IRVING, TX — Blair McHaney first heard the news of James Weaver's resignation as CEO of Gold's Gym International (GGI) at the Gold's Gym Franchisee Association (GGFA) owners' conference last month in New York. Needless to say, McHaney and the rest of the Gold's Gym franchisees were caught off-guard, and according to one source, so was Weaver.
“We were certainly surprised at the change,” says McHaney, president of the GGFA. “James did a lot of things that helped us progress. James left things much better than when he came in.”
It was a little more than a year ago when TRT Holdings, parent company of Irving, TX-based GGI, appointed Weaver to replace David Schnabel, who had resigned. Now, Gold's has its third president in the span of 12 months. TRT has handed the Gold's keys over to Jim Snow, who had been an executive with Omni Hotels, also owned by TRT. Snow began his tenure at Omni Hotels in 1992 as director of sales and marketing and held numerous roles with the company, including his most recent role as regional vice president of operations.
“We are pleased to have Jim join the Gold's Gym management team,” TRT Holdings President Jim Caldwell said in a statement. “He is one of the most respected executives in the Omni organization, and we look forward to his guidance as we continue to execute our business objectives for our well-known brand.”
Gold's Gym appeared headed in the right direction under Weaver, whose past companies included Johnson & Johnson and Tecnol Medical Products, which he helped found. In September, after the company's annual convention in July, Gold's announced its Gold's Gym Global Vendor Program, designed to help franchisees and vendor partners strengthen their businesses through large group purchases. TRT also announced that it would be investing more than $20 million into Gold's corporate-owned clubs. Late last month, Gold's began restoring the “Mecca” club in Venice, CA.
“We are thankful for James and all of his contributions to the business made during the last year,” Caldwell said. “James helped to re-establish a strong vision for the company, streamline the structure of our organization and launch several major initiatives that will benefit all stakeholders in the Gold's Gym family for years to come.”
Those familiar with the Gold's situation say Weaver had a conservative, regimented approach to running the company, which may or may not have led to discouragement within the Gold's ranks. Keith Albright, senior vice president of franchising for Gold's, resigned a few weeks before Weaver's departure, although Albright's reasons for leaving have not been made public. Last month, Chris Finch was promoted to senior director of international franchising, and Paul Summers was promoted to senior director of U.S. franchising.
Despite the changes, the GGFA remains steadfast behind the Gold's brand and TRT's leadership.
“We are eager to engage with the new CEO, Jim Snow, and to help on anything we possibly can,” McHaney says. “TRT is finding their way in this, and I respect that they need to do that however they see fit. By the same token, the GGFA has brought a lot of stability to the brand. Our hope is certainly that the new CEO recognizes the stability that the GGFA has brought to the brand.”
Still, past Gold's executives question whether a person from the hotel industry such as Snow is the right person to lead a fitness club company. Like Weaver and Schnabel, who had been a vice president at TRT, Snow has no previous fitness club business experience.
“Until they get behind the counter and sell memberships, they're not going to know what it's like to run a gym every day,” one past executive says.
Derek Barton, who had served as the director of marketing for GGI from 1985 to 2005, says it's OK for Gold's to look outside the industry for its new leader, as long as he or she has experience in running a successful international brand.
“TRT needs to look for someone at Harley-Davidson, Nike and Apple, brands that embrace their heritage, are cool and respected by men and women of all ages,” Barton says. “[Gold's needs] someone who is a visionary and leader and who isn't afraid to stand up to TRT and its franchisees and tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”