just had a baby. And I’m trying to keep, you know, he –I’m trying to keep his paycheck going. I got another gentleman with three kids. He’s my general manager at the golf course and I’m trying to keep him to get a paycheck. And, you know, bookkeepers and a new – I just – a new superintendent who just proposed to his wife, and I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, my goodness. This is –” That’s when it really hit. How do we do this? Right? And so, we went through it, right? We made it, right? We made it through there. But it was this opportunity to have this candid conversation about government, and how do we fix government or how does – how can government do that to us? And so, those are the conversations we’ve been having weekly, right? Daily about what’s next, right?
As we look into the fall here and we see colleges right now who are starting to go into, you know, two-week lockdown, some things like that. Is it coming back? Right? And so, what does the business look like going into the winter? Are we going to get closed down again? I mean, that’s – those are things that we’re having conversation with. And now, we’re having a conversation around true policy. Right? How does this happen? And I think that it – we really fought hard, right? So, we didn’t police our golf course. So, I – if people came out and played golf, I wasn’t going to kick them off our golf course because that wasn’t my job. When I looked at the executive order from the government, it said my job was to not be open and I’m not open. Here’s my website that says we’re closed. The doors are locked. We’re not taking money for people to play golf. If people want to go out and play golf, that’s on them.
And I had neighbors that live on the golf course calling the police on me. And so, multiple deputy cars were showing up and they were investigating, and they were going to find me and they were going to do things. And I finally walked outside angry and put my hands together like, “Hey, take me in.” And they kind of looked at me and I said, “I’m worn, man. I’m trying to figure out how to make everybody’s paycheck work here. I’m stressed to the max. I still don’t – and I’m happy to go to jail tonight, and see the judge in the morning to find out how they were able to close my business without due process.” And as soon as I started having that conversation with the police and the sheriff’s deputies, they didn’t show up anymore. They became our friends and they understood what was happening here.
And I had a conversation even with the police at that time saying, “You guys don’t understand this. If I don’t – if I’m not able to pay my taxes, you’re unable to get paid.” Like, it runs out at some point, right? This is a – this is how this all works and I kept saying that to my guys. And I think there’s this idea out there that the money just – we made all this money, right? And so, therefore, it should be there, right? And, you know, at the end of the day, we run our businesses based on projections and on sales. And when there’s no sales, there’s no money for other people. And I think that many of your – you know, “Well, you’re rich because you manage your own company, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Sure. But, you know, we – what am I supposed to do? Like, I already have dependents. I have four children and a wife and a house, and a mortgage and those things. But, you know, I can’t take care of yours and yours, and yours. That’s what the business does. And I think it was a really good conversation around the economics of business, and how as soon as somebody shuts off the sales, and in this case, it was government, what now? Right? What now?
Linda J. Hansen: Right.
Rob McDonald: So, that’s my way around the last year and a half of business.
Linda J. Hansen: Yeah, that is a really good point and I applaud you for talking to your employees about these policies. I know before the call, we were talking about different ways that you do talk to employees, and how important it is for employers to actually discuss these issues. With Prosperity 101 in my online courses and in the book that’s coming up very, very soon, people will see all the time that, you know, I just tried to drive home the point, that government has no money until we give it to government first. And the way that it is created is through this free enterprise economy with healthy businesses.
Healthy businesses create revenue, which pays taxes, like the policeman you were talking to – pays his payroll, but then also pays individuals who then pay taxes. And if there’s no healthy business, there will be no government funding either. Eventually, it all runs out. We just don’t have an endless supply of money. It has to ebb and flow, and revenue needs to be created in order for all of us to be prosperous. And so, thank you for talking to employees about that. If you could share, you know, three reasons why it’s so important for employers to talk to employees about the issues that affect their jobs, how policy affects their paycheck, what would you say?
Rob McDonald: Well, I mean, I think that, interestingly enough, you know, when you’re talking to your – we talk a lot, right? So, pretty conservative and I’m pretty – I’m a guy that likes to have conversations around all kinds of things. And we may not agree, you know, we may – I might have employees that don’t agree with my politics or agree with, you know, what I’m saying, but what I want them to understand is those policies affect them, right? Whether they like it or not. And so, I think the biggest piece around taxes, right? Taxes is the biggest thing. And when we talk about taxes, and I think you said government-funded and I disagree, there’s nothing government-funded. It’s always taxpayer-funded.
Linda J. Hansen: Exactly.
