A Healthy Second Act

For the past 41 years Russ Ebeid, the recently retired president of Guardian Industries, worried about things like building float lines in South America, or introducing new glazing products worldwide. But today, just six short months later, he is, by choice, worrying about things like towel shrinkage and membership numbers. Here’s why.

It was a slightly rainy day in mid-December when our associate publisher, Lisa Naugle, and I set out to meet up with Russ Ebeid. Just a few months after his retirement, Mr. Ebeid had invited me out to talk about his plans for the proverbial second act. We were to meet at his club in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn.

“This is a beautiful place,” said Lisa as we drove up. “It was so nice of him to invite us to his club. How long has he been a member?”

“Lisa,” I said, shaking my head in response. “When a man like Russ Ebeid invites you to his club, he is really inviting you to HIS club. He is not merely a member. In fact, he bought the whole thing a few months ago. Today is his first official day in his new office there.”

Now let me say first off that everything Russ Ebeid does is first-rate and the Fairlane Club is no exception. Originally owned by the Ford Motor Company and used as a combination conference center and health club, the facility is really three different entities in one. It offers a conference and event center for everything from weddings to trade shows, a spa and, of course, the health club. The Fairlane Club boasts the largest selection of sports and equipment of any such facility in Michigan, including an Olympic-sized swimming pool, racquetball and tennis courts and more. The club also has an agreement with a nearby golf course.

The Fairlane Club features racquetball and tennis courts (shown here), along with an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Given Detroit’s economic issues and that fact that the club had changed hands a few times with less than glowing results, why did Mr. Ebeid decide to take it on?

“Before I retired, I got a book a friend of mine who had already retired recommended and I read it … can’t even remember the name of it now,” he said. “But it talked about how you should make sure whatever you do is challenging to you or you won’t enjoy it.”

“People wanted me to write a book, or teach, but I don’t have much interest in that. My family was scared stiff that I would go nuts at home and drive them crazy, and I think they are surprised that hasn’t happened. This, along with the boards on which I serve [note: Mr. Ebeid sits on a number of corporate and charitable boards] are all keeping me very busy.”

“I don’t know that much about running a club like this, but there are good people here, and I’m going to learn and I think it’s going to be fun. We have a long list of things we want to accomplish and my only frustration is that we can’t do it all at once. Everything has to build upon a previous step.”

Ebeid plans to be in the office one day a week and for meetings when necessary, but “things can really be monitored from anywhere.” Indeed, the day we visited he was not lacking for member feedback. Just about every member we passed had a compliment or suggestion for the new owner.

“We need the members to help solve the problems, just like employees would at a company,” he said. “Right now, I am tackling a towel shrinkage problem; they just tend to walk away and I’m going to get the members involved.”

The club also boasts a number of eating areas including The Grill, where we had a delicious lunch.

“This is an absolutely beautiful place,” said Lisa during lunch. “I live in Chicago and visit health clubs there and  all over the country. If I lived in Detroit, I would join this club,” she declared.

Ebeid, ever the businessman, shot back immediately. “So move,” he said.

A little postscript on this blog: Though I visited in December, I saved this topic for this week, so I could also extend birthday wishes to its subject. If you happen to be working out at the Fairlane Club this week, please wish Mr. Ebeid a happy birthday, too.

That’s all for this week. Have a good one.