The history of social clubs in America dates back to the country’s founding—literally. The Bohemian Club of San Francisco and its infamous all-male encampment, the Bohemian Grove, was founded in 1872 as a place for artists, musicians, and eventually businessmen to gather. “Weaving spiders come not here”, is their notorious tagline; it warns members to steer clear of business discussions. Today, the opposite is true for upscale working social club NeueHouse. With a keen new CEO and a team of industry trailblazers, NeueHouse is reinventing the ethos of a members-only environment.
It’s a rare kind of mastery; one who can do so much to define a lifestyle brand while challenging all of the industry’s comfortable norms. For 45-year-old CEO Josh Wyatt, success lies in surrender. Allowing for freedom in creativity and innovative partnerships have led to some of today’s most talked-about collabs. The former president of Equinox and founder of Generator Hostels teaches his approach at Oxford and Harvard Business School, his alma mater. Allying with Frieze LA, Netflix, and Taschen Books are some of the strategic positions that make Wyatt’s new governance stand out among the crowd.
In LA, NeueHouse occupies the revered CBS Radio Building. Architect and designer David Rockwell of Nobu and Cosmopolitan Hotel fame built a setting filled with board-form concrete, shou sugi ban, and brushed steel. For many recognized brands like Lord Jones, it’s been the birthplace of real-time invention. On the eve of last month’s inaugural Frieze LA, Wyatt discusses strategic impact and taste-making while sipping Old-Fashioneds in one of Hollywood’s most historic buildings.
TANYA AKIM: [The Hollywood NeueHouse] is astounding. Where is NeueHouse expanding to next?
JOSH WYATT: We’re focused right now on creating a story in LA and New York and a couple of other cities in North America. In my former experience in the hotel space, I was very systematic, focused, and disciplined about building a company. I built the world’s largest millennial-driven hotel company [Generator Hostels]. How I did it was creating the foundational moments. So, yes, NeueHouse one day will be in Paris, in Mexico City, in Lisbon—but for 2 years, what we’re focused on is building out incredibly interesting, architecturally significant spaces. That’s our DNA for the design. We don’t always know what’s happening, per se, all we know is that there is this high-velocity high-focus intent of all these creative people coming together in this space, and that creates amazing results. It’s not something you can plan for; it really just happens.
TA: Can you think of two sentences to describe NeueHouse?
JW: A merger of various moments of design and creativity, all within four walls that facilitate magical things to happen. This remarkable fit between commerce and culture.
TA: Some really impressive industry collaborations were born here. How did that happen?
JW: We don’t know, we can’t legislate it, we can’t plan for it, it just happens. The only thing that we focus on in terms of what we can control is building out these amazing spaces with an incredible team that is truly dedicated to supporting the arts and the creative movement. With my team, I actually don’t get involved on the day-to-day level in any of the programming. I protect the artist, I protect the actors, I’m the guy that basically creates the canvas for all of our incredible employees to do amazing things. That’s what I wake up and think: How can I allow my employees to create the most moving experiences? I’ve hired the most dedicated people that are committed to art. Tim Geary was the global membership director of Soho House before he became our global membership director. Jon [Goss] is my chief brand officer. Meredith [Rogers] is a genius. She orchestrates all of the cultural programming and has been very successful with it.
TA: What did you walk into when you took on this new role 4 months ago?
JW: The company was founded in 2012. Opened in New York first, then LA. A year and a half ago the company was going through restructuring. The founders had an amazing ability to project out a beautiful brand. Pretty much like every company that is founded by creative visionaries, it lacked the strategic and operational discipline to truly thrive. I came into the mix when the company was going through reorganization. I got involved because I love hotels, I love restaurants. I’m really drawn to creative, interesting brands changing the discussion of the real estate space. I sat down with the C-level employees and we decided to take the initial DNA of the brand and figure out a way to amplify it out into a growth plan.
TA: What’s your focus on now?
JW: We’re going to figure out a way to bring the NeueHouse story to a wider audience and other markets. That’s why we’re working on more deals in LA and New York, but we’re going slowly. We’re slowly building a story and we are dedicated to committing on our customer promise. That’s my focus. Especially corporate culture. Leading creatives isn’t easy, but so rewarding.
TA: Lifestyle, in general, is a difficult market. Is that intimidating to you at all?
JW: In the lifestyle space, there are very few people in the world in the hotel, nightclub, restaurant, or hospitality space that can consistently understand the intersection of [return on investment] and the ability to create a truly iconic brand. Without being overly confident, I can probably argue there are 3 or 4 people in the world who understand how to scale a company in the lifestyle space, do amazing things, and make money. I think I’m one of them.