Every industry has its leaders. The fitness business is no exception. The following are just a few of the industry leaders who have made a difference in the industry and continue to do so as innovators, savvy business people or savvy marketers. Their contributions to the industry offer examples that others can follow to advance the cause of fitness in this era of obesity.
Bahram Akradi, CEO, Life Time Fitness
Born in Tehran, Iran, Bahram Akradi moved to Colorado Springs, CO, at the age of 17. While attending the University of Colorado, he began his health club career selling memberships at Nautulis Fitness Center, Inc. He then climbed his way up the industry ladder to found a company that generated revenues of more than $312 million last year.
The chairman, CEO and president of Lifetime Fitness graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in electrical engineering and then moved to Minnesota to help with the expansion of Nautilus Fitness Center. Within a month of moving to the new city and working at the new club, he became part-owner of the company and changed the club's name to U.S. Swim and Fitness. Under his leadership, the company grew to be the second-largest health club chain in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN. In 1986, Akradi and his business partners sold U.S. Swim and Fitness to Bally Total Fitness. Akradi continued to run U.S. Swim and Fitness as a division of Bally for two-and-a-half years, at which point he chose to leave and start his own chain of health and fitness clubs.When his non-compete clause expired, he liquidated all his assets to open a 30,000-square-foot club in Brooklyn Park, MN, in 1992. That club is now one of 42 Life Time Fitness centers in eight states.
Life Time Fitness tries to meet the health and fitness needs of families by combining education, exercise and nutrition products and services, with large four-in-one sports and athletics, fitness, family recreation and resort/spa centers. Its mission is to provide an educational, entertaining, friendly, functional and innovative experience. Akradi says Life Time Fitness is a healthy way of life company — not a health club company.
“By providing individualized health and fitness programming, we have created an essential destination for those seeking a healthy and active way of life,” he says.
Akradi took Life Time Fitness public in June 2004, and at press time, his company's stock was trading at more than $33 a share. He said the company went public to establish a market for its common stock and to finance the company's future growth. In early September, Life Time Fitness opened its eighth health and fitness center in Illinois and its ninth fitness center in Texas. The company plans to continue its national expansion in both current and new Life Time Fitness markets.
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: Eden Prairie, MN
Education: Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering
Workout routine: When he's on the road, he does a few hundred pushups in his hotel room. When he's at home, he's a regular exerciser and even teaches classes at some of the Life Time Fitness centers.
Contribution to industry: He founded a chain of health and fitness clubs that since June 2004 has been one of only three publicly traded health club companies in the country.
Denise Austin, fitness personality
Denise Austin carried her boom box and music tapes into racquetball clubs, hospitals and corporate cafeterias during the early days of aerobics. Straight out of college at the University of Arizona, the fitness personality moved to her home state of California to found her own company — A Plus Aerobics.
In her 25-year career, she's sold about 20 million DVDs and videos and is working on her 50th DVD — “Hit the Spot Pilates.”
Her biggest break came when she met Jack Lalane at a dinner where she told him she wanted to be on his television show. He let her make a one-time appearance, but she did so well that she eventually became his co-host in 1981. Two years later, she got her own show on a Los Angeles TV station and later became the fitness expert on the Today Show, where she gave monthly reports about health and fitness. She also had a daily workout show on ESPN for a decade. To cater to more of a female audience, she switched to ESPN's sister station, Lifetime, where she's been starring in two shows — “Fit and Light” and the “Denise Austin Daily Workout” for the past decade. Rather than filming her TV shows in DC, she travels around the world to different resorts. Each day her production team films five different workouts, which are later televised.
After celebrating her 20th year on television, she says her most significant contribution to the industry is motivation.
“I've helped people to feel better about themselves through exercise and a healthier lifestyle,” she says.
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: Washington, DC
Education: Graduated in 1979 with a degree in exercise physiology from the University of Arizona. She had a full athletic scholarship in gymnastics.
Proudest accomplishment: She is most proud of filming her TV shows during her pregnancy and for her longevity in the industry.
Workout routine: She does a 30-minute daily workout, which includes cardio to burn fat, strength training to firm muscles and stretching for flexibility.
Hobby: Cardio tennis
Personal philosophy: You can't believe what you can do if you just try.
Family: She's married to Jeff, a sports attorney, and has two daughters — 13-year-old Kelly and 10-year-old Katie.
Contribution to industry: She brought aerobic fitness to the masses through her TV show, videos and DVDs. She's also educated children about the importance of fitness as a member of the President's Council on Exercise and visits 10 schools each year.
Rick Caro, president, Management Vision
Tennis clubs were in full swing when Rick Caro, the founder of the International Health and Racquetball Sports Association (IHRSA), started his firm at the age of 27. At that time he and his partners predicted that supply would soon equal or exceed demand in certain markets and began converting indoor tennis buildings to multi-sport clubs. In just one year, the number of indoor tennis buildings in Syracuse, NY, tripled and the market quickly became saturated.
“Indoor tennis was a desirable alternative because a lot of people were able to build them quickly and easily,” says Caro, the president of Management Vision, a consulting firm. “The bad news was that a lot of people had the same idea and imitated them, and they became a commodity fairly quickly.”
