Today's Most Influential People in the Health Club Industry
Welcome to the 2009 Club Solutions premier list of fitness industry innovators! These individuals have had a significant impact on their own companies, as well as on the industry at large throughout the years. Here, we’ve uncovered what drives their success and what they plan to do in the future. This list is not all-inclusive and is not meant to be – there are countless success stories that could have easily made the cut – but the individuals we chose represent the best of what the industry has to offer, and we hope you enjoy reading about them!
CEO & Founder, Anytime Fitness
Jeff Klinger got his start in the fitness industry in college – as a part-time maintenance worker for a five-club fitness chain in Minneapolis. He eventually became a sales representative and moved up the ranks from sales manager to vice president of the entire chain. Klinger left the fitness chain to start a collection of industry-related businesses that are still in operation today. He has also owned numerous full service fitness clubs, the last of which was sold in 2002. That same year, his newest venture-Anytime Fitness-was born, and currently ranks as the world’s largest and fastest growing co-ed fitness franchise. In March, he and co-founder Chuck Runyon won IHRSA’s Industry Visionary Award for “unprecedented and unique contributions to the advancement of the club industry as a whole.”
“Our two top priorities at Anytime Fitness have always been members and franchisees. We want members to have access to the best possible equipment, supportive staff and well-maintained facilities. We also take satisfaction in helping entrepreneurs turn dreams of owning their own businesses into reality, and we’re proud our business model has been rewarding and satisfying for the vast majority of Anytime Fitness club owners.”
President & Co-Founder, Anytime Fitness
Since its inception, Chuck Runyon has been involved in virtually every facet of Anytime Fitness, including strategic planning, operations, training, franchise development and marketing. Under his leadership, Anytime Fitness has been at the forefront of new industry trends like reciprocity (join one club, use them all), integrated billing and security systems, and 24/7 access to clubs. In addition to ensuring that members have good experiences at Anytime Fitness clubs, Runyon is committed to helping franchisees succeed. And it’s working-in February, for the fourth year in a row, Franchise Business Review honored Anytime Fitness with its FBR50 “Franchisee Satisfaction Award.”
“Being open 24/7 is a necessity these days. People are so busy, with so many things going on in their lives, the last thing they need is for their workouts to complicate their lives.”
Future Plans: “For the past two years, Anytime Fitness has been opening clubs and selling franchise territories at a rate of more than one a day. Later this year, we hope to open clubs in New Zealand, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. We expect to celebrate the opening of our 2,000th club sometime during 2010. Right now, we see incredible opportunities for international growth.” – Jeff Klinger
CEO, Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers
Joe Cirulli followed his passion for fitness and continues to develop it into a business consistently ranked among the top in its industry. Cirulli overcame many adversities before taking over GHFC in the mid-1970s. Today, membership tops 28,000 and Cirulli’s clubs serve as the model for others around the world. GHFC’s honors include efforts that led to the city of Gainesville’s being named the nation’s healthiest community by the Wellness Council of America, and itself being named the top health club in the world at the European Conference. Most recently, Cirulli and his health clubs were featured on the August 2008 cover of the national business magazine Inc.
“We will continue to look for new locations, grow our programming, develop our staff and find better ways to take care of our members. We will simultaneously work to make our community a healthier place to live.”
Future Plans: “We never stop working on our future, and it makes answering this question easy. I hear many people are pessimistic about the future. We addressed this a long time ago in the discovery of our company values. It reads “We are the creators of our own future.”
CEO, Gold’s Gym International
Named CEO in 2008, James Weaver brings more than 30 years of professional experience to Gold’s Gym International. For 20 years, he led an international medical products supply business, Tecnol Medical, which he co-founded in 1978 with five employees and later sold to Kimberly Clark with a staff of more than 2,500 people. Today, working to expand the Gold’s Gym footprint domestically and internationally, Weaver believes the company must serve its members and their communities.
“Everything we do revolves around meeting the needs of our customers, whether that customer be our members, our franchisees, our employees or our vendors. I believe strongly that if we can get close to our customers and listen to their needs, our business will continue to thrive.”
