Each year Club Solutions celebrates women leaders who are taking the health and fitness industry by storm. Discover their keys to success and what purpose drove them into the industry in the first place.
What was your first job in the health club industry? My very first job in the fitness industry was in Abbotsford, British Columbia. It was my first job, after my paper route. I was in charge of cleaning the hot tub every Saturday and in exchange I was given a membership. It was a small gym in the basement of a mini mall, but I absolutely loved it. I progressed from the hot tub cleaner into weight room cleaner, and then into membership sales.
It was always my life ambition to be a basketball coach. After two seasons in Division I basketball as an assistant coach, my hearty work ethic got me into trouble and I got pretty sick from the unhealthy lifestyle and so much travel. When I took a year off from coaching I got a job in a health club called RallySport. The rest is kind of history and I am still here. My life is much healthier and balanced now than it ever would have been as a coach.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment or source of pride? My biggest source of pride in this industry is seeing my staff “grow up” and have wonderful lives. RallySport is, unfortunately, somewhat unique in that we believe in compensating our fitness staff as true professionals. To hire a young trainer right out of college and have them as part of your team for their entire professional life is an exceptional gift to your members. We see that compensation strategy as one of the keys to our success as a business and as a community. Seeing young professionals realize their dreams is extremely fulfilling.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome at your company? The biggest challenge in our company is setting ourselves apart within the “new normal” of the fitness business. With so many boutique fitness centers it is extremely important for a multipurpose fitness facility to establish a brand and make good on the promises to its members. We take a long-term view with every member and really spend time ensuring they have a clear path to follow and realistic expectations.
What is one piece of leadership advice you could give to other leaders? Perhaps the topic I am most passionate about is the quality of services that we, as an industry, offer to our members and the value that they realize from us. I believe in engaged leadership and that managers and owners should have the ability to recognize “quality” in the services that we provide beyond the “numbers.” Leaders should be able to walk the fitness floor and truly understand what their members are getting for their money and ensure that the value is there.
Owner, Results Fitness
What was your first job in the health club industry? My first job in the health club industry was as an aerobics instructor at the local YMCA while I was in college. Looking back, I remember loving teaching step, Spinning, aerobics and helping people, but I had absolutely no idea this was going to lead to the career it has. At the time I was earning my degree in physiology with a minor in exercise and health sciences, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. Being a fitness professional was not a career path then. It has been so incredible being a part of this industry as it has grown, developed and become a profession.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment or source of pride? Our gym, Results Fitness. Opening our gym over 16 years ago we had no idea how to run a business or what we were doing. Over those years learning, growing and innovating I am very proud of the place we have created for our members, for our team members and for us.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome at your company? My husband and business partner being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer twice was definitely the biggest challenge we have had to overcome, and hopefully will ever have to overcome. Thankfully, at the time, we had put systems in place so our business was able to run without us, so we could step out and move into the hospital during this time.
What is one piece of leadership advice you could give to other leaders? Surround yourself with people who are A-players. Your team members and those you associate with will have a huge influence on you. Choose wisely. It is important to be a part of a mastermind group or network group of other high-level thinkers and leaders to keep your game sharp and your mindset right.
Under Armour Trainer, and Wellness Entrepreneur
What was your first job in the health club industry? I learned how to teach step classes from a teacher I had. He became a mentor to me and he would let me teach pieces of his step class warmup. I wanted to continue training in fitness, so I ended up getting a personal trainer certification and started personal training while I was also continuing to practice and teach step classes. I very quickly realized I really loved group fitness, so I got my certification in that too, and just ended up sticking with that mostly until I ended up dropping personal training entirely. Twenty years later I’m still teaching group classes.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment or source of pride? Probably getting my PhD. There was so much that went into the entire process from getting in, going step by step through the program and then actually seeing it through to completion that made it insanely challenging and, thus, rewarding. Being able to do that and still teach fitness on the side was crazy, but also provided me with balance. And it helped lead me to what I’m doing now.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome at your company? I think the biggest challenge is the fact that I perpetually seek to avoid the norm. I thrive in being unique and bringing my own flavor to whatever I’m doing. This has its obvious benefits, but it also can cause issues when dealing with management. Coupled with being headstrong already and it’s a recipe for challenge. I recognize how difficult to manage I can be. At the same time though, I do realize that it is a huge part of why I’ve been able to do what I’ve done in my career.