Rob McDonald: It’s just that the government passes it through, right? And so, we talk about that a lot here because, you know, especially, I’ve even had conversations around this with educators and things like that, and in my taxes, the property taxes here at the golf course, over 40-some thousand dollars go to the local school, right? To the local school district. And I had a – I hosted a school function, a high school golf event one day, and this person that was paying for it from another school district came that day and said that they thought my pricing was too high for a high school golf event. And I said looking at that person going, “Are you out of your mind?” And they said, “Really?” And I said, “So, what do you think you’re interested in paying? Because I just wanted to let you know, like, here’s $42,000 a year that goes to the local school district for my taxes. Just right here, property taxes alone right here.” And I remember, like my staff looking at me like, “Oh, my gosh. Is he getting in a fight with a customer?” Well, yes, I was at the time because I wasn’t happy with the premise that, you know, “Oh, the golf course isn’t worth something.” Right? We agreed upon a price and then now all of a sudden, as they finished this golf outing, this person wanted to pay less, and I couldn’t believe it. I was floored by it.
When he showed how much my property taxes just for education alone were, it was an amazing transformation of that high-level government bureaucrat, so to speak, that was at a school district, that wasn’t our school district going, “Oh, my gosh. I guess I just didn’t think you paid that much for property taxes.” And then I had a conversation around, “What do you think you pay for your football field and your track? And while those are all very important, you seem to not have any problems with the expenditures of a brand new track or a brand new soccer field or a brand new baseball field, or a brand new football field, or all those things that –” I mean, we’ve got an amazing indoor facility at our Sussex High School here in town. And I say, “Nobody has a problem with those. But now all of a sudden here, I’ve got to pay more, right?” And no, not a problem. Wrote the check and handed it to me.
And I had a conversation after that with my staff at the time, and they said, “You know, in the past, we would have given a discount.” And we understand now why you don’t give discounts. And I’m like, “I’m not – I mean, we were – we should not apologize for what we have here. We should not apologize for the cost and not apologize for our pricing.” And every – especially when it’s agreed upon, and then later on going, “Oh, well, we think you’re too much, you know, blah, blah, blah.” And they understood then that I’m not just fighting for the value that they have, but there’s a value to them as employees, right? And that value to the course and things like that.
So, it’s this idea that you’re taking all of these times where it’s policy or taxes, or pricing and understanding how it affects the business and affects those customers – I’m sorry, not the customers – but the employees. And I think those are the two – I know you asked for three, but I just – when there’s an opportunity to talk about government interference or the – or what it does, why we make decisions based on what we’re doing because it’s government, I think that’s an important thing, right? And to really make sure that we send that home to the customer – to the employees and we – I try to do that a lot because sometimes they just make a decision and they don’t understand it. And they don’t understand that we’re not doing it for that reason, we’re doing it because the government makes us pay for that, right?
Linda J. Hansen: Right. Well, and I really believe like what you’re showing is really creating relationships with your employees, too. They’re learning to trust you. Like when you share that information with them, they’re seeing why you’re making decisions. You’re kind of bringing them into the family of decisions in a sense, giving them a sense of understanding of the big picture. And that really helps create better employee engagement, loyalty, and retention. They become much more loyal and, therefore, a loyal employee is, you know, someone that you have better retention with. And their job performance improves because they feel a sense of ownership and a sense of pride. So, I think that’s so important and I applaud you for that, for being outspoken enough.
And I know that, you know, with Prosperity 101, and I know we’ve talked before about talking to employees about issues and, you know, letting them have different opinions about who they might vote for or whatever, but letting them know what issues affect their jobs. If you – you’ve talked now already about some things that you’ve shared with your employees. But as you think about the election coming up, what are some main things you’d like your employees to know or consider before they go to the voting booth? And what would you say to other employers how they can communicate things with their employees?
Rob McDonald: Well, I think that’s – you know, here we live in a pretty conservative area. And so, I would – you’ll laugh because most of our customers are pretty conservative and there’s a kind of a running joke that who has the bigger Trump flag that puts it on their golf cart on the golf course, and we laugh at it and have a pretty good time. But I think when you look at our customers – at our different employees, I mean, we have hourly employees, I have salary employees, I have seasonal employees, many college students, and things like that that work for us. So, there’s a myriad of different positions, right? And, you know, I am pretty staunch in my belief of who I’m going to – and I have a lot of – it’s intriguing that I have a lot of – as you said earlier, you empower and you retain because they trust you.