Before serving as a consultant, Caro served as the chairman of the Spectrum Clubs, Inc., a club ownership company. After only six months, Spectrum became the 10th largest company in the United States with more than $60 million of revenue. He also owned an eight-club organization in the Northeast. The company blazed the trail for the modern clubs of today by de-emphasizing the renting of courts by the hour and creating a membership concept. Instead of just providing a single offering — such as tennis — the club combined several programs and equipment into one club.
On the one hand, the multi-sport clubs were able to attract a diverse clientele and provide a reasonably priced recreation experience. But few people had ever heard of a multi-sport club, and the employees had to explain why membership dues were beneficial and why EFT was a safe way to pay. Times have changed, and clubs now offer a blend of group ex classes, strength training equipment, pools, gyms and racquet-sport facilities.
Now as a management consultant, Caro has taken his expertise on the road and visits clubs all over the country and the world. He travels close to half the year, handles 175 assignments annually and has provided consulting services to more than 1,300 clubs. Caro, a 32-year veteran of the fitness industry who has served as the president and director of IHRSA, credits his success to his strong work ethic and his love for health and fitness.
“I have a great passion for the industry and see every assignment as a mental challenge,” he says. “I'm blessed in having found an industry that I truly love, and I never see it as work.”
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: Manhattan, NY
Workout routine: He does stretching, cardio and strength training two to three days a week.
Hobbies: He enjoys playing and watching sports, playing bridge, traveling and volunteering on non-profit boards.
Family: Four years ago, he got married for the first time at the age of 55.
Contribution to industry: He founded IHRSA and has helped health clubs to grow their facilities and become more successful.
Joe Cirulli, owner, Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers
Joe Cirulli had every reason to run away from the fitness industry. Each of the six health clubs he worked at from the time he was 19 to 24 years old filed for bankruptcy. However, rather than running, he took lessons from each experience about how not to run a business.
“When you make money, rather than keeping it for your own purposes, you need to reinvest in your company,” he says about his first lesson. “When you make promises, you need to keep them. Finally, rather than focusing on selling memberships, you need to focus on how to make your members get results.”
He also learned the importance of staying fit as a club owner.
“I always figured that we needed to be models for the people we lead,” he says. “It's disingenuous to be a leader of fitness and not do it myself.”
Thirty years later, Cirulli says he has 24,000 members and 300 employees at the 66,000-square-foot Gainesville Health and Fitness Center, a 14,000-square-foot women-only facility and three rehabilitation centers. His path to multi-club ownership started in the early 1980s with $1,700 and an idea to be a co-ed facility — something that was uncommon at that time. Traditionally, clubs designated three days of the week for men and three days for women. Cirulli put dressing booths in his locker rooms and allowed women to visit the gym during the men's hours.However, he didn't completely abandon the women-only concept. In 1984, Cirulli opened the women-only facility and in 1996, he began a partnership with two local hospitals in order to run therapy centers.
His efforts to improve the health of Gainesville residents didn't stop there. He managed to make Gainesville one of the healthiest communities in the nation by working with the Wellness Council of America. Cirulli asked local businesses to fill out a health risk appraisal, identify their companies' top five health issues and distribute pedometers to thousands of employees to encourage them to get in shape.
JUST THE FACTS:
Proudest accomplishment: He remained in the fitness business despite the bankruptcy of his early employers. Three of his employees have been with him since the beginning and his staff has grown to become like a family.
Workout routine: He works out six times a week on his bike, elliptical trainer and step machine. He also walks up 90 rows of bleachers at the University of Florida stadium.
Hobbies: He enjoys traveling, has his own plane and has been a pilot for 22 years.
Motto to live by: “Never, never, never, never, never, never, never quit.” -Winston Churchill
Contribution to industry: He helped to make Gainesville, FL, one of the healthiest communities in the nation by partnering with insurance companies and local businesses.
Ken Germano, founder, Operation Fit Kids
Ken Germano remembers flipping through muscle magazines as a teenager in Long Island, NY, lifting weights in his basement using his 110-pound bench set and pressuring his physical education teacher to buy weight equipment for his high school's strength-training room. Decades later, he's helping other young people get fit through exercise.
The former president of the American Council for Exercise spent more than two decades in the corporate sector of the fitness industry, including a stint at manufacturer Life Fitness. While working at Life Fitness, his company received daily requests from the California Boys and Girls Club for extra Life Cycles. The company obliged when it could, but eventually, Germano decided to help children on a larger scale by starting Operation Fit Kids, which provides used fitness equipment to schools. To get support for his program, he enlisted the help of Arnold Schwarzenneger and set up a meeting with the actor and politician to discuss his idea.
“He patted me on the chest and said, ‘It's a wonderful idea, Ken. We'll support you but the challenge is all yours,’” Germano says.
Germano went on to launch the program, in which health clubs donate used fitness equipment to schools and receive a tax benefit for the charitable donations. Upon the donation of his first 300 pieces of equipment, Germano remembers spending hours upon hours in a Los Angeles warehouse taking apart and cleaning the weight machines before delivering them to local high schools.
“It was a labor of love,” he says.
He established fitness facilities in 26 of the 49 Los Angeles high schools. The program has grown to 300 facilities and has raised more than $7 million in equipment and cash donations.
“Being a physical education and a community health educator, I started to see the connection between exercise and physical activity and the role they could play in both physical and mental health,” he says. “By having access to physical activity, the high school students felt better about themselves and had more energy.”
