Syngenta Business Institute 2017: ‘They don’t teach that in turf school’

Turf managers honed a different set of managerial skills at the ninth annual Syngenta Business Institute.


Syngenta Business Institute 2017
Rob Nash, Ph.D., of the Wake Forest University School of Business delves into the finer points of financial management during the Syngenta Business Institute in Winston-Salem, N.C., in December. Photo courtesy of Syngenta

Working his way up through the ranks of the golf course superintendent profession, Ryan Swilley saw many peers come and go — casualties, in his view, of deficiencies or generational differences in supervisors’ management styles. “It was ‘rule with an iron fist,’ and that doesn’t work with a lot of people,” Swilley says of the early days of his career. “The person in charge needs to possess the skills to understand what motivates different generations and how to create an attractive work environment.”

A desire to learn those skills himself was part of what led Swilley, now the superintendent at Gulf Stream Golf Club in Delray Beach, Fla., to the Syngenta Business Institute, Dec. 4-7 at the Graylyn Estate in Winston-Salem, N.C. Swilley and 25 other superintendents devoted three days to a deep dive into the financial and interpersonal aspects of successful golf course management — and, in the process, got precious insight into themselves.

“By the last day, everybody was taking a look in the mirror and seeing their strengths, weaknesses and things they could change,” Swilley says. “A lot of things we do because we’ve always done them that way or we were taught to do them a certain way. It was valuable to take the opportunity to start with myself when it comes to management.”

The 2017 edition marked SBI’s ninth year, and while the format and superintendent-tailored curriculum — taught by professors in the Wake Forest University School of Business — have remained largely unchanged throughout the annual event’s run, the variety of backgrounds and career paths within each SBI class makes every installment unique. “This year we had two attendees who had an international perspective — they’ve either worked in other countries or are currently managing courses in other countries,” says Stephanie Schwenke, turf market manager for Syngenta. “They were able to offer a global perspective, and I think that’s a really important dynamic.”

Diversity of another sort stood out to Swilley: “Seeing how many generations of superintendents attended — the youngest guys there trying to add tools to their toolbox, plus some of the most seasoned supers who have made it their mission to grow — that was very inspiring.”

Among the topics tackled in the immersive, highly interactive program were financial data analysis, financial decision-making, leasing vs. buying, negotiating, effective workplace communication, leadership strategies, and managing and motivating employees across generations and cultures, with plenty of time set aside for small-group discussions and networking.

Swilley says he has already leaned on his SBI education back on the job in Florida, working with his green chairman to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of leasing vs. buying equipment. The 10-year GCSAA member encourages fellow superintendents to vie for a spot in a future class of SBI, and to be persistent. “You would be doing yourself a disservice not to apply every year until you’re able to attend,” says Swilley, noting that the experience has piqued his interest in pursuing an MBA. “It rekindled my desire to continue learning and growing. It was an invaluable experience, hands-down.”

The application period for the 2018 Syngenta Business Institute is open March 1 through Aug. 17. Visit the Syngenta Business Institute website for more information and to apply.

Megan Hirt is GCM’s managing editor.

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