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Joe Cirulli, who has owned and operated Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers since 1978, is the 10th recipient of Club Industry's Lifetime Achievement Award. Photo by Migdalia Figueroa.
Employees and Family Are the Same
Cirulli has created an environment at Gainesville Health and Fitness in which the staff treats him like family and vice versa. Some of the staff is in fact Cirulli’s actual family.
In addition to Coley-Cannon, several Gainesville Health and Fitness employees have been with Cirulli for 15, 20, or 25 or more years. It is not hard to understand why. Cirulli has rewarded his management team with whitewater rafting trips and excursions to Costa Rica. One year, as a Christmas bonus, Cirulli took his staff to a mall in Orlando and gave each employee an envelope containing more than $1,000 that they were to spend that day.
“I wouldn’t want to work for anyone else,” says Shawn Stewart, operations manager, an 18-year veteran at the club. “He’s helped me grow as a person as much as any person I’ve ever been around.”
One day, Cirulli told Stewart to keep Thursday open for a special trip, just for the two of them. Cirulli flew Stewart that day to a golf tournament. In Augusta, GA. At The Masters. Stewart, a golf fanatic, was floored.
“It’s that personal level of knowing that he’s thinking about you all the time,” Stewart says. “We all work hard, but we get to play hard.”
Sometimes, Cirulli will solve a problem for which his staff sees no resolution. One day, a car that was part of a giveaway was parked in front of the club and needed to be moved but was not moveable conventionally. Depending on whom you ask, the car either was barricaded and/or no one could find the keys. Not a problem, Cirulli thought. He and a few staff members simply lifted the car and carried it out of the way.
“Failure never enters his mind,” Stewart says. “It truly never enters his mind.”
Debbie Lee’s first exposure to Gainesville Health and Fitness came in 1984 as a part-time aerobics instructor. Right away, Lee said to herself, “One day, I’m going to work for this man.”
Today, Lee is the company’s director of marketing. She calls Cirulli a marketer’s dream.
“Joe is willing to put up the money to allow us to be the best we can be at our positions,” Lee says.
Jan Matkozich, general manager and sales manager, has been with Cirulli since 1980, with a couple of pauses in between.
“I don’t come to work,” Matkozich says. “This is just part of life. This has never been a job in that sense. Outside of my wife and my two kids, this is my family. Joe and his family took me in like I was one of theirs.”
Matkozich says Cirulli leads by walking around, often stopping to help a member on a machine or picking up a candy wrapper or paper clip off the floor.
All employees follow the company’s core values: hard work, integrity, a commitment to helping people and a willingness to create your own future. The staff—men and women—wear blue dress shirts, with the men required to wear a tie. That’s partly due to Cirulli’s Catholic school upbringing and partly to differentiate the staff from the club’s trainers, who wear polo shirts.
Gainesville Health and Fitness receives about 2,000 employment applications each year. The extensive interview process concludes with a workout in the club.
All six of Cirulli’s siblings, from Linda to Debbie to Dan to Ro to Mike to Crissy, now live in Gainesville, as do their parents. And all but one of the Cirullis have or have had roles at the company, from public relations to the smoothie bar to finances.
At 86, Armand still goes to work every morning to manage Joe’s personal bills. He shares an office with Mike Kline, CFO at Gainesville Health and Fitness.
“He doesn’t believe in retirement,” Armand says of Joe. “I can understand what he means.”
Joe Cirulli, who will turn 59 in December, bought Armand and Fran a house in Gainesville, one of the many goals he set as a young man. Joe himself was married for a brief time in his 20s to the girlfriend who brought him to Florida. They later divorced, and he has never remarried. Although he does not have kids of his own, he sees his many nieces and nephews at birthday party after birthday party.
“The industry is what he loves,” Dan says. “I don’t know how he could get tied down.”