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: San Diego
Education: Germano holds a master's degree in health education from Adelphi University in New York and did his undergraduate work in biological sciences and physical education at Manhattan College.
Motto to live by: Do what you love. Everything else follows. He also lives by four creeds: It's not about me. Never take things personally. Never do anything out of fear. Always do your best.
Family: He has a 14-year-old son, Alex, and a 13-year-old daughter, Zoe.
Contribution to industry: He has focused on children's fitness and founded Operation Fit Kids.
Gary Heavin, founder, Curves For Women
When he was 13 years old, Gary Heavin's mother died in her sleep from the effects of high blood pressure and obesity. To prevent other children from experiencing the same tragedy, Heavin founded Curves for Women.
“I want to get our sisters, mothers and grandmothers into the gym,” he says. “Four million women are now working out at Curves today. Some for the first time in their lives.”
After studying pre-med in college and waiting tables for a few years, he took over a failing health club as a way to heal people before they became ill, he says. He converted it to a women-only facility, and the phenomenon of Curves was born. His chain of clubs now has many knockoffs, but he says Curves can't be copied.
“The phenomenon of Curves is not due to the equipment as much as it is to the culture,” he says. “We've created an organization of primarily women who have a passion to serve other women.”
Heavin started his company by opening franchises in the small towns surrounding large metropolitan cities.
“We would go where no one else could go,” he says. “By selling all the small towns, we'd end up with a platform and enough locations to jump into the metropolitan areas and be able to afford the advertising.”
Curves now has locations not only in the United States but also overseas. American women primarily join a health club due to weight control, but in other countries, women often exercise for health reasons. Heavin says in the United States, women are often portrayed unrealistically in magazines and on television, and he wanted to target his Curves franchises at women of every age and fitness level. As a result, the company posted a 34 percent increase in business by using “real women” in its commercials.
Heavin, the author of two New York Times bestsellers, says he has three goals for his Curves for Women company in the next few years. Since he says he has reached his goal of becoming the “McDonalds of fitness for America,” he now wants to become the “McDonalds of fitness for the world.” He also intends to take over the weight management business and change the medical model from one that treats illness to one that provides wellness.
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: Waco, TX
Hobbies: He just flew his private jet around the world and became the Texas state hot air balloon champion. Heavin also enjoys spending time on his ranch, which is 12 miles from President George Bush's ranch in Crawford, TX.
Family: He and his wife, Diane, have a 11-year-old daughter named Shilah.
Contribution to industry: He has brought women who have never exercised before into the fitness environment and helped to start the trend of 30-minute circuit facilities.
Gene LaMott, CEO, Gold's Gym International
Gold's Gym International CEO Gene LaMott begins each day at 4:30 a.m. with a bike ride through the mountains or along the coast. When he arrives at work, he doesn't spend all day in his second-floor office overlooking the world-famous Gold's Gym in Venice, CA. He instead lifts weights right alongside the other members so he can learn first-hand what's going on in the gym.
“I have turned the organizational chart upside down and deal with the customers every single day,” he said from his cell phone on the way to the airport. “I get to see things firsthand by working out in the Venice gym.”
LaMott has held nearly every position in the fitness industry — trainer, coach, manager, salesman and club owner — which has helped him to gain a perspective and establish a vision for his company. Because he's been in the shoes of the franchisees, he's able to understand their needs and concerns, he says. He has led Gold's Gym International from a licensing to a franchising model and is leading the company's reach worldwide. The Gold's Gym brand now has 600 facilities in 43 states and 24 countries.
“After the movie Pumping Iron came out, people became aware of the brand and asked how they could take it back to where they came from, license the name and open up a gym,” he says. “As the industry matures, so has the brand. Our new model will allow us to be more consistent in our product delivery and look and feel worldwide.”
LaMott, who recently finished a 70-mile charity bike ride for the American Diabetes Association, says exercise is part of his daily lifestyle.
“I'm reasonably fit, I don't miss workouts and I eat healthy so I'm able to bring strength and energy to the table,” LaMott says. “I'm fairly disciplined in my approach. Everything you can do around the business helps you achieve your goals.”
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: Coto de Caza, CA
Education: Bachelor's degree in exercise science from Boise State University Personal philosophy: “Love what you do because it takes a lot of your time during the day and defines who you are.”
Workout routine: He rides his bike for an hour and a half in the morning and then works out at the Gold's Gym in Venice, CA.
Hobbies: He enjoys snow skiing, water skiing, road biking and mountain biking.
Family: Gene is married to a personal trainer and celebrated his 15th wedding anniversary. His daughter, Taylor, is 14; his son, Jack, is 23; and his grandson, Jackson, is 14 months old.
Contribution to industry: He has moved Gold's Gym to a franchise model and grown the company's reach in the United States and internationally.
Jerry Landwer, president, AAPHERD
A white one-room schoolhouse in the small town of Gilberts, IL, served as the backdrop for Jerry Landwer's earliest memories of physical education. The president of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) is now pushing to get required physical education classes back in the schools as a way to deal with the childhood obesity epidemic in America.
“In order to place more emphasis on academic pursuits, more schools are dropping physical education; this results in a disservice to our children,” he says. “Obesity is a disease of youth that manifests itself in old age.”
