In 2013, only 14.6 percent of women held Fortune 500 executive positions. That statistic varies from industry to industry, but as a general rule of thumb, there are typically more men at the table than women when it comes to high-level positions.
However, just because there are more male CEOs than women, that doesn’t mean women haven’t left their impact on the industry. As a result, Club Solutions wanted to take the time to celebrate women in the health and fitness industry who have made a difference. Discover their triumphs, struggles and how they got where they are today.
Lynne Brick, co-owner of Brick Bodies and a Planet Fitness Franchisee
The biggest challenge Lynne Brick, the co-founder of Brick Bodies in Baltimore, Maryland, has had to overcome doesn’t have to do with business. Instead, her greatest challenge involved fighting a brain tumor, which she discovered she had in 2001.
“The doctor explained that this tumor the size of a golf ball had probably been growing in my head for 10 years, and they are common in women in their 40s or 50s,” recalled Brick. She was shocked, considering health and fitness had always been a priority for the mother of two.
Brick overcame the tumor and has continued her successful career. She is a world-class speaker and has been named IDEA Instructor of the Year in addition to Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2013, Planet Fitness named Brick and her husband Franchisees of the Year. Together, the couple owns 32 clubs: 10 Brick Bodies and 25 Planet Fitness franchises.
According to Brick, following these three pieces of advice has helped her succeed: “Simplifying the business is hard — focusing on differentiation is even more challenging,” “It’s all about the size of the dream,” and “Stay close to your numbers.”
Brick’s first job in the health and fitness industry was as an aerobics instructor at Bel Air Athletic Club. Now, she’s excited to watch her daughter’s career blossom. “What I’m most proud of is the fact that our daughter, Vicki, is grooming to become the CEO of Brick Bodies,” she said.
If the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, success for Vicki is surely in the future.
Donna Cyrus, Vice President of Programming for Crunch
Throughout her more than 25-year career, Donna Cyrus has held multiple roles in the health and fitness industry. However, group exercise has always been a main passion for the so-called “Queen of Crunch.”
As the vice president of programming, Cyrus gets to live that passion on a daily basis, which is evident in Crunch’s reputation. The club chain, which has 65 locations across the U.S., is known for its innovative and exciting signature group exercise programs thanks to Cyrus’ influence.
Cyrus’ foray with the health and fitness industry started at the age of 22. She was asked to fill in for an aerobics instructor who didn’t show up for class. With a background in theatre and dance, she jumped at the chance, which solidified her love affair with Group X.
Although group exercise is Cyrus’ main focus, she said she’s happy to see that there’s no longer the divide between group exercise and personal training that there was in the early years of the industry. “There are personal trainers that are instructors and vice versa,” she said. “We are a lot more connected.”
Cyrus lives by the mantra, “Keep your mind open and think outside the box,” she said. “I always look at my programming and think, ‘How can I embellish it?’ Don’t be satisfied.” In August 2014, Crunch launched a series of new indoor cycling programs, an example of Cyrus’ refusal to be mediocre.
Allison Flatley, Chief Operating Officer of L&T Health and Fitness, a Corporate Fitness Works Company
Allison Flatley has grown quite a bit since she first entered the health and fitness industry as a nutritionist in 1980. And the industry has grown quite a bit as well.
“I was really excited to be working in a club,” recalled Flatley. “However, when I look back on the experience I cringe. I was given a 15-minute training, handed a ‘nutrition manual’ and was told to match the members’ needs to the smoothie, shake or supplement listed in the manual. My only real qualification as a nutrition specialist was that I looked healthy and fit. I’d like to think that the industry has come a long way since then.”
Now, Flatley is better equipped to help members achieve their goals as the chief operating officer of L&T Health and Fitness, which was acquired by Corporate Fitness Works in April 2014. Headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, L&T Health and Fitness is a leader in worksite fitness center management, fitness center design and health promotion delivery.
As a leader, Flatley is most proud of the team she’s put together to service L&T Health and Fitness’ clients. “Everyone is committed to exceeding client expectations, whatever that may look like,” she said. In June 2008, Flatley was awarded The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Community Leadership Award.
Flatley’s respect for her team ties into the best piece of advice she’s ever received. “Early on, someone told me to really take the time to get to know people you work with personally,” she said. “I was grateful that mentors along the way emphasized the personal relationships and merging business and pleasure, especially in the health and fitness industry.”
Jill Kinney, Founder of Club One and Chairman for Active Sports Clubs
In 1991, Jill Kinney founded Club One with her husband, and then left the company in 2007 to pursue other interests. Six years later, the action came full circle when Active Sports Clubs, which Kinney is the chairman of, bought back all but one of Club One’s locations in California.
