Lessons From Fitness Business Leaders

I recently spoke to three different leaders of prominent fitness businesses as part of my Lessons in Leadership series in Thrive Global: Shaun Grove, President of Club Pilates, Susan Boresow, President of TITLE Boxing Club and Lou DeFrancisco, President of StretchLab. Here is a quick blurb on each of the three leaders and their respective businesses:

Shaun Grove is the President of Club Pilates. He formerly served as an FBI special agent for years and is now President of one of the top pilates brands in the world, with 557 active studios and over 650 slated to be open by the end of the year.

Susan Boresow began networking with executives of McDonalds while hostessing at a bar in Kansas City leading her to her first marketing role at McDonald’s Corporate. Over the years Susan has served in a variety of roles with major franchise brands like Godfather’s Pizza, Cold Stone Creamery, Sports Clips, and Massage Envy becoming president of TITLE Boxing Club. In Susan’s tutelage, TITLE Boxing Club has become one of the fastest growing boutique fitness franchises, seen international growth, and has grown into a household name with over 150 locations.

Lou DeFrancisco graduated with a physics degree but landed his first job in IT. Years later, he left IT to work in fitness. He climbed his way up in both fields, but yet again switched career paths when he entered the world of franchising. Today, he’s leading the charge in growing an entirely new vertical – assisted stretching – within the wellness space. StretchLab has boomed to hundreds of signed agreements in less than a year of franchising, causally with DeFrancisco’s hiring. StretchLab currently has over 170 locations sold across 19 states.

Here are some excerpts from our conversations:

Adam: What is something about you that would surprise people?

Shaun: I played football in college and professionally in Europe for a couple of years after graduation.  I was a Special Agent with the FBI prior to my life in franchising.

Susan: I’m an open book so I’ll answer any question you throw at me and I do my best to be extremely down to earth and approachable. One thing that people may not know is that I have a huge family. I am one of 14 children and now I have 54 nieces and nephews. I never forget a birthday so I’ve earned the title of favorite aunt! 

Lou: Being in the health and wellness industry for almost my entire working career, when I tell people that I was a Physics major in college, most are a bit surprised. The first question is typically, “why on earth would you do that to yourself?” I’ve always tried to follow my interests and passions, and from a very young age, I’ve always wanted to challenge myself. While early in my college career, I had no idea what I wanted to do for work, but I had an interest in science in general and math came pretty easy to me. I also had fantastic physics professors that made the topic come alive in discussions and labs. It was very challenging, but I definitely enjoyed the experience and know it helped to shape who I am today.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Shaun: I came from very humble beginnings and was the first person in my family to go to college.  I learned at an early age that if you want something, you have to work hard to obtain it. I’ve had a number of setbacks and failures along my path, both personally and professionally, but I’ve always had the perseverance to pick myself up and keep moving forward.  Being an athlete and playing team sports, and the lessons that you learn through that process – about yourself and life in general – were unquestionably the most instrumental to my growth as a person and my leadership style today.

Susan: One of my first setbacks as a leader was not bringing the right team member on board. I learned quickly that bringing the wrong person on board – whether that person was a team member or a franchisee – takes the team or event the entire company a step back. The sooner you can make decisions and part ways, the better off you are. 

Lou: My path to my current position as President of StretchLab is an interesting one. After I graduated with that degree in physics, I took a job in IT consulting. After five years in that career, I realized I was not passionate about IT, but found myself drawn to the world of business, and started taking MBA classes at night. While taking these classes and seeking out new career opportunities, one of my friends offered me a sales/marketing job at a boutique health club, Train Boston Sports Center. At first, I felt like the offer was a step down from my corporate job, but my friend convinced me it would be worth it. The biggest challenge I faced when entering the world of boutique fitness was that I had absolutely no background in health and fitness. Like I mentioned before, I was a physics guy; I was an IT guy. While I had played soccer for years and enjoyed sports, I didn’t know the ropes of the fitness and health industry. I fell in love with the job and worked my way up to be General Manager at this club, and enjoyed five years there. Those experiences led to a new position as Director of Franchise Support at Get in Shape for Women, a boutique fitness franchise. That was when I discovered a love for the franchising industry. With hard work and a great team at Get in Shape For Women, we grew to over 100 locations nationwide. By the end of my nine years there, I was able to become the President of the franchise company. This combination of experiences led me to where I am today, President of StretchLab, the first boutique assisted stretching franchise. Some might see all my career changes as setbacks, but in hindsight, they were the best decisions I could have made for myself. If you asked me twenty years ago where I would be today, I never would have guessed leading a boutique fitness franchise into a new niche in the wellness industry.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Shaun: In my experience, the most effective leaders have a great deal of integrity, discipline, confidence and ambition. They create a culture where their team has the ability and empowerment to make decisions for themselves, and to own those decisions.  This allows them to feel more invested in the company’s goals and increases their sense of contribution towards achieving those goals. I believe that sacrifice, discipline, dedication and integrity are not easily taught. They are a part of a value system that you either have or you do not have. However, these traits can be enhanced through practice and repetition. I encourage young, aspiring leaders to take on more than they can handle, intentionally put themselves in difficult or uncomfortable situations, and force themselves to find a resolution to the challenges that arise. It is through this experience that their leadership style and skills with develop and grow.

Susan: An effective leader empowers his or her team, they set goals, have a clear vision and know the value of the brand they are leading. They also need to have a vision for where their employees are going. People who are joining the workforce today are looking for a clear career path, and they need to know what opportunities they have. Along with setting forth a clear path, a good leader looks for ways to develop their people to ensure they stay on the path for growth. As far as getting to the next level of leadership, the biggest piece of advice I can give is to always take initiative. Take every opportunity given to you, and create more opportunities. In a previous role, I was working in the marketing department and then started overseeing operations, development, training and more. Doing this not only showed my commitment to my job, but also helped me learn new things that have all benefited me in my role as President of TITLE Boxing Club. Seizing every opportunity will help every aspiring leader grow. 

Lou: A few qualities that come to mind when I think of effective leaders are ambition, humility, open-mindedness and hardworking. Of course, someone who wants to be a leader must dream big and work extremely hard to achieve their goals, but another important piece is staying grounded and keeping an open mind. I think leaders can take their skills to the next level by listening and learning from their peers and their employees. It’s important to have open conversations and open doors for team members. No one knows or can do everything.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Shaun: Always believe in yourself and never be afraid to ask for help.  If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.  You would be surprised how many successful people are out there willing to help if you’d only ask.

Susan: One of my mentors told me once “you’re the prize” meaning, you should never lower your standards and you should never compromise your values anything for anyone or any company. You are a prize for whatever company you work for. You need to value yourself. Don’t think you can’t do something. Don’t’ think you can’t achieve something. Think highly of yourself. Those are words I think everyone needs to hear. 

Lou: It’s actually a Bible verse that I live by – Phillippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. I have to remember I’m not in this alone and I can do anything I put my mind to. There’s no way I would have made it to the positions I have without believing in something greater than myself.

For the full interviews, visit https://thriveglobal.com/stories/tips-from-the-top-one-on-one-with-shaun-grove-president-of-club-pilates/, https://thriveglobal.com/stories/tips-from-the-top-one-on-one-with-susan-boresow/ and https://thriveglobal.com/stories/tips-from-the-tip-one-on-one-with-lou-defrancisco/.

Adam Mendler