Landwer grew up in a small country town 40 miles outside of Chicago. When he was in the fourth grade, his family moved to the town of Elgin, IL, where a traveling PE teacher inspired his lifelong passion for physical activity. He continued his athletic career at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, NE, where he participated in wrestling and gymnastics. Landwer didn't want to miss out on the fun of physical activity and athletics when his college career was over so he opted to forgo a bachelor's degree in geology for one in physical education.
Landwer enjoyed a successful teaching and coaching career at Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, MO, and later went on to found two kinesiology programs — one at Texas Christian University in 1978 and another at the University of Las Vegas in 1991. He's now serving as a professor in the Department of Sports Education Leadership at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His greatest pleasure as a teacher comes from mentoring students and helping them reach their goals.
“Each student is an individual and learns in a different way. To motivate students, you need to be as positive as possible.”
To stay physically fit, Landwer wakes at 5:30 a.m. to do a set of core exercises and walks around the neighborhood. As soon as he climbs out of bed, he straps on a pedometer to track his daily goal of 15,000 steps. He said staying physically active is a way to keep his mind active.
“Staying physically active is a way for me to keep my mind active,” he says.
JUST THE FACTS:
Location. Las Vegas
Education. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and his Ed.D. at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Proudest accomplishment: Conceptualizing and setting up the kinesiology program at Texas Christian University.
Workout routine: He walks 15,000 steps a day and does a daily set of core abdominal and lower back exercises.
Hobbies: Gardening and exercising
Family: Landwer's son Allen is a college professor; his daughter Leanne is married with three children; and his wife Marie is a retired adaptive physical education teacher.
Contribution to industry: He is the president of AAHPERD, which supports those involved in the achievement of healthy lifestyles.
Hervey Lavoie, president, Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative
A game of tennis turned into a lifelong career path for Hervey Lavoie, the president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, a Denver architecture firm. He and his business partner belonged to a tennis club in Denver, and in 1982, the owner decided to build a new club in a suburban location. Since the two architects were members of the club, the owner hired them to design their first health club project. More than 20 years later, the firm has designed 500 clubs and has focused specifically on sport and fitness-related projects since 1992.
“It's been a great niche and a very long ride in an industry that was in its infancy in the early 1980s,” he says.
The surge of interest in court sports peaked in the late 1970s and 1980s, he says. At that time, people didn't join health clubs for the fitness equipment. They instead practiced fitness on their own. But with the maturation of the fitness equipment industry, the need for both buildings and health club architects emerged.
To successfully design a health club, an architect must understand the business inside and out and limit points of access so a limited number of staff members can maintain control over facility entry, he says.
“Some of the common mistakes we see are that designers focus on making a facility with a unique design and luxurious interior and move too quickly past the planning stages,” he says. “Sometimes they overlook the basic, very simple relationship and flows to make it a successful business.”
Because Lavoie's firm focuses specifically on the health club market, it didn't take long before the company exhausted the club development opportunities in Denver and had to expand its reach nationwide and worldwide. He attributes his success in the industry to working with a strong team of professionals.
“A team approach will deliver the best results for everyone,” he says. “A big part of the design delivery process is getting people to work together.”
JUST THE FACTS:
Education: Bachelor's degree from the University of Detroit and a master's degree in architecture from the University of Colorado-Boulder.
Workout routine: He enjoys jogging.
Hobbies: Golfing, skiing, fishing and hiking
Family: He's married to a professional golfer and has two children. Rob, his 24-year-old son, works at the architectural firm in Denver, and his 27-year-old daughter works in the fitness industry in Chicago.
Life philosophy: Life is short. Live it up.
Contribution to industry: He has helped to mold the look of fitness facilities over the past 20 years.
Red Lerille, owner, Red Lerille's Health & Racquet Club
When Red Lerille opened his health club in a 4,000-square-foot rented space in 1963, he vowed to make one change to the club each month for his members. His commitment to continually improving his business paid off — the fitness facility now penetrates more than 12 percent of the overall Lafayette, LA, population.
Red Lerille's Health and Racquet Club now sprawls across 20 acres and has been in business for more than four decades. In keeping with tradition, the 185,000-square-foot club recently added another feature to the facility — a children's water park complete with a zero-entry pool, lazy river, water slide, pool-side snack bar and party room. Lerille has also added a pro shop, health-food store, racquetball and tennis courts, and indoor and outdoor jogging tracks.
The population of Lafayette has doubled during the past 42 years, and 20 health clubs have popped up around the area. Lerille says to retain his 7,500 members and attract new ones, he prices the memberships right and treats his clients well. He has also changed with the times.
“Big group exercise programs are on their way out,” he says. “Twenty-five years ago, you didn't have enough space to do it. Now it's definitely dwindled, and racquetball has been eliminated off the planet. It was a big part of our operation 30 years ago, and we had 12 courts. Now we're down to four and you can get a court anytime you want.”
Fitness continues to be a way of life for the former Mr. Universe and Mr. America. He wakes at 3:30 a.m., opens his club, works out for an hour and 15 minutes and then pedals his bike around town for 45 minutes. Then he goes to 7 a.m. Mass, flies one of his antique airplanes for 30 minutes and then arrives at work at 8:45 a.m.
