A little bit about WENDY
Leading with conviction
1999, veteran businessmen, Jeff Smith, Doug Stimple and George Lenz planted their flag in a then, very remote part of northern El Paso County, Colorado – still in the city limits of Colorado Springs, just west of the famous Black Forest. The development filing read, “The Club at Flying Horse”. Acre after acre of scrub oak and horse pastures was the pallet on which these men would craft one of the most aesthetically pleasing and highly sought-after luxury destinations in Colorado.
So who’s going to execute this vision? For that, they started with Fredo Killing, also a veteran in his field of hospitality and membership development. Mr. Killing spent the prior 15 years as general manager at Cheyenne Mountain Resort in southern Colorado Springs, where he honed his skills in the highly competitive and often thankless world of resort management and project management.
When asked to join the team to help execute the vision of Flying Horse, Killing was reluctant as his career was on track where he was. But, a little time and persuasion later, Fredo Killing was on the team that would launch the green field project.
Now it was Fredo’s turn to strategically build his leadership team. He’d need someone who knew the “resort & club” ropes, and wasn’t afraid of hard work and a blank canvas. He needed an Operator who he could trust to bring this vision to fruition. Enter, Wendy McHenry. Unassuming, warm and friendly, a highly-focused and experienced operations professional, Wendy McHenry started her Flying Horse journey. For her, this role was new territory. “I’m a behind the scenes operator,” McHenry concedes. “Up to then, I didn’t really have experience with sales and development. I’m trained to run the back of the house and make certain everything happens for guests and members, not recruit them.
Fredo saw something in Wendy while they worked closely together at Cheyenne Mountain Resort that would translate into the results that Flying Horse would need to get off the ground. Sure enough, Wendy found herself heavily courted by Fredo and in mid 2004, she also joined the team, not as an operator; rather, as the Membership Director.
Even though she knew the hospitality industry very well, Wendy was privately reticent about the idea of daily sales figures, proformas, and recruitment of members to a club that was mostly still on the drawing board. This was all new territory for her as her training and background were squarely in ops. “They said in 2004, northern Colorado Springs was not quite ready for a high-end country club. Back then, it seemed a reasonable statement,”
McHenry states. “There was nothing up here yet: no shops or restaurants, very little housing development, no grocery, and gas was miles south on Briargate Bv. Even though infrastructure and amenities were sparse, I trusted Fredo and was inspired by the leaders who put this project together.”
A New Beginning
After nearly 18 years at Cheyenne Mountain Resort – a very successful and well-known destination for those living in that area and leisurely visiting Colorado Springs – Wendy made the leap and hitched her professional career to the promise of Flying Horse. It wasn’t an entirely blind leap. There were some enticing ingredients from which to work. The founders were already working with Tom Weiskopf, a professional golfer who won 16 PGA Tour titles between 1968 and 1982, and had become a noted golf course architect. The Tuscan-inspired renderings from a well-known California architect Barry Berkus, were emerging out of the ground in what would become Flying Horse’s signature look and main Clubhouse and Athletic Club.
Still, there were a lot of quiet days in the sales trailer sitting in those fields of earth-movers, hardhats, ambiguous roadways, and a lot of pointing at things that just weren’t there… at least not yet. There wasn’t a lot of traffic passing through the northern roadways of Interquest, Northgate and Highway-83 except commuters and residents of the Black Forest, so foot traffic wasn’t exactly pouring in off the streets. Wendy’s work was cut out for her and she knew she had to draw from deep within to make this endeavor successful from her position.
Undeterred, Wendy dove into her new role and began meeting with prospective members one family at a time. Lot’s of “we’ll think about it”, and “maybe in a few years when it’s more developed” were common refrains. But ever the determined professional, Wendy continued the tours and vision-casting and soon, ten families became a hundred, and so on, until the membership had arrived at a respectable and financially viable level. Wendy was fast becoming a confident representative of the project and folks were steadily buying into the vision.
