They were once perceived as exclusive enclaves for the upper class, featuring plush facilities no other could offer, be it Olympic-sized pools or rolling golfing greens. They were also where one – and his younger generation – could rub shoulders with the “right” crowd and build relationships with leaders of industries in a social setting. Indeed, their value as a status symbol was what once gave members-only clubs the halo of a mythical promised land. Yet, if you even vaguely suggest that the prestige factor is what compelled Cheryl Chong to join newly launched members’ club Straits Clan, the co-founder of The Social Co and business development director of Singapore-based crowdfunding platform Fundedhere would protest in horror. “I am certainly not one to join a club because it is atas,” says Chong, 31. (Atas translates to “posh” in Malay).
To a new generation of movers and shakers, doing anything for the sake of prestige is probably as gauche as dressing up in monogrammed apparel from head to toe. New private members’ clubs such as Straits Clan and 1880 are thus taking a very different tack in attracting potential members – and their method has slight indie undertones.
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BUILDING A COMMUNITY
Apart from Straits Clan, Young Women’s Leadership Connection (YWLC) – of which Chong is chairperson – is the only other “club” she has joined. For the 10-year member of YWLC, the organisation’s appeal lies in its purpose of connecting women in business with established mentors, creating a strong community of women leaders. It is exactly this promise of bringing together a new community – and one with a positive social impact, to boot – that led Chong to join Straits Clan. “I attended one of its initial events and found the speakers inspiring and the content – on topics such as funding start-ups and new ways to reach out to the community for social initiatives – relevant,” she says. Held in November last year, the event saw speakers such as Lee Poh Wah, CEO of Lien Foundation; mountaineer David Lim; and Roger Egan, co-founder and CEO of Redmart sharing insights on the themes of courage, contradiction and change.
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“Admittedly, there were many among the attendees whom I already knew through the course of my job and social work. But there were others whom I was unfamiliar with, so I look forward to connecting with them through club events, or even just through social interaction while using the space,” Chong adds.
For Indra Kantono – co-owner of The Jigger & Pony Group of bars and restaurants – being part of a community that relates to him is also one of the main reasons he paid for a membership at Straits Clan. “Like Straits Clan, my office is located within a historical clan building in Bukit Pasoh. All our establishments are also within the neighbourhood because we love the vibrancy of it, and want to breathe exciting new life into it. I love being part of this neighbourhood so joining the club – which is right across the street from our office – is almost natural.”
After all, strip away world-class recreational facilities and you will find that the soul of any club lies in its members. And that is what the new generation of clubs focuses on. Like Straits Clan, 1880 is making an open call for creative individuals with an entrepreneurial streak. When interviewed by The Business Times, 1880 founder Marc Nicholson says that prospective members will be assessed on attributes such as creativity and authenticity. “It’s not about your bank account, or shelf of awards, but your character traits.”
Simon Cameron, founder and managing director of Lightfoot Travel, is a member at 1880, and shares that he has met “a unique set of creatives from diverse backgrounds and different sectors, from artists and filmmakers to entrepreneurs and investors” through the club. “1880’s inimitable ability to connect like-minded individuals through its member screening process made joining even more attractive to me,” says Cameron.
Just as his company offers bespoke luxury tours with a difference, Cameron appreciates that 1880 is a club with a difference. “1880 attracts a real cross section of people, a far cry from the ‘old-boys’ culture that many private members clubs are associated with,” he says. He also highlights the strong calendar of regular events, exclusive to members and their guests. “This was a real draw… I recently attended an event focusing on North Korea and met some incredibly interesting people.” The eclectic programming at 1880 has included talks by orang utan expert Leif Cocks, tastings of Lebanese wines, and performances by burlesque artist Sukki Menon.
There are, of course, new clubs that continue to take a more traditional approach to curating members. In 2016, Madison Rooms opened at the Masonic Hall. It operates very much like the revered Tower Club, with business networking at the core of its raison d’etre. Co-working space The Great Room also recently launched its very own business club, which gives members access to a network of shared office spaces in major Asian cities such as Bangkok, Jakarta and Hong Kong.
Even when business networking is not put front and centre, providing work-focused benefits is key for the new clubs. “By joining Straits Clan – which offers co-working space in a centralised location – I hope to put an end to constantly thinking about which Starbucks or Ya Kun to go to, for The Social Co’s many meetings. Especially in the early mornings, when most places are not open,” says Chong.
The accessible pricing certainly helps too. “There is a special (lower) rate for charity groups such as The Social Co. The fees are not too different from those of gym memberships, which I think is a pretty good deal as you get to use the club’s co-working space, too,” says the down-to-earth Chong.
Even for Cameron, whose company has offices in Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong, having quality venue options for work is a bonus. “In terms of facilities, one of the biggest draws are 1880’s private rooms. These are flexible in their arrangement and can be adjusted to suit your needs – which are more inspiring than your average boardroom.”
For Kantono, it is about having a convenient quiet space to retreat to, away from his office (even if it is just across the road) and jam-packed F&B venues. “I wouldn’t say that facilities and features are very important to me, in the sense that I am not inclined to compare specifications of other clubs before deciding which to join. However, the convenience of having an alternative meeting space, or just a place to have a good coffee when I need to think, is great.”
He jokingly shares that he is a member of no other organisation, except for mid-priced spa chain Natureland. “But I hear that they are also offering reflexology at Straits Clan – if that is good, I might not even need the other membership!”