“Forty-two years is a long time to be in business in the health club industry,” he says. “I still show up on time and ready to work and put in eight to 10 hours a day. I believe in this business.”
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: Lafayette, LA
Proudest accomplishment: Winning the Mr. America competition and owning and running Red's.
Workout routine: He rides one of his four bikes and lifts weights at his gym.
Hobbies: He's restored 16 airplanes and has ridden Harleys since 1953.
Family: He and his wife Emma have four grown children — Mark, 42, and Kacki, 40, work at the club; Christine, 35, does alcohol and drug counseling; and Stanley, 29, owns a bar and a restaurant.
Contribution to industry: He's made a large impact on health in Lafayette, LA.
Doug Levine, chairman, Push.net
Cardio striptease. Karma sutra yoga. Drag queens and rappers as instructors. Crunch isn't your average health club, and its founder, Doug Levine, isn't your average fitness professional. He started Crunch in a tiny basement aerobics studio in Manhattan's East Village and the concept spread across the country to San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles. Its philosophy — no judgment — drew in young urbanites in their 20s, 30s and 40s who didn't want to work out at their parents' health club.
In the early days, someone would break into the club and steal the stereo system about every two weeks. Times have changed, and the gyms now offer a host of amenities from boxing rings to juice bars. But the concept has remained the same — making fitness fun for the melting pot of America.
“I've spent most of my years in New York City, and I'm accepting of people from all different walks of life,” Levine says. “I wanted to make everyone feel comfortable in the gym — fat, thin, well off or struggling. It's a powerful idea. One should always be accepting and not judgmental of people. Things aren't always as they seem.”
According to Gannett newspapers, in the 11 years since the first Crunch club opened, its reputation has spread and evolved into a full-fledged fitness movement. Levine hopes to bring the same innovation to the field of personal training. His new company, Push.net, centers around the idea that rich people and movie stars shouldn't be the only ones who can afford a personal trainer.
“I saw that people were working out with static exercise videos and exercising the same muscle groups over and over,” he says. “Push.net gives them a real personal training experience for a fraction of what it costs to join a health club or have a personal trainer come to their home.”
His business is now delivering customized workout DVDs to the doorsteps of 2,000 subscribers. Three personal trainers — Bob Harper, a host of the NBC show, “Biggest Loser;” Kristin McGee, a yoga and Pilates expert; and John Giswold, a New York City trainer — create three personalized workouts for each customer every month. Rather than paying $50 to $250 for a top-of-the-line personal trainer, a subscriber only pays $25 per month. They can then correspond with the trainer via e-mail to ensure they see results and meet their goals.
With both of his ventures — Crunch and Push.net — Levine first analyzed industry trends, developed products and services around those trends and then created a branding strategy. He says he's trying to create a brand in an unbranded space.
“We want Push.net to have a sense of humor and an interesting sense of design and technology all wrapped up in a brand,” he says.
JUST THE FACTS:
Workout routine/hobbies: He enjoys playing tennis and going jet skiing.
Family: He's married to Kaisa and has two children — Alex, 3 and Elsa, 2.
Personal philosophy: No judgment.
Contribution to industry: Levine founded Crunch to change the common perception of health clubs to offer a fun fitness environment for people from all walks of life and founded Push.net to make personal training affordable for everyone.
Mark Mastrov, chairman and CEO, 24 Hour Fitness
In 1983, as the manager of a health club in San Leandro, CA, Mark Mastrov had a hard time getting his members to leave before midnight even though the club closed at 11 p.m. When the night janitor told him that members were arriving a half hour before the doors opened in the mornings, Mastrov originated the idea for a health club that would be open around the clock — and 24 Hour Fitness was born.
Mastrov, who is now chairman and CEO of 24 Hour Fitness, began his career in the fitness industry after working out at the gym to rehabilitate his knee, which he injured while playing college basketball. He later worked as a personal trainer at the gym one day a week and then became general manager. He borrowed $15,000 from his grandmother to buy a stake in the club, and three years later, he and his business partner formed 24 Hour Nautilus and built 10 clubs in the San Francisco Bay area. By 1994, Mastrov grew the company to 32 clubs serving 250,000 members. He then worked with a private equity firm to take his California company to the next level by expanding nationwide. The company then acquired 68 clubs in southern California and many small chains in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest. In 1996, he renamed the 180 clubs in 10 states 24 Hour Fitness.
The company now tops Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro's Top 100 list with more than 330 facilities in 16 states, three million members and nearly $1 billion in revenues. Forstmann Little & Co., a New York private investment firm, recently signed an agreement to acquire the health club chain for $1.6 billion. In a 2002 interview with Club Industry, Mastrov said the key to growing from a single club to the largest health club chain in the country in terms of revenue was focusing on growing only when the company had the people to grow.
“It takes years to train people to run clubs, to run districts and to run regions,” he says. “That kind of training doesn't happen overnight, and that's one of the things that people tend to miss out on. It's a finite, difficult business that is a ton of fun, but to train and develop somebody takes awhile to build into your culture.”
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: San Ramon, CA
Education: He earned his bachelor's degree in business administration and marketing from California State University.
Workout routine: He enjoys exercising in one of his clubs, basketball, skiing and snowboarding.
Family: He's married with three children.