Future Plans: “We are focused on growing our brand both domestically and internationally and plan to double the number of gyms around the world in the next three to five years. We want Gold’s Gym to be the preeminent solution to the world’s total health and fitness needs. We see our brand as more than just a gym, more than just a place to work out-we want to be the most important health and fitness resource in the lives of our members and our communities.”
CEO & Founder, GoodLife Fitness
David Patchell-Evans recently became the inaugural recipient of the Outstanding Community Service Award from IHRSA, for significant individual and organizational contributions to society. He has been actively engaged in GoodLife since he founded the company in 1979. Today, he remains committed to helping the community by supporting initiatives from Junior Achievement to the GoodLife Kids Foundation, which aims to combat childhood obesity and increase awareness of the benefits of activity and a healthy lifestyle. Patchell-Evans also supports an internationally-recognized autism research group.
“Our core values of caring, trust, integrity, passion, peak attitude, happiness and personal fitness guide everything that we do at GoodLife. We have to ensure that every day our employees live these values. Our goal is that every member is treated like an individual and feels supported and motivated to get fit and, most importantly, have fun in the process.”
Future Plans: “We are focused on both club and societal growth because we believe the success of the company is intrinsically linked to giving back to our communities. When your company’s core values direct you to care for both individuals and society at large, you reap untold rewards. You attract quality employees who share your values and are caring people. These employees attract loyal members, which ultimately results in greater member retention and increased employee retention.”
Chairman & CEO, Life Time Fitness
Bahram Akradi founded Life Time Fitness in 1990, guided by his vision to create a comprehensive, family-oriented Healthy Way of Life company focused on providing members an educational and entertaining experience of uncompromising quality and value. Since then, he has been credited with transforming the health and fitness industry with the company’s distinctive, resort-like sports and athletic, professional fitness, family recreation and spa centers. Akradi holds a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Colorado and has over 25 years of experience in the health and fitness industry.
“Twenty-five years ago, I noticed that so much of what was happening in the fitness industry was centered on the club’s point of view, not the customer’s. Contracts were sold and policies were in place to protect the club, not the member. When we first launched our company with no long-term contracts and 30-day, money-back guarantees, many said we wouldn’t remain in business six months. Nearly 17 years later, our focus hasn’t wavered. We continue to bring improvements to our programming and facilities, and our success always has been a function of our commitment to our members’ experience. Do what’s right for the customer long-term and positive business results will follow.”
Future Plans: “Based upon the strong usage levels we’re seeing among our members, we remain excited about the tremendous opportunities that remain in front of us. At this time, we continue to have a number of new locations under development and remain highly selective with our future growth prospects.”
Founder, Lifestyle Family Fitness
Geoffrey Dyer, a native Australian, has 37 years of experience in the fitness industry. Once weighing 248 pounds at age 17, Dyer battled for years with childhood obesity. Today he fights the epidemic, pushing related legislation and overseeing a teen initiative in Lifestyle Family Fitness health clubs nationwide. Dyer has served as president of IHRSA and is current president of the Florida Health Club Association (FHCA). In 2005, he was recognized by Ernst & Young as a Florida winner of the “Entrepreneur of the Year” and in 2007 was named “Tampa Bay Area Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Gulf Coast Business Review. Dyer also received IHRSA’s 2008 Dale Dibble Award for Distinguished Service.
“It is the responsibility of each of us to give back to our industry and to our community. Each and every one of us should be active in public policy and push for legislation that supports our industry rather than regulating it. In our communities, we can and should actively support local charities.”
Future Plans: “We plan to build member loyalty and exercise adherence by creating additional value for all members, investing greater effort to show our appreciation and be more attentive to their needs. We will continue adding new clubs in markets where we already have a presence. We also plan to grow our fee-paid group programs.”
Principal, New Evolution Fitness Co.
Founder, 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide
Within the health-and-fitness industry, Mark Mastrov is considered a pioneer, innovator and worldwide visionary. He is credited with not only introducing industry-leading club designs and services such as 24-hour access, monthly memberships and electronic billing, but also innovative partnerships. From the U.S. Olympic Team, free high school athlete programs, celebrity co-branded clubs, supporting NBC’s reality television program, “The Biggest Loser,” Mastrov has seen and done it all in his 25+ year career.
