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Big Canoe General Manager Jill Philmon greets Bennett Whipple with her trademark hug at the Squires & Stags breakfast.

GM Philmon shares her leadership style, need for master planning

By Wayne Tidwell, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Big Canoe’s new general manager, Jill Philmon, who now has a contract on a home in Big Canoe, spoke at the August Squires and Stags breakfast on her “favorite subject:” leadership and mentorship, and why master planning is so important to the Big Canoe community.

She said she may not have been told everything about Big Canoe when she was hired.

“The board may have understated the activity of bears when they hired me,” Philmon said laughingly about her short time in the community.

About her leadership style, she said it is pretty much team oriented.

“I can’t run this ship alone,” Philmon explained. “You can be captain of it but without good people and people to back you up, there is no way you are going to be able to make it work. I have only been here three months. We’ve got collectively hundreds of years together between Debbie, Jason, Jane, Toby, all these individuals—and they are going to know that.”

“I don’t typically come in and make a whole lot of changes. I made the one change with the chef but it was well thought out. Since I’ve been here, I have hired a golf pro, a clubhouse manger and we just made a change with the chef, not that there was anything wrong before.

She hinted at other possible changes in the Clubhouse at Lake Sconti.

“We are doing 500-700 covers a day with a kitchen designed to do about 50. It is a good problem to have and we will figure it out.”

She said she didn’t like micro managing and believed in a shared vision among all of the stakeholders.

“I think it is important that we have a shared vision. The membership elects the board, the board comes up with the vision, they give it to me and I share it with my staff. It is never a secret what my goals are or what my visions are.”

Philmon said she was in the job as general manager of Big Canoe for the long haul.

“I loved this community immediately,” she said. “I love the people. I love the environment. I love what it’s about. I want to retire from this community. I would like to stay here after I retire and aggravate the next general manager.”

She said the only way she can do that is to make long-term decisions.

“Is it a good decision for right now?” Philmon said she would ask. “Is it a good decision for five years from now? Is it a good decision for 10 years from now? If all of those are yes, then that’s what we do.

Philmon said she wants to utilize internships at Big Canoe and find ways to house them.

“Two reasons,” she explained. “They are actually pretty good labor during busy times and they have to have it for their grades.”

“If anybody leaves for the whole summer and you want somebody to stay in your house, I can do an internship that house sits too,” Philmon said. “Our labor pool is difficult here. They have to drive 30 minutes.”

She also said the mentoring of future hospitality workers was important for the industry.

Philmon said that people should enjoy their jobs or find one that they will enjoy.

“If my staff is enjoying what they do, you are going to see it in the services that they give to you and they are going to enjoy you more,” she said.

Master planning

Philmon said she was happy that water and Internet issues at Big Canoe were resolved before she got here and suggested that amenities should now be looked at.

“The only way to actually keep value in your homes is to keep your amenities up,” Philmon said. “I think we are doing a pretty good job with what we have but where are we going in the next 10 years?” she asked. “What a master planner does is come in and they take a look at all the areas.”

“What it means is that it is going to give the board and myself a good strategic look at what could be. I am sure they will offer stuff that we are never going to do. But at least it gives you, as a community, and the board a strategic look at what it could be. From that, we approve what that master plan is so that we can say ‘this is what we are going to do over the next 10 years.’”

She said it helps the long-range planning committee and it helps the finance committee and the board to figure out how are we going to pay for changes.

“We did the same thing for the golf course,” Philmon said. “Bill Bergen was selected for the golf course planning. He’ll get input from a lot of sources and eventually come up with 27 holes that will be divided up into nine holes and will be done over the next several years.

“At least it will be something that you’ll know what it’s going to be and know where it’s headed and so you can take a look at the future and already know what it’s going to be instead of just waiting for where the roulette wheel stops and what we decide to do.”

She said the same process would be used with a master community planner: focus groups, finding out what the community wants and doesn’t want and what is important to the community. and come up with a master plan that the community will decide how much of the plan it wants.

“This is a long process,” she said. “It will probably be 2019 before we will be presenting the whole thing after we have all of the inputs,” Philmon said.

Philmon responds to residents’ questions

A question about having sound with TVs in the clubhouse during sporting events arose and Steve Wilson said it is being discussed by the board to allow the management team to make those decisions.

Another question was how the management was going to balance the use of Big Canoe facilities for weddings and other events with resident’s use of the facilities.

“I would like to move banquets someplace else if at all possible,” Philmon said. “Right now the highest profit we have is in banquets and it helps keep everything else down. Part of the master plan is to see if we can figure out how we can do that so we can meld two worlds at the same time.”

Asked if the master plan might include a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), so that residents don’t have to leave Big Canoe because of the needs they might have, Philmom said that the “roundabout property” was designated for such needs and sale of the land would carry that stipulation.”

A question arose about the deer population in Big Canoe.

“Every year we do a count (of deer in the community) ourselves and give it to DNR and they determine along with the USDA what is a healthy amount of deer in here and they make the determination.”

Nothing was done in 2018, she said, but the count numbers have been submitted for a recommendation for 2019.

Asked if there was going to be an effort to “go younger” at Big Canoe, Philmon said that the effort would be to make Big Canoe “multi-generational.”

“We are going to have to change what our branding is and we are going to have to be touted more as a private residential community and maybe people will start to take a look at it,” Philmon said. “Having Internet once we get it up and going is going to make a huge difference.”

In introducing Philmon to the Squires & Stags breakfast crowd, Bob Littell said, “One of my favorite quotes about Jill came from an article I read by John Grooms, assistant club manager at Ballantyne:”

“Jill is quite simply the perfect leader, mentor and friend. She has an amazing ability to make you feel like you have been lifelong friends from the moment you meet her.”

Philmon said she hasn’t looked back since accepting the GM job at Big Canoe and has found the perfect house in Big Canoe and is reluctant to leave Big Canoe in spite of her brother encouraging her to come back to visit family in Charlotte.

“This is God’s country and I think we are so fortunate to be living here and I think we are blessed,” Philmon said. “And I will tell you that I am absolutely blessed to be given the opportunity to be here in this community. I don’t think it is you that are lucky, I think it is me and I really do appreciate that.”

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