Contribution to industry: He built a national chain of health clubs that leads the industry in revenue. He was also responsible for 24 Hour's partnership with the U.S. Olympics and partnered with five athletic superstars and their respective 24 Hour clubs.
John McCarthy, president, IHRSA
America is not only facing an obesity crisis, but also an inactivity crisis, says John McCarthy, president of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). With so many diseases related to sedentary living, it's essential for the fitness industry to reposition itself as an indispensable asset toward improving the health of every man, woman and child, he says.
“The most powerful and fundamental change that's occurred in the industry is the relationship between exercise and health,” he says. “It used to be a leisure or a recreational industry, and now it's also about disease prevention and health promotion.”
McCarthy has been involved in the fitness industry since he was a little boy cutting greens on the golf courses or raking the beaches in the mornings. He also played college basketball and in 1958, the New York Knicks drafted him. Later, he went on tour with the College All Stars, which played against the Harlem Globetrotters. He then managed and owned the Wimbledon Tennis Club outside Boston and prior to working for IHRSA, he served as the executive director of the New England Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. He says he feels fortunate to have worked for IHRSA and expects the fitness industry to continue to get stronger and more dynamic as the years go by.
McCarthy, who plans to retire in June 2006 after 25 years with IHRSA, says he doesn't have any definitive plans in the near future for his retirement.
“I will sit back and let the dust settle,” he says. “I plan to stay involved in the industry in a constructive and positive way.”
JUST THE FACTS:
Education: He earned a bachelor's degree from Notre Dame University where he was captain of the basketball team. He also holds master's degrees in philosophy, theology and business administration.
Proudest accomplishment: Keeping the fitness industry united.
Workout routine: He does 30 minutes of cardio on his treadmill or elliptical and does some strength training and stretching. He currently belongs to two health clubs — one close to home and one near work.
Hobbies. He's a major baseball and football fan and loves watching sports. He also enjoys reading biographies, political and history books.
Family. He has been married to his wife, Gail, for 25 years and has four children — Megan, 22; Elizabeth, 20; John, 19 and Michael, 16.
Contribution to industry: He has pushed legislative efforts and efforts to educate Wall Street about the industry, benefiting for-profit clubs. He has also been the “face” of the industry to many.
Colin Milner, CEO, International Council on Active Aging
Colin Milner stumbled upon the fitness industry as a career, and in the process, he has worked to change the way people age. He started his career as a $4/hour fitness instructor struggling to make ends meet while he pursued his dream of becoming a professional soccer player. He played on the reserve team of the Vancouver White Cats in the North American Soccer League. To keep himself in shape for soccer and to pay bills, he served as a weight training instructor for the Canadian Fitness Center. After about a year, he moved into the sales division and later into management. The club owners taught him how to sell, he says.
“I thought selling was a four letter word, but they showed me that nothing in this world happens until someone takes action,” he says. “I was a purist weight training instructor, but they taught me you first have to get them involved in the program before you can benefit them through fitness. It literally changed my career path.”
Milner envisioned himself on the soccer field in Milan, but instead has worked in the fitness industry for the past 23 years. Milner, who has managed both large and small clubs and founded Canada's first national fitness magazine, now serves as the CEO of the International Council on Active Aging. In his current role, Milner tries to change the way we age and dispel society's myths about aging. While at the Keiser Corp., he launched the Keiser Institute on Aging. Through research studies, he saw seniors improve from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane to walking independently.
“The media used to show a person drooling in a wheelchair in the nursing home,” he says. “Now they're showing a 90-year-old jumping over a hurdle, a 70-year-old finishing the Boston Marathon or a 50-year-old playing in the park with grandkids.”
He said he has found that the key to maintaining one's independence boils down to one word — movement. If a person is unable to move, then it limits everyday activities and the ability to live life to its fullest.
He said educating people to make changes that improve their life is powerful.
“The exciting part about this industry is that we're able to change people's bodies but also their outlook on life,” he says. “That's why I got into the business in the first place. Twenty-three years ago when I was making $4 an hour, I wasn't thinking about the money. I wanted to make people healthy. For those coming into the industry, there's never been such an exciting time as this.”
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: Vancouver, BC
Proudest accomplishment: The White House asked Colin to write a vision paper for the Conference on Aging.
Workout routine: He takes walks or goes for a light run at the end of the workday. When he's traveling, he squeezes in exercise by walking around the airport terminals and using his pedometer.
Hobbies: Soccer, walking, watching movies and spending as much time as possible with his children.
Family: He's engaged to Julie, the COO of the ICAA, and has two daughters, 7-year-old Cassidy and 13-year-old Tyla.
Contribution to industry: He has helped to change the way people think about aging.
Jerry Noyce, CEO, Health Fitness Corp.
Employers' focus has shifted from fitness to employee health and wellness, says Jerry Noyce, CEO of Health Fitness Corp., a firm that develops, manages and markets more than 390 fitness centers for corporations, hospitals, universities and communities across the United States and Canada.
“Corporations are concerned about the rising cost of health care and are willing to pay for healthier workers,” he says. “They're still continuing to build on-site fitness centers, but a larger concern is around the health of their employees. The employee health management programs focus on reaching as many people as possible.”
Today's corporate health and wellness programs teach employees how to stay active through walking and other activities, manage their weight, improve their nutrition, stop smoking and control their stress level.