What is one piece of leadership advice you could give to other leaders? Know yourself. Really well. If you are keenly aware of your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll know how and when to guide others and how and when to let others guide you. Being a leader requires being in the front and taking charge when it is appropriate, and also letting teammates do the same when appropriate for them.
What was your first job in the health club industry? My first position in the health club industry is what we now call a “fit coach.” I needed to make ends meet while I was working a full-time job as a media planner at a marketing agency, as well as getting my personal training certification. I was also training for marathons. So, the connection of being on the fitness floor and having a free membership made a lot of sense.
I absolutely did not — and could not — imagine where that fit coach position would take me. When you consider I received my undergraduate degree in international relations and public policy, then started my career at a marketing agency, and then become an events and promotions coordinator at a health club, I don’t think anyone could say my path was at all predictable.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment or source of pride? The professional accomplishments I can think of are all related to a team of people achieving more than we thought possible. I am thankful that I have been involved with so many amazing teams. In regards to a source of pride, I am thankful that my mentors and coaches have helped me see opportunities to grow. In them giving me those opportunities, I’ve pursued them without hesitation of time, energy or fear of failure.
What is one piece of leadership advice you could give to other leaders? We are engaged in an industry that has become big business, full of more: More competition, financial analysis and metrics, along with a vast array of programming choices to consider. While all of these bring great opportunities, they also present the risk of us losing our focus on what has built our industry, which is the passion of our associates to master their craft, giving our members what they really want, sharing best practices with sister clubs and just flat-out hard work.
I do my best to observe and listen to our members, and talk with our associates about what works, and doesn’t work, in each club. All clubs are different and our best is when we can cater to that, but we also have fundamental methods of success and sharing that will make us all more successful. For me, I try to stay nimble, listen for change, try new things and then modify until I get it right. We all know our members will keep us informed on our progress.
General Manager, Nike Athletic Centers
What was your first job in the health club industry? My first job, 15 years ago, in the industry was as a customer service specialist and athletic center attendant. Every day I walk into work, I still practice this role. As any good club operator, you are always greeting, smiling, talking to your customers and ensuring your club is clean and functional — always. As I entered into the health club in my first role, I knew this was going to be a place I call home, not only in my DNA to live a healthy lifestyle, but to have bigger impact on people’s lives every day. I feel honored to have opportunities to develop and grow within my company to pursue my passion and life-work around sports and fitness.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment or source of pride? I have two of them. One is being on the IHRSA Board of Directors. Finishing my first of four years on the board, I continue to have tremendous learning opportunities and influence to grow, promote and protect the global fitness industry. Second, the privilege and honor to go back to my high school, Springfield High School in Springfield, Oregon, to motivate and encourage young athletic women to pursue athletic endeavors and continue their ongoing education.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome at your company? Working for a large company, sometimes my knowledge was only internal. I knew I needed to understand what was happening outside my company. I started to attend industry conferences and networking to meet as many people as I could. This takes time in building relationships within the industry. Soon, you know who you can rely and lean on for guidance or brainstorming an idea. You have to dig in and make it a priority to put yourself out there. This is the only way to understand where the industry is going and how you can influence your business initiatives.
What is one piece of leadership advice you could give to other leaders? Invest in getting to know people in the industry and stay connected on a regular basis. The leadership investment you gain from this comes organically. Have a willingness to learn and ask for feedback from your colleagues and peers where you work and wherever you meet industry leaders.
Paula J Neubert
President/General Manager, Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club
What was your first job in the health club industry? In 1985 I was an aerobics instructor at a club in Lincoln, Nebraska. I wanted to join the club, but as a college student I couldn’t afford it, so I learned how to teach. Never in a million years did I think I would be doing what I do today. I was going to school to be a probation officer, then changed majors to fashion merchandising, before I finally decided to get my bachelor’s in exercise science — one of the best decisions I ever made.