Since founding 24 Hour Fitness in 1983 with a single facility in San Leandro, Calif., Mastrov has built a fitness empire of over 420 clubs in 16 states and five Asian countries with revenues in excess of $1.5 billion. He is also the founder of Planet Fitness Russia, Energy Fitness Chile, Mrs. Sporty Germany, YogaWorks USA, California Wow Thailand, and many other health and fitness businesses throughout the world. Mastrov sold 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide in 2005 for $1.68 billion – the largest sum in industry history – remaining chairman with a substantial stake in the company, but left in January of 2008 to pursue new interests for people of all fitness levels and abilities around the world.
“I strive to live our core values of integrity, loyalty, energy, passion, teamwork, pride and family first every day by setting the example and making a difference.”
Future Plans: Mastrov recently founded the New Evolution Fitness Company (NEFC), based in Northern California. NEFC provides capital and operates partnerships, management oversight, and expertise to emerging brands around the world. In the future, he will continue to seek new and interesting opportunities in the fitness industry as an investor and operator.
President & Co-Founder, The Sports Club Co.
As entrepreneurs and innovators, Nanette Pattee Francini and business partner Michael Talla launched their first club, The Sports Connection, in 1979. Eight years later, they opened the Spectrum Club, which eventually helped spark the modern fitness phenomenon The Sports Club/LA, a 100,000 square-foot sports and fitness complex. Francini received Entrepreneur Magazine’s 1992 “Spirit of Achievement” Award and was a finalist in the 1995 Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” Award. In 2003, she received the Golden Star Award from Big Brothers Big Sisters, and in 2004, the Visionary Award bestowed by the City of Beverly Hills. Today, the Sports Club Company develops, owns and operates luxury sports and fitness complexes on both coasts, including Los Angeles, New York City, Beverly Hills and Orange County.
“Our mantra really says it all: ‘We are the finest sports and fitness club company in the world, dedicated to enhancing our members’ lives.’ This is our touchstone, our guidance, and what we dedicate ourselves to each day.”
Future Plans: “Our future plans align with our history; we continue to be a small company, with steady internal growth, delivering a top-of-category product and experience for our stakeholders.”
CEO, President & Partner of Titan Fitness, Owner & Operator of 16 Gold’s Gyms
In 1992, Jeff Skeen became a partner and CFO for the G Group in Fairfax, VA, which owned and operated a Gold’s Gym. Over the next six years, he and his partners grew the franchise to 11 locations in four states and became the largest and most profitable Gold’s Gym chain in the world. In 1998, the G Group hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to help secure enough capital to purchase Gold’s Gym Enterprises, now known as Gold’s Gym International (GGI). As a principal and CIO, Skeen designed and implemented the Gold’s Gym Information System, a nationwide management system designed to unite GGI’s corporate-owned gyms and franchisees. In 2004, he founded Titan Management Solutions, a national consulting firm for Gold’s Gyms. Skeen has also assisted in the successful upgrade of GGI’s billing systems and has advised many GGI executive team members.
“Every day, I think about ways to touch the 84 percent of Americans not involved in fitness. If all we do as health club operators is pass the 16 percent of Americans who exercise around to each other, we have failed. Every day people are dying from diseases they could have prevented if they’d engaged in a regular form of exercise. Anything other than 100 percent of Americans participating in exercise is unacceptable.”
Future Plans: “Titan plans on purchasing and opening 60 gyms in the next five years. We are also building new stores to support investments made in each market. Ultimately, we plan to create a chain that seamlessly integrates exercise, nutrition, personal training, health and medical assessments.”
CEO, Town Sports International
1990, he served as a corporate attorney for six years with one of the company’s outside law firms. He became executive vice president of development in 1995, and chief development officer in 2002. He assumed the role of president and chief development officer in March 2006, and was named CEO in 2007. Alimanestianu is married, has three children, and lives in Larchmont, NY. He works out at his local New York Sports Club (NYSC), one of TSI’s four major brands.