Health Fitness Corp. has two separate divisions — fitness management and health management. The 3,000 employees manage the onsite fitness centers and design and implement employee health programs. Health Fitness Corp. also provides physical therapy and occupational health services at 15 corporate sites in California, Colorado, Kentucky and Texas.
Before joining Health Fitness Corp., Noyce worked for IBM, Honeywell and a health club with a membership sales program that was centered around providing corporate membership opportunities to corporations in the area.
“Our sales approach was to do outside sales with corporate sales force,” he says. “We were inside sales people who were calling on corporations and talking to them about why they should encourage their employees to join our club.”
When he left the club in 1999, he was contacted by Health Fitness, which was looking for a CEO. Noyce said his years of service in the health club industry as well as his experience working directly with area corporations made him a perfect fit for the position. He said when working with corporations, it's essential for health clubs to do a good job of customer service with both the companies and the employees to develop a successful relationship.
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: Minneapolis Hobbies
Workout routine: The former Minnesota tennis coach plays both tennis and golf.
Family: He's been married for 38 years to Jane; has a daughter, Jennifer; a son, David, who is a lawyer; and a granddaughter, Ana.
Life philosophy: You're as successful as the people you work with. If you're focused on common goals and understand how to achieve them, then you can do good things.
Contribution to industry: He has helped corporations bring fitness to their employees.
Dr. Robert Patton, professor, University of North Texas
Most adults celebrate their 60th birthday by blowing out candles and enjoying a small party with family and friends. But not Dr. Robert Patton. The University of North Texas professor celebrated his six decades in this world by bicycling 4,300 miles from Seattle to Boston.
Since he turned 30, Patton has celebrated each decade by breaking away for a month to pursue an adventure, such as climbing Kilamanjaro or running a marathon. He's drawn upon this energy to connect with his graduate and undergraduate students at the University of North Texas.When he began his academic career as a professor in his late 20s, he wasn't much older than his students. Thirty years later, he's “a gray head with a briefcase,” but Patton says he still remains young at heart and has a passion for teaching.
“It's been a wonderful life,” he says. “I enjoy molding the minds and bodies of young people and having the opportunity to work with them in the consulting world.”
In his senior year at the University of Florida, he was studying pre-med and took an elective in exercise physiology. He then had an epiphany — rather than working with sick people, he decided he'd rather work with well people. When he was 21 years old, he switched his major, and he's never looked back. While he misses the doctor's paycheck, he says he hasn't regretted his decision to become a college professor. Since he first joined the faculty at the University of North Texas in 1973, the program has shifted from a physical education curriculum that's dedicated to training teachers and coaches to more of an allied health approach. He says the profession is also looking for more trained and qualified people.
“There is no barrier for entrance in this field,” he says. “Because of that, professionals with undergrad degrees are competing with high school cheerleaders and others who are less qualified. Many times that's problematic. But there's hope for the profession because more health clubs are trying to hire more qualified and prepared people.”
A mountain of papers perpetually clutters his desk, Patton says, but he always keeps in clear view his life's creed, the “True Gentleman.” He received the creed when he was a fraternity member at the University of Florida, and he still tries to live by it today.
JUST THE FACTS:
Proudest accomplishment: The enduring relationships he's had with students.
Motto to Live By: “The True Gentleman”
Hobbies: Bike riding, lifting weights, running and mountain climbing.
Family: He's been married for 16 years to Elisa and has two children — Laura, 42 and Scott, 37. He's also the proud grandpa of eight-year-old Vince and five-year-old Shelby.
Contribution to industry: His students have gone on to succeed in the fitness industry.
Michael Scott Scudder, CEO, Fit Focus
An automobile accident rendered Consultant Michael Scott Scudder paralyzed from the waist down in 1964. He underwent an extensive surgery and five doctors told him he would never walk again. The sixth surgeon, however, told him about a surgery that was only being performed by a handful of doctors around the country. He agreed to do the surgery and later became a professional golfer, professional cross country and downhill skier and an amateur tennis player. Scudder used this experience to help many clubs become successful.
“I got the feeling back because I knew what physical activity would do for me,” he says. “I wanted other people to have that possibility. I got in the business and learned it over time and how to run successful clubs, and I wanted to share that with other people.”
Scudder worked in the insurance and equity brokerage business for a dozen years before running a small fitness center and golf course in upstate New York. He then moved to New York City to manage two health clubs from 1983 to 1989. He also worked as the part owner and executive director of the Players' Gold Gyms, a five-club chain out of Danbury, CT. The partners hired him to redo the systems and turn the organization around. One day during lunch with one of the partners, the partner called Scudder a consultant.
“He said that I like to take things that are screwed up, unscrew them, and then move on,” Scudder says. “That's consulting.”
Scudder called a club owner in Florida to tell him he was going into consulting and the owner said, “You're hired. What do you charge?”
“I've been busy ever since,” Scudder says.
Since 1991, Scudder has worked with 400 health clubs in 46 states and six foreign countries. He says he became a turnaround specialist by working with clubs that were losing money and helping them to be successful. But it's not always possible to save a business that hasn't invested in its equipment or is willing to make significant changes to improve retention and customer satisfaction, he says.
“Many clubs approach me because they're in trouble and they think that I can save them,” he says. “I learned a long time ago that generally I can't. When someone tries to hire a consultant in any industry because they're so deep in trouble that they need someone to help get them out, it's often too late.”
