One summer in the 1960s when Rick Caro was a teenager in Scarsdale, NY, he worked three service-related jobs. He served as an activities director at a day camp on weekdays, a salesperson in a department store's camera department on weekday evenings and Saturdays, and a ticket agent sitting in a tiny wooden booth at the World's Fair on Sundays. For anyone who knew the tall and thin oldest of four children, it should come as no surprise that he not only displayed this same work ethic throughout his life, but that he also pursued a service-oriented career that's all about relationships.
Caro, this year's Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro Lifetime Achievement Award winner and president of New York-based consulting firm Management Vision, has dedicated 33 of his 60 years to the fitness business. During those years, he has worn many hats, some of them simultaneously. He's been a club owner, a consultant, an author, a speaker, founder of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) and a cheerleader for the industry to the financial community.
His business associates and friends (they are often one in the same) describe Caro in glowing terms, calling him gentle, highly intelligent, dedicated, loyal, humble and a giving man with a good sense of humor, an excellent memory and a love of sports but few athletic skills.
“He's a sports junkie, but he can't play anything,” jokes long-time friend Curt Beusman, who is retired from his Saw Mill Management clubs.
They all marvel, however, about how despite his long hours and hectic travel schedule, he keeps in touch with each and every one of them.
“He is a wonderful person at maintaining relationships. He works hard at it,” says Brian McBain, who has known Caro since the late 1960s. McBain is president of Club Market Vision, the marketing research sister company to Caro's Management Vision consulting company.
Caro sends birthday and anniversary cards to hundreds of friends, their spouses and their children. In fact, his wife of five years, Sue Denison, says he shops almost weekly at three local card stores, personally picking out cards. He also sends a thousand Christmas cards to business associates and 250 personal Christmas cards, each with a handwritten note.
“One of the most important things in life is people so I keep up with my friends, many of whom were introduced to me through the industry,” Caro says. “I've been fortunate that many are lifetime friends — fortunate that I found an industry where I could make those kinds of friends.”
Being close to several friends and their families has brought Caro joy, says his sister, Cathy Caro-Bruce.
“A lot of people consider him Uncle Rick,” she says. “Being in a marriage that's relatively new, in a way, a lot of those families were his families. I think that was part of the way that he wanted to be in the world — to have those families in his life.”
In fact, Tim and Liz Rhode, co-owners of the Maryland Athletic Club in Timonium, MD, and their children call Caro “Papi Rick.” The Cuban-American originating nickname stems from a Super Bowl party at the home of an Orioles player that Yankee-shirted Caro attended with the Rhodes. One of the guests asked if Caro was Liz or Tim's father. Liz, who is Cuban-American, laughed at the time and told the guest, “No, but in a lot of ways he is.”
Tim, who talks to Caro at least monthly, says, “He's been standing in as our adoptive father ever since.”
Caro is also close to his own family, who live in the Madison, WI, area. His mother passed away this year, but he rearranged his schedule to visit her often during her illness. He continues to visit his father regularly and calls him every night, often discussing the Yankees.
Caro waited until he was 55 to say “I do,” claiming he was either a slow learner about the concept of marriage or he was doing a lot of market research.
“It has been a wonderful situation for me because I didn't expect to find someone at this point in my life,” Caro says about his marriage to Denison, who is an executive recruiter in the media and entertainment industry. “No matter what you do with friends and what enjoyment you have, you'd always like to have someone to share your life with on a continual basis.”