Chief finally has a clubhouse in San Francisco, but don’t call it a coworking space. The 8,600 square feet do include conference rooms, one-person Zoom rooms, and open-plan seating, but it also has a bar, lounge seating, and — like Chief’s other clubhouses in New York, L.A., and Chicago — a piano.
“To me, what the piano represents is ‘this is not a coworking space,’” Chief co-founder Lindsay Kaplan told me on a tour of the clubhouse in advance of its official opening Thursday. “This is a place where you can sit back and take meetings in a very laid-back manner.”
Unlike the Wing, the women-focused coworking space and club that shut down this summer after a six-year run, Kaplan and co-founder and CEO Carolyn Childers are still much more interested in building and supporting Chief’s network than boosting its physical amenities.
That’s why Chief’s main offering, curated, 10-member “Core” peer groups that meet monthly with an executive coach, will still take place virtually.
“What we most optimize for is finding the right and perfect 10 people for you to be with,” Childers said. “Even in San Francisco, that might be somebody outside the city.”
Before Chief expanded outside of New York, the groups still met in person, but applicants who said they wanted to join for the space didn’t tend to make it off the waitlist. The network is about the peer group, and the space is more like “the container that it can happen in IRL,” Kaplan said.
The network is more closely modeled after the Young Presidents’ Organization, the 72-year-old network of under-45 chief executives who help each other work through professional and personal challenges. YPO is all about its network and doesn’t have spaces of its own, Childers said.
Kaplan and Childers also got inspiration from Carole Robin, a longtime facilitator of the popular “touchy feely” course at Stanford, in thinking through “how you create the right level of, frankly, vulnerability that you need to get to in order to truly work through things,” Childers said. “The Core [group] truly does get to a place of being able to talk to what’s really happening for you, both personally and professionally, because those two things very much mesh.”
That said, the clubhouse is also a place where members can host guests, hold their board meetings, and — yes — take Zoom calls. Ten percent of Chief’s 20,000 members live in the Bay Area, but when Chief was planning its next clubhouse, San Francisco was also the most requested city by members who don’t live in the Bay Area. In other words, Chief members in cities such as Boston and D.C. wanted a clubhouse in San Francisco where they could visit while in town.
Despite that, Childers and Kaplan try to more closely emulate a Harvard alumni club, which have clubhouses with “great amenities,” Kaplan said, but most of the real benefits come from being a part of a vast, powerful network. But with a mission to change the face of executive leadership, the women-focused atmosphere might also feel like something more approachable — Kaplan recalled a similar feeling of camaraderie with other women trying on clothes in the communal dressing room at the old New York department store Loehmann’s.
“It kind of reminds me of this intimate space,” Kaplan said. “If you tried on something and you went in front of the mirror, all the women around you were, like, ‘Honey, that looks good.’”