According to Kinney, she couldn’t be happier with where she’s landed. “I feel remarkably proud and enthusiastic about the future,” she said.
In an industry where there’s typically more men in high-level positions than women, Kinney has worked hard to prove that women do have a place at the operational level. “Being a woman business owner is easier today, but has been a challenge,” she said. “I guess I overcame the challenge by not believing in the comments or the generalizations. I believe in myself and it has caused me to work harder and prove my ability more than I might have had people accepted me without reservation.”
That hard work has paid off. Prior to working on Active Sports Clubs and Club One, Kinney served as the chief operating officer of Western Athletic Clubs, the president of Clubsource, Inc. and was a business manager at Physis. According to Kinney, if she had known where she’d be today, she never would have believed it. “I didn’t know what was possible,” she said.
As for the advice Kinney would give to other club operators, she said, “Dig deep. Find your passion and go for it. If you can make a difference in people’s health and happiness, you’ll be successful.”
Kim Manocherian, CEO of New York Health and Racquet Club
At 14, Kim Manocherian watched her father build a successful club, one she’d eventually become the CEO of. With multiple locations in New York City, New York Health and Racquet Club prides itself on being a family-run business, and Manocherian couldn’t imagine working with anyone but family.
“I would say, especially in family business … it’s definitely not just a job,” said Manocherian. “My bosses are my family, and that might seem to people like that would make it easy. It does not.”
Manocherian explained it’s much harder to please family than it is to please a co-worker, but that keeping the business in the family is worth it in the long run.
“When we were not run by family, we kind of lost sight of our original mission and purpose and what we were all about,” she said. Now, a focus on culture and customer service is more evident thanks to Manocherian’s leadership.
She also led the club through Hurricane Sandy, which essentially destroyed a location that had recently been remodeled. “That was a huge challenge and success,” said Manocherian.
The CEO would advise other clubs in the industry to find their niche and do it well. “Differentiate,” she said. “Know who you are. There’s room for everybody out there as long as you understand everyone should be working out and everyone has different needs. If you’re a club that is price driven, well there’s people that need a club that’s price driven. Whatever your differentiation is, there are people right for you.”
Debra Siena, President of Midtown Health
With medical fitness a current buzz phrase, Midtown Health, owned by TCA Holdings, LLC, is in a prime position as an expert on medical fitness solutions and corporate wellness opportunities. Sitting at the top is Debra Siena, the company’s president, who has worked for TCA Holdings since 1986.
Siena started her climb up the ladder when at the age of 13 she taught her first aerobics class for her town’s park district. “I loved to dance and I actually loved to be with people, so I talked my way into the park district letting me teach the class,” she recalled.
Afterwards, she held multiple positions within the club industry — even servicing locker rooms. Now, in addition to being president, she co-chairs the Building a Healthier Chicago Worksite Wellness Committee.
Looking back at her younger self, Siena said she wishes she’d had been more patient about her blossoming success. “When I was 25 I thought I knew everything, and now that I’m more than twice that age, I realize how much I don’t know,” she said. “I think the more you know you realize how much there is to learn.”
Out of all her accomplishments, Siena is most proud of what those around her have achieved. “My biggest success is when I see the associates that I’ve had the opportunity to hire and work with flourish in their careers,” she said. “That’s really what’s most fulfilling to me.”
Greta Wagner, Executive Director of Chelsea Piers Connecticut
In May 2014, Greta Wagner left her post as the senior vice president and general manager of the Chelsea Piers Sports Complex in New York City — a position she had held for the past 18 years — to share her expertise with the company’s sister club in Stamford, Connecticut.
Wagner’s start with Chelsea Piers was an interesting one. “In 1995, I read an article about the Chelsea Piers complex and decided to visit the site,” she recalled. “I was so impressed, I wrote a letter to Roland Betts, the CEO of Chelsea Piers, expressing my desire to be involved in any capacity. A few months later, I was onboard full time. Eighteen years later, I still have the same enthusiasm and passion that drew me here in the first place.”
Although Wagner has experienced a great amount of success in the industry, she said she doesn’t like to dwell on specific accomplishments. “I’ve had so many in the past that I’m thankful for and they all made me feel pretty good,” she said. “Every success is gratifying and that pushes me to keep working hard. I feel that if each day I’ve moved the business forward, that’s my major success, and I’ll get a good night’s sleep.”
Wagner would advise other fitness professionals to, “Show up, work hard, work smart and do your best. Respect everyone’s ideas and be open to change.”
Change for Wagner is evident as she takes on her new position and a new philosophy on life. “I spent many years focusing 100 percent of my attention on work, which of course got me to where I am … so no regrets,” she said. “However, as I get older, I’m trying to find a little balance between work and family which has already made me a better leader.”
By Rachel Zabonick