Chester County Leadership: Bud Hansen, President and CEO, Normandy Farm Hotel & Conference Center

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Bud Hansen
Image via Normandy Farms.

Bud Hansen, president and CEO of Normandy Farm, spoke to VISTA Today about his close relationship with his dad and how he learned to love golf from an early age. He also talked about sharing a love of sports with his wife and kids, and why their house is where their kids love to hang out.

Hansen also discussed Normandy Farm’s new offerings coming out of the pandemic, including an uptick in team-building events and six new pickleball courts, and talked about the importance of building a strong team at Normandy Farm, including some employees who have been there for decades.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born the second of four kids, and the only boy, at Holy Redeemer Hospital in Abington and grew up splitting my youth between Chalfont and Fort Washington. Chalfont was where my dad spent the later part of his youth, so he liked it there, but as his business grew, we ended up moving out to Fort Washington.

What did your parents do?

My mom stayed home and she raised us. My dad was a real estate developer. When he graduated from college, he worked for his dad for the Seltzer organization, a real estate company in Fort Washington. When my grandfather passed away, my dad decided to go out on his own. He dabbled in real estate and it clicked for him. The company is over 50 years old, so the first 30 years, he was mostly in commercial real estate. 

It sounds like he had a natural knack for it.

He did. He was amazing at finding locations. He used to always say, “The hairier the deal, the better,” because he wanted something that was difficult, that most people wouldn’t want to waste their time with. He had a great vision for locations.

What memories stay with you from your time in Chalfont and Fort Washington?

I was blessed as a child. I had a great family – great mother, great father. My sisters and I had a great childhood with lots of love and happiness. We lived in a wonderful neighborhood, and I had lots of friends who lived close by, and lots of cousins who lived nearby. It was a great way to grow up.

Being the only boy in my family, I got to spend a lot of time with my dad. We were very close. Whether it was watching sports, or playing sports – he and I probably tried out four different karate dojos together over the years.

Since he was in real estate, he had a lot of different jobs. He wanted to know every square inch of Montgomery, Bucks and Philadelphia counties, so we spent a lot of weekends just driving, looking at his jobs and sites. I loved spending that time with him.

Did you play any sports when you were growing up?

I played a lot of sports when I was younger. When I got to high school, I played golf and ran cross country. Golf, to this day, is probably my favorite sport or hobby.

What drew you to golf?

My dad loved the game. It’s a frustrating game because when you’re starting, it’s hard. You don’t necessarily hit the ball straight or know the strategy. But my dad was patient and he used to hit balls every day – that was his thing. He would bring me along. It was something I did just to be by his side at first. Eventually, it turned into a love for the sport.

Other than Blue Bell Country Club, do you have a favorite Philadelphia course you like to play?

There are so many great courses in Philadelphia, but I would say Pine Valley Country Club in Clementon, New Jersey is the best that I’ve had the opportunity to play. It’s not the number one golf course in the world for no reason.

What part-time jobs did you have growing up?

Mostly I worked for my dad. I started working for him when I was 13. He owned a piece of land in Bucks County where St. John Neumann Cemetery is. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia had purchased a golf course called Oak Terrace Country Club, which is in Montgomery County, but a little further up the street. When the Archdiocese bought Oak Terrace, they realized that the water table was too high, and they couldn’t build a cemetery there. My dad had a similar sized lot and he ended up flipping what is now St. John Neumann Cemetery for Oak Terrace Country Club. They swapped properties and he found himself in the golf business.

When I was 13, I started working in Oak Terrace Country Club’s bag room, cleaning clubs and working for tips. It was a great first experience, especially in a family business where there’s a sense of pride and customer service. I knew it was something that my dad was proud of, and he was someone that I looked up to, so working at my dad’s country club gave me that same sense of pride.

Your dad was a big influence in your life, wasn’t he?

He was. I was so fortunate that I got to have after I graduated college, 25 years working with him until he passed away in 2016. He was absolutely the most influential person in my life, for sure.

What kind of music were you listening to in your teens and early 20s?

I liked American rock, classic rock, pop music, all of that. I liked The Cars, Van Halen, Grateful Dead, and Elton John. My friends and I went to so many concerts. The Mann Music Center was great because I could be outside. It felt like when I was in my grade school and high school years, we spent all summer long down there listening to the different bands that came in.

Now, I’m all about country. My dad was a big country fan, so when I’d spend my time with him in his car, we’d always listen to his music – Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Crystal Gayle, and Glen Campbell. I love that music too, but today’s modern country is my favorite.

Were you a good student?

I was an okay student. I was an average student in high school and college. After college, when I went to work for my dad, I decided to get my master’s. I worked for him during the day and went to school at night. I became a better student with time but it took me six years to figure out how to do well in school.

Where did you go to college?

I went to LaSalle University and did my master’s there too. It wasn’t really until I started working full-time for my Father’s company that I figured school out how to do well in the classroom. When I got my Master’s degree, I graduated with a 4.0. My grades were better because I was able to relate what I was doing in the real world to school. School became easy and enjoyable at that point.

Aside from your dad, who were the other people who saw promise in you and gave you opportunities?

My wife, Kate, has had a huge impact on my life. I knew her sister from high school, and we met through some mutual friends at the Great American Pub in Conshohocken. She’s been a big positive impact on my life.

