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Culture is King


Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, was once quoted as saying, “…no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”

More and more, the most successful companies in the world are realizing the importance of forging a strong company culture to overall success.

This includes Aquafit, a state-of-the-art, full-service health, fitness and wellness facility located in South West Sydney, Australia. Since opening in 2004, the club has been named “Fitness Center of the Year” five times by Fitness Australia, in addition to being a four-time “Gold Recipient” for the Australian Health & Fitness Industry Quality Awards.

According to Kristen Green, the executive general manager of Aquafit, the club’s success can be credited to its emphasis on culture.

“Culture is king,” said Green. “I believe that culture is a critical driver of business success. With a positive and inclusive workplace culture, anything is possible, and a great culture starts with leadership and a clearly communicated vision and mission.”

Aquafit’s culture is characterized by a friendly atmosphere welcoming to all. According to Green, people of all ages, shapes and sizes feel comfortable in the knowledge they can come to Aquafit, work toward their personal goals and not feel intimidated or out of place.

This has been the goal of Aquafit from the get-go. A division of Campbelltown Catholic Club, Aquafit came to be as a part of the group’s revenue diversification strategy. At the time, a members’ survey indicated strong support for a leisure and aquatics facility to be built on site.

After a culmination of three years of planning and 12 months of construction, the $17 million Aquafit was scheduled to open. The vision was for it to be an integral part of the local community.

However, Campbelltown Catholic Club had no experience operating a fitness facility. As a result, Green was hired just three months prior to the club’s opening, and tasked with taking the facility from an incomplete building site to a fully operational business.

“I had the incredible opportunity to literally build a new fitness business, and be entrusted the responsibility of building a team culture which leveraged the values of community, respect, compassion and understanding,” said Green. “In the beginning, in order to bring a team with me on the journey, I had to create a leadership vision and purpose for the business, so the new team would not only share and believe in who we were, but what our larger role was within our local community.”

One of the keys to Aquafit’s early success was the pre-opening membership drive Green and her team conducted. In a span of three months, they sold 2,100 memberships from an architect’s renderings, a floor plan of the new center, and a promise the club would meet member expectations.

“This was instrumental in achieving profitability milestones within six months of [opening],” said Green.

According to Michael Lavorato, the CEO of Campbelltown Catholic Club, Green’s leadership in getting Aquafit off the ground was instrumental in its early success. “Aquafit was an outstanding success from its opening in 2004,” he said. “In the first full year, Aquafit recorded a profit of $1,009,235 … largely due to Kristen’s savvy business skills and ability to lead and inspire a new team.”

And it’s Green’s leadership that has sustained that success over the past 14 years. “Kristen is responsible for the success of Aquafit – arguably Australia’s most awarded health club – building a highly trusted and respected brand in the community, providing remarkable leadership, innovative strategic vision and a commitment to customer service excellence that truly set Aquafit apart from the competition,” said Lavorato.

Today, Aquafit’s 43,000-square-foot facility boasts two heated indoor pools, three group fitness studios, a Precor Queenax functional training zone, Technogym strength and cardio equipment, a café, pro shop and outdoor training facility.

“We have intentionally tried to create a non-intimidating exercise space for our members, with a hotel-like, five-star facility feel and a focus on high-quality service with innovative programs and services,” said Green.

This goal is supported by a philosophy that “first impressions count,” both from a physical and customer service perspective. According to Green, Aquafit aims to achieve a professional and understated feel through the use of subtle colors, careful and consistent use of branding imagery, background music and reception uniforms that draw inspiration from five-star hotels.

“Our reception team is paramount to creating a welcoming experience for new and existing members,” said Green. “We look for our reception team to have empathy, and understand how it would feel for someone who has never set foot in a fitness center to walk through our front doors.”

To ensure these staff standards are met, Aquafit’s hiring process takes a culture-first approach. “When hiring, we look for a culture fit for our teams,” said Green. “We are looking for a professional presentation, a can-do attitude and great customer service ethos. We need our team to be approachable to members, engage in meaningful conversation and provide assistance. We continually manage and positively reinforce these expectations.”

New hires are also put through a rigorous onboarding process, which includes instilling the importance of Aquafit’s company culture and core values. “If we’ve got the hiring process right, by hiring for attitude then training for skill, the training and onboarding is less of a challenge,” explained Green. “By this stage, we should have a new team member who understands and practices the customer service skills we require.”

Employee retention also plays an important factor in Aquafit’s strong company culture. To retain staff as long as possible, the club offers staff continual training, mentoring, job security and the opportunity for a career pathway. “In return, we receive greater buy-in to our company culture and more control over the levels of customer service we provide,” said Green.

It is these strategies and efforts that have contributed to Aquafit’s many awards and recognition. That, and the facility’s community-oriented fundraising initiatives spearheaded by Green.

“Kristen has been the driver that has ensured Aquafit’s respected and highly regarded position within the local Macarthur Community,” said Lavorato. “She has done so by passionately supporting numerous local charities, initiating innovative fundraising events and providing energetic and passionate leadership to ensure success from these efforts. The majority of these events are held on weekends and out-of-work hours, and Kristen leads from the front to motivate and engage her team to participate in these events with Aquafit members.”

A great example is the 24 Hour Fight Against Cancer event, a local overnight fundraising initiative. Over the past 12 years, Aquafit has raised over $120,000 for the charity, with 100 percent of the proceeds going toward much needed services and equipment to assist in the treatment, care and comfort of children and adults dealing with cancer.

“It’s a great family and community event that brings the community together through a common desire to help those who need it most,” said Green. “It is an opportunity for our members to engage in the community and make a real difference every year.”

In addition, Aquafit finished first place in Australia in 2015 and 2017 in Technogym’s “Let’s Move for a Better World” challenge. Throughout a 21-day period, Aquafit opened its doors to the local community free of charge to promote a healthy and active lifestyle. On both occasions, as the national winner, Aquafit was able to donate $65,000 worth of exercise equipment to local schools.

Moving forward, Green hopes to continue to build the club’s fundraising legacy and further establish Aquafit as a cornerstone of the community. To do so, she will lead from the front, like she has since the club’s inception in 2004.

“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,’” said Green. “I strive to be an authentic, inclusive leader and a positive role model for those I work with, leading by example and acting with integrity.”

To achieve this goal, Green knows that continuing to establish and cultivate Aquafit’s culture will be paramount. “What is clear is that as a leader, you can’t do it alone,” she said. “You need to grow and develop a team of great people around you.”

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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