After school I moved to New York and taught classes, then to Southern California and taught classes. That’s where I got my first office job in the fitness industry, doing administrative work for a personal training company. Soon after I was hired by a health district in Redondo Beach, California, to open and operate a fitness center. This was the position that gave me the foundation for what I do today. We designed and built five facilities over 11 years. I had a mentor that guided me through the entire process and taught me so much. I am forever grateful to him for the opportunities and education he gave me over those years.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome at your company? Being a female in the role of president at Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club. The former general manager was a male in a very “male dominant membership.” There was a great deal of work and change that needed to occur to take our company to the next level. I had tremendous support from the owner, J Madden, in making these changes, but building relationships with some of the members took a very long time. One example occurred after I appointed a female to the role of assistant general manager — a member of the club said “there is entirely too much estrogen in this club.” I took that as a challenge and worked hard to win his confidence and respect. We were soon exchanging emails about our kids, dogs, jokes, and he became an avid supporter of our business philosophy. Today, the membership at Greenwood is slightly over 50 percent female.
What is one piece of leadership advice you could give to other leaders? In 1993 I was teaching a group of athletes at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, California — a summer fitness class. One element of the class was a talk from a sports psychologist. He gave each person in the room a small card that simply said, “Attitude is a decision.” I still have that card and it is taped to my computer screen. Your actions have a direct impact on every person you come in contact with, and it’s up to you to make it a positive impact.
Owner, Achieve Fitness
What was your first job in the health club industry? My first job in the health club industry was at a Boston Sports club. I was a sophomore in college, studying journalism, and I needed a summer job to help pay my rent. My friend at the time (now fiancé) had just started working as a trainer and thought I would enjoy it too. Looking back, it’s amazing to think that this was only meant to be a summer job. When I first accepted the position, I never imagined it would lead me to discover my purpose in life. I instantly fell in love with the feeling of improving people’s lives through health and fitness, and decided to continue to work as a full-time trainer, while also finishing my degree as a full-time student.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment or source of pride? In 2013, I opened my own facility, Achieve Fitness, with my fiancé Jason Pak. While that has been an enormous source of pride on its own, I feel that my greatest accomplishment has been in mentoring our team of coaches. All of the coaches we have hired so far have been fairly new to the industry, so it has been really wonderful to be able to empower them and watch them develop.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome at your company? I would have to say our biggest challenge was in making the transition from full-time coaches to business owners. As we were opening our business, we started to recognize that just because we were experienced and well-educated coaches, that didn’t mean we knew anything about running a business. Luckily, we hired Rachel and Alwyn Cosgrove to be our fitness business mentors, and they saved us from making many mistakes. Had we not hired business coaches, I think I would have faced a lot more challenges along the way.
What is one piece of leadership advice you could give to other leaders? The biggest piece of leadership advice I can give is to be genuine and kind in every decision you make and every interaction you have. Simply smiling more — whether you’re interacting with your staff, your clients or a stranger in the hallway — will get you further in life than any business or leadership strategy out there. Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily grind that we forget to appreciate those around us for all of their hard work. “Compliment more and complain less” would be a pretty good mantra for leadership if you ask me.
Director of Support, Anytime Fitness & Waxing the City Worldwide
What was your first job in the health club industry? I started in the health club industry in 1982 at Elaine Powers studio in Muncie, Indiana. I was 21 years old, just married and was looking for any job in a college town. They hired me with no formal training. It was through my experiences at Elaine Powers that I fell in love with the industry and helping people get to a healthier place.
Over the years I have pretty much done everything from plunging toilets, painting locker rooms, to working as a Group X instructor, personal trainer, master trainer for Schwinn and Madd Dog, assistant manager and more, to my current role as the director of support for Anytime Fitness, the No. 1 global fitness franchise in the world.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment or source of pride? I think my biggest accomplishment would be persevering, taking advantage of all opportunities and making the most of the moments that got me to where I am today. I have the honor to work in an amazing company with a very talented and passionate team of franchise consultants, who go above and beyond for each other and our franchisees. We are more than a team — we are a family.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome at your company? Coming into Anytime Fitness when we had 250 clubs open to now over 3,000 clubs around the world, there have definitely been changes that create challenges. We used to have a handful of resourceful people all doing everything, which created an amazing culture. Now we have 250-plus employees in multiple departments. The biggest challenge is how to continue the amazing culture of our team of franchise consultants, as we have grown both as a team and company. I credit our founders for keeping the company the No. 1 workplace in Minnesota for the past 3 years.
What is one piece of leadership advice you could give to other leaders? Lead by example. Your speed, energy, integrity and attitude will be reflected in your team, whatever part of the industry you are in. As leaders we need to ensure that our communication is clear and understood in a way that allows each person on the team to be successful.