Q&A: Don Henderson | CEO, Cliff Drysdale Tennis

The chief executive discusses how the sport of tennis has shaped him and the lessons he's learned throughout his professional path

Don Henderson | CEO, Cliff Drysdale Tennis
Don Henderson.

Don Henderson first played tennis as a child. He liked the sport. So much so that he returned to it in college and never left. His professional trajectory began as an intern at the John Newcombe Tennis Ranch and Academy, where he ultimately became director. In 1999, after serving as his director of tennis at The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne (Florida) Tennis Garden, he formed a partnership with Cliff Drysdale. He has risen to CEO of Cliff Drysdale Tennis, and has also taken on the role of developer and project manager for the John Newcombe Estate and Country Club in New Braunfels, Texas.

In this Q&A with The First Call, Henderson discusses embracing of racquet sports other than tennis, how he views his success and a little bit of golf.

The First Call: Where are you and your company located?
Don Henderson: New Braunfels, Texas.

TFC: What is your handicap index?
DH: 12.0 in golf ... but a scratch or plus-handicap in tennis.

TFC: What time do you wake in the morning, and what time do you typically start the workday?
DH: I wake up at 6 a.m. on most days and try to workout, and get some sun before I have a coffee. I typically start my work day at 7:30 a.m.

TFC: What are key elements to leadership or to being a good leader?
DH: You have to be relentlessly positive and build that culture with everyone you lead. You can’t settle for anything negative as a leader, even if that’s the easy solution. You have to steer the ship in a positive direction at all times. I also think it is important area of leadership is not being afraid to hire people that better/smarter than you.  

TFC: What changes, if any, have you made based on the events of the pandemic?
DH: The last couple years has taught us that we need to be fully invested in all racquet sports, including pickleball and padel. Clubs and members are looking for all-encompassing offerings and having our staff be well trained in all of these sports is crucial for our success.

TFC: What's the secret to your success?
DH: It’s similar to my other answer, but it’s all about hiring positive talented people. We had a small group of people, but they were all amazing people. We also found a niche market that, for many, is a tough business to make profitable, and became experts in it. We were scrappy, we were entrepreneurial, and learned how to make something work that others couldn’t.

TFC: Who is your role model?
DH: I don’t think I have single role model per se, but I have small circle of very successful friends that I trust because of their work ethic and values. I confide in them often for both personal and business matters.

TFC: Knowing what you know today, what professional advice would you give a younger you?
DH: I would tell myself to always do the right thing, regardless of the outcome. It’s easy to take shortcuts, but try to avoid that and do what you know is right.

TFC: What’s the last book you read?
DH: "The Elimination Diet" by Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre.

TFC: What’s the last movie you saw?
DH: "Avatar 2." Disappointing.

TFC: What’s on your playlist?
DH: I’m all over the place, but you’ll find quite a bit of country, rock and rap.

TFC: When I’m not at work, you can find me ...
DH: At the gym, or doing a workout of some kind. Running, biking, you name it.

TFC: What is your greatest extravagance?
DH: I bought a Tesla last year.

TFC: What was your path to the tennis industry?
DH: I played tennis as a kid, took up the sport again in college, and took a summer job as a tennis pro. I loved the profession, stayed with it, saw an opportunity and took it.

TFC: What are the favorite golf courses you have played?
DH: Red Ledges in Utah, and Shinnecock Hills, where I lost $200 to Pete Sampras.