Work Hard, Play Hard
Allison Flatley, the chief operating officer of Corporate Fitness Works, shares her passion for corporate wellness and the health club industry as a whole.
Many successful leaders favor specific mantras such as, “No great thing is suddenly created,” or “A smooth sea never made a steady sailor.” Although these mantras are wise, Allison Flatley has taken to a different phrase. It is: “Work hard, play hard.”
As the chief operating officer of Corporate Fitness Works, Flatley has the “work hard” component down pat. And she certainly knows how to “play hard” as well, as a mother of three and recreational runner, cross-country skier and volleyball player.
Flatley has worked in the health and fitness industry since 1980, when she landed her first job as a nutrition specialist responsible for running the juice bar at International Fitness in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Since, she has held a number of positions in the industry, including as a group exercise instructor and corporate fitness consultant.
According to Flatley, her passion for health and fitness was instilled at a young age. “I grew up in a household where fitness and physical activity were a part of daily chores,” she explained. “Our family time together was very much activity based — my parents tended to make household chores a physical activity session. It really wasn’t until I went away to college that I realized other people didn’t live like I did.”
As a result of her upbringing, it’s not surprising that Flatley turned her passion for activity into a career. “It shaped a lot of my beliefs,” she said. “It made me strong, detail-oriented and a goal-setter.”
Although Flatley worked in a variety of settings in the health club industry, she explained that she has always held a flame for the corporate wellness industry in particular. “I had worked in commercial fitness, hospital and non-profit settings and I definitely knew corporate [wellness] is where I wanted to be,” she said.
Flatley saw that dream come to fruition in 1991, when she began working for People Karch International (PKI) as a group exercise coordinator. While on vacation from the position, she received a phone call that would send her down an exciting, but distant, path. PKI wanted to send her to Tokyo, where she would act as a consultant for The People Company.
Despite Flatley’s initial concerns, such as the cultural and language barriers she’d be subjected to, she jumped at the chance. It was in Tokyo that she was given the opportunity to showcase her leadership skills. “Prior to working in Tokyo, I followed my company leaders,” she recalled. “Being the only person in Tokyo, I was ultimately responsible for taking the lead on projects and being the primary relationship builder for the company. I definitely learned a lot about myself.”
As a leader, Flatley prides herself on being extremely responsive and supportive. Anthony Scaglione, who has worked with Flatley for 19 years, corroborated those qualities. “When I think about all of those years, what really stands out about Allison is — you can’t ask for a better role model,” he said. “She always trusts her employees’ abilities to do their jobs and make decisions. That level of trust speaks volumes to who she is as a leader.”
After Flatley’s stint in Tokyo, she joined L&T Health and Fitness as a health screening coordinator, where her leadership abilities and hard work led to her climb up the ladder. In 2005, 13 years after joining the company, she became COO.
Throughout Flatley’s career she has learned the importance of communication to developing an effective team. “When you work with me there are very few surprises,” she said. “I pride myself on keeping my team informed so that we’re working collaboratively.”
In April 2014, Flatley’s career again took a slightly different trajectory, when Corporate Fitness Works acquired L&T Health and Fitness. Now, Flatley serves as the COO of Corporate Fitness Works, a leading provider of health and fitness management and consulting services.
Flatley’s day-to-day focus has changed slightly, as she works hard to make the acquisition perform smoothly. “We recognize that there will be some challenges because we’re merging a 30-year-old company with a 26-year-old company, and clearly it will take time,” she said. “The biggest challenge so far is the speed. We’re a team-based culture, so we’re working to collect everyone’s feedback before we tweak our existing mission, vision and our values.”
According to Flatley, the acquisition is significant, as it represents the joining of two certified women-owned businesses. “The combined strength of both organizations complement each other,” she said. “It has been exciting. We’ve grown to 600 employees and now 143 fitness and wellness centers in 26 states and D.C. — the landscape in which we operate has changed.”
Flatley believes that being a women-owned business provides for a unique perspective. “As a women-owned business, there is a focus on taking care of our internal customers — our team — before we take care of our outside clients,” she said. “There’s very much a focus on taking care of each other and working together collaboratively.”
This philosophy is exemplified by the way L&T Health and Fitness tackled the acquisition. Prior, Flatley said she and the rest of the leadership team worked diligently to ensure each and every employee would be taken care of.
“We did spend a significant period of time preparing for this in the sense of looking at our resources and making sure that everyone played a critical role in the business, so as the acquisition came there would be no loss of personnel,” Flatley explained. “I’m happy to say we’ve retained all of our employees and team leaders. They may have been re-located to different business units or have slightly different roles, but we did not have to eliminate any duplicate positions, which was one of our focuses from the beginning.”
Recently, Corporate Fitness Works’ newly-combined account management team met in St. Petersburg, Florida, to not only celebrate success, but also cultivate teamwork. “It was the first time we had our leadership team together,” she said. “We had some celebratory meals. We also did an Amazing Race team-building activity, which really challenged us to get to know each other even better.”
According to Flatley, what makes Corporate Fitness Works different from other corporate wellness entities is its employees. “I would say Corporate Fitness Works’ success is really thanks to our team, and the skills and talents that they bring to the company,” she said.
In addition to being passionate about her employees, Flatley feels the same way about Corporate Fitness Works’ clients as well. According to Scaglione, the passion Flatley expresses towards getting people active is unprecedented. “She’s so committed to the industry and getting people moving,” he said. “It’s that passion that she’s never lost sight of.”
As a result, it’s no surprise that Flatley’s hope for Corporate Fitness Works’ future is that the company will fulfill its tagline and, “Move everybody to better health and wellbeing.”
“Our goal over the next five years is to exceed client expectations, to grow and develop our team and then move the meter on impacting health, and impacting the health of the organizations we serve,” said Flatley. “We believe that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to facility management, program development, individual programming — we use a tailored approach.”
Flatley explained that when Corporate Fitness Works meets with a new client, it works hard to understand the client’s demographics and culture, to ensure the client’s needs are met. “Hopefully we can move the needle towards health and wellbeing once we’re involved, but initially it’s trying to bring physical activity into the existing culture. Some work places are much more ready for it. For example, with a call center, there would be different sensitivities towards taking a break for physical activity.”
According to Flatley, the Affordable Care Act may present additional opportunities for Corporate Fitness Works and the industry as a whole. “From a business standpoint, corporations are paying more and more every year with healthcare costs, and they’re definitely passing more of that cost onto their employees,” she said. “But I think in addition to that they’re looking for solutions that they can provide or offer at the workplace that can contain healthcare costs.”
According to Flatley, Corporate Fitness Works is currently delivering biometric screenings, health fairs, seminars and activity classes to multiple insurance companies. “We would welcome the opportunity to work with more providers,” she said.
Although Flatley is extremely passionate about corporate wellness, she did express her love for the health and fitness industry as a whole. “What I love so much about the fitness industry is really the collaboration, the sharing and the willingness of other business leaders to share their successes and their failures,” she said. “I don’t believe that exists in other industries as strong as it is in the fitness industry. People in the industry are very passionate about work, about play, they’re passionate about fun and it really is a terrific industry to be a part of.”
In October, Corporate Fitness Works entered its busiest time of the year. “A lot of corporations have their open season for health insurance, their benefits elections and they’re gearing up for 2015,” she said.
As a result, Flatley’s “work hard, play hard” philosophy will be more important than ever.
By Rachel Zabonick