I have a lot of my employees that will come one-on-one and say, “Can I talk to you about politics?” From high school kids who are voting for the first time, right? That they’re just turning 18 to 20-somethings saying, “I’m hearing this at school, and you’re saying a lot of different things, right? And you might be saying them funny, but I just wanted to have a conversation with you about that. You know, Orange Man Bad is what I hear a lot and I kind of laugh and say, “Look, you know, you got to get past.” We, you know, we – my biggest – the biggest conversation I have with people today is, “Look, we elected a New Yorker, right? And we’re from the Midwest, right? I’m in Wisconsin. I’m in Sussex, Wisconsin. And we – if you haven’t spent time in the city of Manhattan, if you haven’t been in Manhattan and you haven’t walked down the street and been yelled at, or whizzed that or whatever, you know that it’s a little feel – it’s a little bit different than we’ll say Sussex, Wisconsin or even Prairie du Chien, right?” And so when we – it’s about where you come from, right?
And those are the things in – as Milwaukee County supervisor, too, right? I was on the northwest side, a little more conservative than the city, or the north side. So, you kind of walk through that and say, “Look, you can’t be about that. You might not like what people or how they say it long-term, but you have to look at is this what’s making you different, right?” And I – or is this – I’m sorry – what’s going to help you out? And government’s not going to do anything for you. I keep having to tell people that if you’re waiting for the government check to come, nobody’s ever gotten rich from the government check. If you’re waiting for the government cell phone to come, it doesn’t have as many minutes and it’s not as flashy as the one that you can buy on your own. If you’re waiting for, you know, these kinds of things, you’re going to be waiting for a long time.
And we also walk through and talk about personal responsibility for the most part, right? That’s a big thing that I have here. Don’t lie. Don’t tell me. Don’t – if you crash something, as I look at my pickup truck – that’s my brand new pickup truck that’s out there with a big crash in it, that my son ran into when he was working here, and came right to me and tell me, “Sorry, Dad, I backed into your truck.” Take personal responsibility and that’s really what I’m trying to invoke in the young worker, as well as my employee seasoned person here, is that personal responsibility isn’t hard. I’m sorry. It’s completely hard. [Laughs] It’s not easy at all. In fact, it kind of stinks, but let’s – that’s what I’m preaching as a conservative, it’s personal responsibility. And when you take personal responsibility, the long term is that you will be more prosperous than waiting around for somebody else to give it to you because you aren’t going to get it.
Linda J. Hansen: No, that’s really good, and that’s really a good place for us to start to wind up this interview because, you know, you’ve talked about some of the things that I like to really emphasize with Prosperity 101, some of the foundations of prosperity, the policies of prosperity. You talked about rules, regulations, policies from government that help or hurt your business, help or hurt your family, and then how to protect prosperity by becoming informed, involved, and impactful. And you have chosen to be informed and you’ve chosen to be involved in a variety of ways. And you’re impactful, not only as a citizen but as an employer helping young people.
And as I said before, when you do that and create that relationship with employers or with employees, it really helps them to be more engaged, more loyal, and then that increases your retention rate with your employees as well. But you know, you talked about the blessings and responsibilities of living in a free society, and I really feel that when we can help people understand that these – we really are blessed to live in freedom, but it does not come free, you know. It’s like you said, this stuff that we expect to have come from the government, it really comes from taxpayers and there is not an endless supply. And there’s a responsibility we have as American citizens.
And so, thank you for educating your employees and for being an example of an employer who is not afraid to speak up even though, you know, you might have differing views all over and you’ve been in environments with differing views, but you can look through the – you can kind of cut through all the muck in a sense and get to the point. And I really appreciate that about you and I know that that’s part of the reason you’ve been successful. You’re a good communicator. And so, what are three tips – just to close out, three tips you’d give for employers who want to talk to their employees, but they might be afraid to do so?
Rob McDonald: Until you have it, right? I think you talked about loyalty and I talked about empowerment, but if you have – if you’re having conversations around how this affects them in the business, right? And I learned this back in the Harley store with the owner there, he would sit down and talk P&L with people from the mechanics to the wash guys. We would talk about the P&L and their individual business businesses, right? And I learned that from them and I share that a lot with my seasoned employees here and say, “Look, this is what happens.” And this is it – it creates more revenue. Where if you’re not watching the employee, it’s very easy to hit 10% discount or 20% discount or give golf away, right? It’s very simple. Sure, go play golf. But when they realize that they see that – how it affects the bottom line, how it affects them, how it affects our ability to get something fixed, right? All of a sudden now, there’s people taking care of things within the organization that wasn’t happening. There’s guys running down other – you know, I’ve got employees that will say, “Hey, that guy damaged that cart over there. We need to go talk to him because that’s going to cost us money.” It empowers them and it creates these little owners.
