HASTINGS, MN — A couple of weeks after he left his post as CEO of Anytime Fitness, Jeff Klinger was beginning to feel a little restless. That's understandable, since all of a sudden, he's found himself with a lot more free time on his hands.

Klinger sold his interests in Anytime Fitness and its affiliates for an undisclosed sum in December.

“At this point, I'm gainfully unemployed,” Klinger says, before adding, “I'm not in any hurry to find a job, that's for sure. But I'm already restless. I've caught up with all my novels.”

Klinger, who co-founded the Hastings, MN-based key-card club company with Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen in 2002, says he began the process of his exit from Anytime Fitness in the summer of 2009. The decision to leave was his alone, Klinger says.

“In a nutshell, I enjoy start-ups,” he says. “I enjoy small companies and the maneuverability of it, but when it gets ultra large, to be completely honest, I lose interest. It becomes not as fun day-to-day. It's more managerial than it is entrepreneurial. It seemed to be a great time in my life and in that entity's growth pattern to say it's a good time to step away.”

Runyon will assume the CEO duties in addition to his role as company president. Runyon declined an interview for this story, but in a statement released by the company, he said that Klinger had spent more time on ancillary companies and less time on Anytime Fitness over the past few years.

“Jeff Klinger will certainly be missed, and we've had a great ride filled with laughter, success and friendship,” Runyon said in the statement. “But our business model and growth rate are still very strong, and the best days for Anytime Fitness are ahead of us.”

Last year, Klinger and Runyon received the 2009 John McCarthy Industry Visionary of the Year Award from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). Klinger was named to the IHRSA board of directors in 2008, but he says he won't continue on the board.

One of the affiliates that Klinger sold was Enterprise Insurance Advisors, the preferred insurance provider for Anytime Fitness. Association Insurance Group completed its purchase of the affiliate in late December. As part of the transaction, Association Insurance Group has structured a new insurance program that will be exclusive to Anytime Fitness franchisees.

One interested observer in the change at Anytime Fitness is Peter Taunton, CEO of Anytime's key-card club rival, Snap Fitness, Chanhassen, MN. Klinger used to handle marketing and promotions for Taunton's former club, America's Racquet & Fitness Center, in Minnesota.

“It's always rewarding to take some chips off the table and cash out and spend time with your family,” Taunton says. “I certainly appreciate that and wish him well.”

Anytime Fitness has more than 1,200 clubs open worldwide and a growth rate of 348 percent over the past two years. Recently, Anytime Fitness was the highest ranking fitness franchise company (at No. 43) behind Jazzercise Inc. in Entrepreneur magazine's Franchise 500.

Klinger, who started in the fitness business as a janitor for a Minnesota club while stringing tennis rackets on the side, is proud of the company's growth, especially internationally.

“In my opinion, it's just in its infancy,” Klinger says about Anytime Fitness. “I know that they just penned an agreement with India, weeks before I left, which is very exciting. Australia is taking off like wildfire. I know they have a very active international sales program. Even throughout what I would call an impossible economy and the tough lending requirements, we continue to add a significant amount of stores every month. I think the reason why is because lenders love the model. The level of investment and lending, I think, gave us a unique advantage to continue to sell stores.”

After spending time with his wife and five kids, the 45-year-old Klinger says he'll get back in business in the fall — with his sense of humor intact.

“At some point within the industry or in the franchising world,” Klinger says, “you'll probably — unfortunately — hear my name again.”