The other person is Dave Sherman, our CFO who works with me here. Dave has had a big impact on my life. I’ve been here since 1990, when I graduated college, so 32 years. Dave started three years before me. He’s like a part of the family. He’s been with us through thick and thin. There were some hard times after my dad passed away, and he’s been a great support for me. He showed me that it wasn’t just my dad – that I brought something valuable to the table as well.

There’s something magical about building a team where everyone buys into the mission and vision.

There really is. I’m so fortunate to have such a great team. I really can’t say anything about the business without them as well, because they make life enjoyable. It’s not even “work” for me – I come to work and it’s just an extension of my family, the people I work with here.

So, coming out of the pandemic, what are the opportunities and priorities you’re focused on?

The last two years have been a challenge. One, we’re focused on getting back to where we were from a staffing level. While I’ve got my core managers in place and we’ve got a great team, there are so many people who are important to make this work for us. We’ve got about 450 employees. Many of them are part-time and seasonal, whether it’s the grounds crew or the banquet staff or the kitchen staff, or the housekeeping staff. We’ve got to build that team back up.

But the opportunities out there for growth are in the hospitality business. I see many opportunities for us to grow. I don’t know if it’s going to be the golf course or the hotel or as a wedding venue, but there are definitely opportunities out there. We’ve been talking to different people about opportunities to grow this hospitality business, and that’s exciting to us.

Coming out of the pandemic, nobody knew what to expect and for how long and would things come back to the way they were. Especially for weddings – we do about 350 weddings per year between Normandy Farm and the Blue Bell County Club. We were dealing with all of those brides during that time, trying to get them a date that worked or get them their money back, whatever they preferred. But it’s come back strong. The world has come back strong and our business has picked back up.

What about new offerings or new initiatives? What’s on the horizon?

There’s always something new. We’re always focused on the future because what’s relevant today is not going to be relevant tomorrow. We want to always be ahead of the curve.

A big thing for us right now is team-building. We offer about 20 different team-building packages. As many companies are working from home, or they may be starting to go back to work, we’re seeing companies have an increased interest in team-building – whether it’s “we’re all going back to the office, and we need to reacclimate to each other,” or “we’re all working from home and we don’t see each other enough, so let’s get together for team-building.” We offer all kinds of culinary activities – baking or cooking – axe throwing, escape rooms, and game shows. We’re always pushing to see what else we can add to it. Pickleball is a big thing, and we’ve just added six pickleball courts at Blue Bell Country Club.

We’re always looking for new opportunities. At school, when we’d have an assignment to go home and interview our dad about what he did for a living, my dad would always say, “I’m an opportunist.” He didn’t want to pigeonhole himself in one field, because if there was ever an opportunity, he was going to try and jump on it. We were never in the hotel business before we bought and built Normandy Farm, and it’s a great business. I love it.

What do you do with your free time?

I like to golf and spend time with my kids and my wife. We’re active. Everybody except one of my daughters golfs, but she likes to ride around the cart with us. We like to play golf together, we like to play pickleball, we like to play basketball – whatever kind of games. We spend a lot of time together.

I’m fortunate that when my kids come home from school, they want to spend time at our house. They bring their friends – you never know who’s showing up at our door. We always have a houseful of people.

What draws your kids and their friends to your house?

I think it’s the relationship we have with them. We have a great relationship with the kids. My wife Kate is really funny and she’s really direct with the kids. She’s one of those people who you always feel comfortable with and you always know where you stand. And when our kids’ friends come over, we make them feel welcome. I’m happy that our house is the one where the kids want to hang out.

Do you read much?

I’m a big reader. I’m a big fan of Lee Child and Kyle Mills. I like to read a lot of espionage books. I also like to read about the history of business, about the Carnegies, for example – things that can help me in my life. It depends on what kind of mood I’m in. I have a Kindle and I usually have four books going at one time.

What keeps you hopeful and optimistic, Bud?

You know, I think this country is the best country in the world. What differentiates us from other countries is the creativity of the American people. So many other parts of the world can come in and replicate and steal our ideas, but they don’t have the creative thinkers that we do.

If you look at history, I think that’s always been the differentiator between us. As long as we live in a world where people are free to explore those creative ideas, then we’re going to end up okay.

It is a crazy world and it does scare me. I often think about my parents saying, “Where is the world going for the next generation?” and I hear myself saying the same thing about my kids. It’s hard, but I think creativity is the one constant that gives us hope as a society.

Finally, Bud, what’s the best piece of advice you ever got?

I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of people, and I’ve heard a lot of good advice over the years. The one that probably impacts me the most is something my dad told me which was the way he lived his life. It wasn’t necessarily advice for me, but it was evident in the way he lived his life. He always told me, “Fall in love with people, not things.”

In life as a real estate developer, there were plenty of ups and downs. He would lose assets, gain assets. There were things where he would put his heart and soul into it and then lose it. It would cause heartbreak, but he said his core was about people and the people around him. He said those things will come and go, but as long as you have the people around you, that’s what makes a difference.

And that’s the way I live my life. If it wasn’t for my wife and kids, my mother, my extended family, and certainly my work family and friends – that’s what’s important. The other things can come and go.

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