San Diego, Ca — Carl Liebert faced the fitness industry at the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association trade show last month for the first time. However, it wasn't the way he might have envisioned doing so. The CEO of 24 Hour Fitness was meeting some of the biggest players in the industry a little more than a month after well-liked 24 Hour Fitness Founder Mark Mastrov left the company.

“I'm never going to win a popularity contest with Mark, and I wouldn't even want to entertain one,” Liebert said during an interview conducted at the trade show in San Diego. “He helped recruit me. He helped bring me in. I owe him a lot. But he created a wonderful company, and we're going to take this wonderful company that he created and make a legacy that he'll be proud of for a long time.”

Liebert insisted that Mastrov's departure was a mutual decision between 24 Hour Fitness owners Forstmann Little and Mastrov. Liebert offered well wishes to Mastrov and the four other executives who left the company in January. Several of those executives had opportunities at other companies, he says.

Mastrov has not announced plans for his future although he has involvement in close to 100 fitness facilities outside the United States.

“We are in a stage where we're in a transformation as a company,” Liebert says. “We are in a growth and expansion mode. In that growth and expansion mode, people's roles change. What they need to do changes. Their measurements change. Some people enjoy that. Some people would rather not wade into that. They are all wonderful folks. This was not personal. They were very supportive. In the end, to understand clearly, we are on a mission. That mission is to change people's lives through fitness. That's our agenda.”

In the last several months, Liebert has hired people from outside the industry and promoted people from within the club company to new positions as a way to move 24 Hour Fitness forward without destroying the company's existing culture.

“The most important part of our transformation is to take the wonderful talent that we have and bring in two, three, four, five people to ‘fertilize’ or ‘populate’ that talent and allow us to think a little bit differently,” he says.

Liebert himself is a virtual outsider to the fitness industry, but he says that he has grown in his knowledge about the industry and has relied heavily on Mike Sheehan, his chief operating officer, who has been with 24 Hour Fitness for more than seven years.

“Every company needs to continue to reinvent themselves,” he says, adding that companies should never stop changing because the world and customers continually change. “If companies can't evolve, that's when you lose.”

24 Hour Fitness is evolving by moving into more than its current 14 states, including a move into New York where the company is partnering with New York Yankees baseball star Derek Jeter on three clubs to open this year. Liebert plans to expand into the boroughs and the tristate area with additional clubs.

Moving into the East Coast is something the company and Mastrov talked about for a long time, Liebert says.

“We're finally going to get it done,” he says. “I couldn't be more nervous but also anxious to actually get them up because I think we're going to learn a lot.”