And I – my wife and I have this conversation. Melissa is amazing. We talked about this being a renter or being an owner, right? And renters, sometimes they don’t care about things, as we say, right? They’re renting it. So, it’s not theirs. But when somebody has ownership of something, what happens to them is they become empowered and emboldened to take care instead whatever they are taking ownership of. And I think that over the last three seasons within this business, we’ve taken and turned people from, you know, “Hey, we’re just here to have a good time and play golf and serve some liquor and whatever,” to being true business partners. And they’ve been emboldened to help make the business stronger, not just from revenue perspective, but from people perspective.
We’re hiring better people where – you know, those kinds of things, who are taking pride in what the golf course looks like, which can and cannot happen. So, I think I would just say, start having a conversation about it. It’s awkward. Sometimes it is awkward. Sometimes you don’t know the answer, but you can get back to them, right? And sometimes you look at them and go, “I don’t even know the answer to that one. I’ll have to think about that one.” You don’t have to have all the answers, but you got to start to have a conversation with people around all of this, so that you can move your business and create those partners. That’s the biggest piece.
Linda J. Hansen: Right, right. And unless you have a thriving business, you can’t create jobs. You can’t sustain jobs. You can’t increase wages, increase benefits. I mean, none of it happens unless the business is profitable. So, between increasing sales, which you’re so good at, or helping – keep a line on regulations and tax policy, and compliance costs, all of that through being involved as a citizen and as a voter, those are all important things. So, to every business owner out there, you can follow Rob’s example and it would truly make a difference. So, Rob, I just want to thank you. If people want to golf at Fairways of Woodside, could you share the website, please?
Rob McDonald: Yeah. It’s just FairwaysOfWoodside.com. That’s it.
Linda J. Hansen: That’s easy. Yeah.
Rob McDonald: It’s easy.
Linda J. Hansen: That’s easy. Well, thank you so much for sharing this. Do you have any closing thoughts before we close the interview?
Rob McDonald: You know, I think when you were talking about the owner, right? I mean, one of the things that we strive for is a good night’s sleep, and I think we take it for – a lot of people take it for granted. They go home and they’re able to leave their work at home or at the job and go, and a business owner or business leader usually can’t, right? And that’s what we’re striving for. We want to be able to trust the business when we’re not in it, right? And/or be able to sleep at night. And that is an important piece, right?
Be able to go on vacation. I’m taking my – a little break over the weekend and to know that those leaders are taking care of things the way you would be if you were in it. And that’s what we’re striving for and that’s why I have those conversations with my, you know, executive staff and senior management, and employee – all employees because I know I can rest at night and I know that I can go away and spend some time with my family for two days and know that the phone call is going to be an emergency only, not “Hey, we’re out of garbage bags,” or something like that. You know what I mean? And so, it’s really about getting that freedom long-term as a business owner to be able to get away a little bit because we’ve worked so hard to build this business. And that’s what I’m striving for and that’s why I’ve done this so that I can get away and sleep at night, unless the alarm goes off. [Laughs].
Linda J. Hansen: Unless you have another baby. Yeah. [Laughs] But, you know, leaders grow leaders. And I’ve heard it said that entrepreneurs, you know, good entrepreneurs grow more entrepreneurs. I mean, a really great compliment would be, you know, somebody that works for you saying, “Hey, I want to be a business owner, too.” And so, leaders grow leaders. So, you’re doing a great job with just expanding that leadership model and growing leaders within your organization. It will be exciting to see what some of those young people do and I’ve said it in many episodes, but we never know who we’re educating.
And just like General Electric was having a free enterprise book club and educating their workforce on free enterprise economics, little did they know that this young man named Ronald Reagan, who basically had some liberal viewpoints would read all those books and have his economic worldview basically changed. So, I tell every employer, “You don’t know if you might be educating the next leader or a future leader of the free world who can actually help protect freedom for millions of people.” So, thank you for educating employees. Thank you for being here today. And again, if people want to contact you or go golfing at your course, it’s FairwaysOfWoodside.com in Sussex, Wisconsin. So, thank you, Rob.
Rob McDonald: Thanks a lot, Linda.
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