“In the past year we’ve rededicated ourselves to being a customer-focused, mission-driven company. We articulated new values and guiding principles. I think we got it right because, in a relatively short time, employees began to take ownership of our new mission, which is ‘improving lives through exercise’ and they began to innovate in line with the guiding principles in our clubs, our offices and our communities.”
Future Plans: “We’ll continue to focus on enhancing the member experience and continue to solidify strong positions in our four key metropolitan markets: New York, Boston, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. On the expansion side, we see many opportunities for growth in our current markets. When we see economic conditions improve, we will return to a faster rate of growth.”
CARL LIEBERT, III
CEO, 24 Hour Fitness
As CEO of 24 Hour Fitness, Carl Liebert III understands the power of changing lives through fitness. Responsible for the worldwide operations of more than 425 fitness clubs and 20,000 team members, every day presents an opportunity for the fitness pioneer to help members live better and live longer. At each step throughout Carl’s career he has applied the principles of treating his associates well, focusing on the customer experience and building great teams that deliver results. He is a leader of vision and integrity, balancing his altruistic and philanthropic nature with his world-class business acumen.
“I’m a very lucky man. I am fortunate to have an incredibly talented team that is deeply committed to improving the lives of more than 3 million members across the country. If that doesn’t get you fired up to come into work every day, nothing will!”
Future Plans: “We will continue to focus on the essentials of providing clean, friendly and well-maintained clubs. In times of economic uncertainty, it’s more important than ever for us to give our members the amenities and service they deserve. For as little as one dollar a day, members experience the amazing power of fitness to help them manage stress and improve their overall well-being.”
CEO, Global Fitness Holdings, Parent Company of Urban Active Fitness Clubs
Royce Pulliam’s Global Fitness Holdings, which owns Urban Active Fitness, currently ranks among the Top 20 fitness holding companies in North America. Urban Active recently marked its first anniversary as a new brand, making great strides in the development and infrastructure of new facilities. Previously, Global Fitness Holdings was recognized for being the largest Gold’s Gym franchisee in the US. Pulliam successfully developed 25 Gold’s Gyms before converting them to Urban Active in 2007. In addition to his success in the health and fitness industry, Pulliam is also CEO of P & P Properties and M & A, LLC which have numerous commercial and residential holdings nationwide.
“Having good people around keeps me in the game. I love challenging them to explore new thoughts. In today’s economy you have to think differently-it’s of immense value to us and may be the best benefit employees could receive. We always want employees to accept ownership for all decisions and actions they make while a part of Urban Active.”
Future Plans: “Urban Active now has 32 fitness lifestyle clubs throughout Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Nebraska, but has ambitious plans to open 25 more facilities in the next three to four years in the Mid-South, Midwest and Eastern Seaboard markets.”
President & CEO, Western Athletic Clubs
Matthew Stevens came to WAC in September 2008 with 23 years of experience in the athletic club industry, including five years as President and CEO with Spectrum Clubs, Inc. He began his career at Capitaland Health & Racquet Club while attending the State University of New York at Albany. He worked there and with New York Health & Racquet Clubs before moving to Club Sports International/Wellbridge (CSI/WB) in 1994. Over the next four years, CSI/WB saw significant revenue growth and named Stevens vice president of Sales. By the end of his tenure, the company was operating 45 premium/luxury athletic clubs, corporate fitness centers and spas in 16 markets. In May 2003, Stevens became President of Spectrum Clubs, Inc., where he oversaw the redevelopment of the company brand, executed three strategic acquisitions, increased revenues to $95 million and increased membership to 135,000 members over 22 premium facilities.
“Some analysts say the best time to grow is during an economic downturn. Internally, we are focused on developing our five-year growth plan under our new owner, KSL Capital Partners.”
Future Plans: “Our goal is to stay focused on delivering outstanding service to our membership base while creating a dynamic environment for WAC employees. Western Athletic Clubs finished 2008 with positive growth in revenues and profitability. We are cautiously optimistic that 2009 will bring the same.”