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: Taos, NM Proudest accomplishment: He's pleased with his ability to continue to learn and continue to shift as the industry shifts.
Hobbies: Downhill skiing, hiking, movies and gardening
Family: He's married to Phyllis.
Contribution to industry: He has helped countless small club owners be successful by thinking outside the box.
Judi Sheppard-Missett, founder, Jazzercise
In 1969, Jazzercise Founder Judi Sheppard Missett was teaching a dance class at a two-story jazz studio in Chicago when she noticed that her students stayed for a few classes and then moved on. That's when she was hit with a realization — her students enrolled in her class not to learn how to perform professionally but rather to lose weight, experience the joy of dance and have fun. As an experiment, she turned her students away from the mirror and encouraged them with positive feedback. In her first class, which she later called “Jazzercise,” she had 15 students, but that number soon grew. Every time she held the class, participation doubled until the room was packed.
“My students loved the concept,” she says. “I was able to cue them to get their body aligned properly so they didn't need the crutch of the mirror. They learned how to use their bodies on their own.”
Her concept of Jazzercise blossomed into a $19.8 million corporation with 6,000 instructors teaching 20,000 classes weekly in the United States and around the globe. She attributes the longevity of the dance-fitness program to dedicated franchise owners and corporate staff as well as the ability to change the structure of the Jazzercise classes. By having consistent Jazzercise routines in every facility worldwide, the students know what to expect.
“When our students come in the door, they know they'll do a little yoga, kickboxing and Pilates and be out the door in an hour,” she says. “Sometimes in a group exercise class in a health club, they don't know what to expect. Teachers will rotate and every teacher will do something a little different. That will make a student feel lost.”
She said even though Jazzercise has been around for 35 years, it continues to incorporate the latest music and cutting-edge moves in the industry.
“Our philosophy has remained the same since the first time we stepped on the stage,” she says. “We make everyone feel successful when they come into a class and make the choreography fun and effective. That's one of the reasons we're still here and doing better than we've ever done.”
In addition to teaching five Jazzercise classes per week, she also helps to raise about $30 million for different charities. She recently launched the Art and Soul program to raise funding for the arts as well as provide funding for breast cancer research. She also oversees Jazzertogs, a catalog company that sells workout wear, DVDs and resistance and weight equipment.
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: Oceanside, CA
Proudest accomplishment: Helping women physically and fiscally by founding a woman-based company.
Hobbies: Hiking in the mountains, reading three books a week, spending time with her family and teaching Jazzercise classes
Family: She has two children, a two-and-a-half year old granddaughter, Skyla, and another grandchild on the way.
Contribution to industry: She helped lead people (mostly women) who weren't comfortable in gyms into aerobic exercise by making it fun.
Mark Smith, chairman of TSI
Mark Smith competed as a professional squash player and worked as a chartered accountant in New York City, London and New Zealand before joining what would become the largest network of health and fitness clubs in the Northeast in 1985.
The night before he was due to return to New Zealand on a partnership track at the accounting firm, he met the president and CEO of what is now called Town Sports International (TSI) who offered him a job. Rather than returning to New Zealand, Smith accepted TSI's offer.
“It was one of those moments in life when you see a fork in the road,” he says. “I took the riskier fork and it's turned out well. I don't think I would have made much of a career accountant.”
After serving as executive vice president of development and international operations, he became CEO in 1995 and held that position until 2001. He became chairman in 2002, a role he is still serving today.
TSI operates under four brand names — New York Sports Clubs, Washington Sports Club, Boston Sports Clubs and Philadelphia Sports Clubs. Operating under trade names lends a local name to a branded business, he says.
“These brand names give a sense of local identity to the members,” he says. “We view it like the perspective of a sports team. People enjoy identifying with something of their own rather than being branded a national chain.”
Smith says his interest in squash originally attracted him to TSI. When he joined the company, TSI had four squash clubs. Over the next 20 years, the clubs lessened their squash offerings out of necessity and the tight real estate markets in the Northeast.Smith has worked together closely with the executive team to develop the brand, create a professional organization and meet their members' needs. This cohesiveness served TSI well in the aftermath of Sept. 11, when it cut back and focused on the core business. TSI, which has filed to go public and concurrently put its business up for sale, is now continuing to grow.
JUST THE FACTS:
Location: Manhattan, NY
Education. He earned a degree in business and accounting from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.
Hobbies. Running, rollerblading, kayaking and heliskiing.
Workout routine: His daily exercise regimen includes an hour of cardio and a half hour of strength training at one of his clubs.
Family: He's married to Alexandra and has two sons — Tristan, 19 months, and Dylan, six months.
Contribution to industry: By serving on the IHRSA board, he educated others about larger health clubs and the benefits they can bring to public policy. He is leading a company that has grown to include more than 141 clubs and 400,000 members.
10 Secrets of Success from the Who's Who of the Fitness Industry
- Ask as many questions as you give answers.
- Return a phone call or e-mail message within 24 hours.
- Hang around smart, constructive, positive and energetic people.
- Never give up.
- Show up on time and ready to work.
- Stay in shape.
- Set goals and work towards them.
- Learn something new every day.
- Tell your customers hello and goodbye.
- Make a change every month at your health club.