Two Unprecedented Economic Storms
In the election year of 2008, the collapse of the housing industry hit the U.S. and no area of the country was spared. Then, newly-elected president, Barrack Obama presided over a tough economic climate. And Colorado Springs hadn’t seen this kind of meltdown since the 1980s where building in the region all but stalled completely.
What are now referred to as “predatory lending practices”, were common among banks and lenders who were desperate to artificially keep the economy afloat in a post-9/11 America. Unqualified buyers were in homes they could not continue to afford and many simply walked away from their mortgage responsibilities causing an economic calamity that would take the country nearly a decade to dig out.
This national reality hit the sprouting local development market hard, not the least of which, Flying Horse. After a few years of steady buy-in by new and existing residents, The Club was finally getting some momentum when the crisis hit.
“I remember meeting with our leaders during this time. It was amazing to me in that while they were realists and knew what the recession was capable of doing to our project, they never lost their faith and determination to make sure we persevered,” McHenry recalls.
“I was struck by how they were consistent throughout the slow-down. The common refrain was, “regardless of what’s happening out there, we’re always going to do the right thing for our staff, for members, for the project.”, and sure enough, they did just that. To me, that is inspiring. I knew I was at the right place and could make a life here.
With the Great Recession settling a bit, Wendy and her now vastly expanded team enjoyed a number of years of steady growth. The Club was growing and so too was her role and scope at Flying Horse. A great many of the wrinkles had been ironed out from the earlier years of getting the Club on its feet. In 2015 the owner’s gaze turned toward the “resort” aspect of the project and they broke ground on the “The Villas” and “The Lodge” at Flying Horse. Wendy was promoted to General Manager and firmly running day-to-day operations on a project with multiple facets: expanding facilities and service offerings, events, a growing membership, and now, guest visitors from all over the U.S.
“We began to evaluate how we utilized the space and how we could provide our members and guests with more access and a better experience,” says McHenry. “We tore down the big fireplace in the main dining area and opened it up to allow for more members and guests to be seated per evening. We changed the concept from traditional country club fare to an upscale steak house. This redesign was a very positive step for us. Most nights, we’re at capacity and The Steakhouse at Flying Horse has earned a reputation as being one of the best in town.”
With expansion well-underway and seemingly firing confidently on all cylinders at Flying Horse, Jeff Smith and team broke ground on Flying Horse North – a prestigious new country club community embedded in the Black Forest. There seemed to be nothing but greener pastures ahead.
March 2020: The nation learned for certain that it was embroiled in the first true pandemic since the Spanish Flu, 1918-19. “This was not the same as an economic slow-down, or recession,”
McHenry opines. “This was different. No one has a handbook on ‘how to weather a pandemic’. Like every business out there, we had to figure this one out on the fly. The entire reason for our existence for members and guests: socializing, relaxing, golf, fine dining, a little of the good life – country club living – was completely shut down.”
Armed with the 2008 Recession in her book of experience, Wendy resolved to emulate the owner’s and her mentor’s posture and lead the team through this next storm.
“Sure, tough decisions had to be made, but overall, the leadership team made certain that this project will survive this new paradigm, just like we survived earlier challenges. We had to get creative in how we maintained relevance and a presence in our member’s lives,” McHenry says with the conviction of a now seasoned leader.
“During the pandemic, the team and I would talk almost daily. Our meetings were part- therapeutic and part practical application of business fundamentals. Even though we knew a prolonged stay-at- home order would jeopardize our livelihoods, we chose to focus on what we could do to make it work rather than the countless alternatives that could happen.
We began offering curb-side service to members, remote fitness classes and of course, finding ways to do more with less. Ideas were popping on a lot of fronts. We had no choice but to adapt and make our way through the pandemic. We didn’t let it enter our minds the concept of ‘what if it continues for years’. We just took one day at a time and made every encounter we did have with our members, the best it could be.”
This is the kind of internal leadership that was required to keep the culture and spirit of Flying Horse alive during this unprecedented time.