To create a fantastic work culture, treat people like adults, with Anthony Geisler and Phil Laboon
Treat people like adults- I shouldn’t hire you and then have to tell you what to do. That is a waste time, doesn’t teach you responsibility, and makes me look bad. If I’m hiring you, it’s because you are an expert in a certain area. This trickles down into choosing franchise partners. We need to be able to treat them like adults and trust them to follow our guidelines and run a successful business.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Geisler, the Founder and CEO of Xponential Fitness. Diving into entrepreneurship, Geisler founded then sold a dot-com company, valued at an impressive $170M after just one year. He went on to purchase LA Boxing and by 2012, he had built it into the largest boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts fitness concept in the country, and sold the company to UFC Gym in one of the biggest deals the industry had ever seen. After acquiring a small reformer Pilates brand, Club Pilates, Geisler made it his mission to make Pilates accessible to everyone, and later formed Xponential Fitness to curate boutique fitness brands across every major vertical.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was 25-years-old and running a gaming company in Las Vegas. I was in and out of the hospital all the time because I had major anxiety from stress and was losing weight right and left. A doctor I visited wanted to remove my gallbladder, but my mom, who was a RN, stepped in and said, “No, we’re not doing that.” She told me to visit another doctor, and this one was asking me about my life and habits, and then simply suggested, “Why don’t you try eating and sleeping and working out? Come back to me in thirty days and let’s take another look.” So I took thirty days off and started doing what he recommended. I began eating, sleeping and working out, and miraculously began to gain weight and feel better overall. As part of the working out, I stopped by LA Boxing, which had one location at the time. I would have never known it existed unless I drove by it on my way to and from the hospital. Since I had always loved martial arts, boxing and the Rocky movies, I thought it would be a great idea to join LA Boxing. I loved the concept so much that I ended up buying it, then opening a second and third location and finally, franchising. If it hadn’t been for this doctor telling me to get my life together, I probably wouldn’t have joined LA Boxing and never would have found myself in the world of boutique fitness.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think the most interesting thing — the real “wow” moment — for me is literally walking around the Xponential office. I walk around the office all the time — I walk around my life all the time — and think, “I can’t believe this is happening.” These occurrences are pretty much non-stop for me. It’s crazy what’s happened with Xponential over the last few years. In less than four years since I bought Club Pilates and began Xponential Fitness, we’ve gone from an office that was 1,000 square feet to an office that is 37,000 square feet; from 4 employees to 160 employees; from one boutique fitness brand to eight; from 25 open and 100 sold locations to 1400 open and 2500 sold locations. Every day, I am amazed and extremely thankful.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I can’t say a whole lot, but we are working toward a pass that will allow consumers to access all of Xponential’s boutique fitness brands for one price, much like an in-house Classpass. No one has done anything like this before, so it would be groundbreaking for the industry. It will allow people to practice many different types of exercise and give them the variety they are looking for, all under one umbrella. Hopefully it will help people to get and stay healthy and motivate them to join the amazing community that boutique fitness offers.
Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
I think this number is so high because they don’t feel valued by their employer. Personally, I don’t have much love for corporate America, because a lot of high-level executives are constantly feeding opinions to their subordinates and telling them what to do. I was lucky that I didn’t really have to work in corporate America, since I’ve always been creating things and forged my own path.
Employees in corporate America are unhappy because they feel like just another “face in the crowd” and they don’t feel trusted or respected. I believe you should empower employees, give them the autonomy to make decisions without you. People will work really hard, and not feel overworked or unhappy, if you empower them. I know that all of my employees contribute to my success so I want them to be happy.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
An unhappy workforce will diminish company productivity. If employees are unhappy because they don’t feel trusted or respected by their boss and leaders, they are not going to put in effort and generate quality work or results. In turn, company profitability goes down. How can a company make money if its workforce is not staying on top of business, ahead of the game and delivering a good product or service? As far as health and wellbeing, it’s a vicious cycle. Unhappiness at work causes a decline in mental and physical well-being. Mental and physical well-being cause a decline in happiness. Just look at how I was at 25-years-old in Las Vegas. I was extremely overworked, unhealthy and unhappy.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1.Create an open door policy- My door is always open and people are constantly coming into my office with all kinds of questions, concerns and ideas. I chose to put my office right in the middle of our building because I didn’t want to hide in a corner where employees have to go through an assistant to get to me.
2. Learn from your employees- All of my employees, regardless of position, get to ‘argue it out’ with me in a civil manner of course. If someone has a different opinion, I want them to tell me that opinion because I want to learn. It’s a chance to grow.
3. Treat people like adults- I shouldn’t hire you and then have to tell you what to do. That is a waste time, doesn’t teach you responsibility, and makes me look bad. If I’m hiring you, it’s because you are an expert in a certain area. This trickles down into choosing franchise partners. We need to be able to treat them like adults and trust them to follow our guidelines and run a successful business.
4. Set an example for your employees- To this day, I still outwork my employees, or at least 98% of them. I built my office as a fishbowl in the middle of the entire building for that reason. Everyone watches me work and has to walk by my office and see me working when they leave for the day.
5. Everyone deserves the same level of respect- In the Xponential office, you will see high-level employees sitting next to the newest intern. We’re breaking down walls figuratively and literally. I have equal relationships with employees who make $50K a year and those who make up to several hundred thousand a year.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
Hire based on culture, not resume. Hire people who are not only experts in their fields, but are thinking about the team and the company as a whole. Someone who checks all of the boxes for a role on paper may not be a team player or may look down on others in the office because of these qualifications. Entitlement has no place in society or work culture. Anyone that feels entitled to anything, to be blunt, should pack up and go. I created my company; I own it; and I don’t even feel entitled to it. I feel lucky to be a part of the ride every day. Our turnover is less than a half a percent per year because everyone respects each other and feels respected and fortunate to be part of this amazing thing we’re building.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I let people have the autonomy to do what they want to do and once again, treat them like adults. I give my brand presidents the freedom to make their decisions, a certain approval capacity.
People just have to show up to work every day, work their ass off, and contribute. At that point, I’m happy, and they’re good to go.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My wife. She absolutely understands my addiction to create and build these kinds of things, like Xponential, and gives me the freedom to do so. For instance, the other night, her grandmother was over for dinner and I was supposed to be home at 7:00. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it home until 8:00 due to a crisis at work, but this doesn’t faze or upset her. She is patient, kind, understanding and always so supportive. That keeps me moving forward and has helped me, helped us get to where we are.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Aside from what Xponential does for consumers as far as fitness and health, the other goodness we bring to the world is two-fold.
The number of jobs and careers we’ve created for individuals and families across the nation through our franchise network and through vendors to Xponential is huge.
Because I’m blessed to have healthy children, I have a place in my heart for kids who are facing adversity, such as terminal illnesses like cancer. This cancer is completely out of their control and affects the whole family. A parent usually has to quit a job to take care of the child, and then doesn’t have enough money to pay rent, to feed their family — put simply — to live. With this in mind, my wife and I contribute a substantial amount to the charity Miracles for Kids in Orange County. We fully support this charity because 98% of the money given ends up at the family level.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve seen the movie Rocky Balboa so many times that I can recite this quote by heart:
In the movie, Rocky says, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are. It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
When I heard that the first time, it moved me deeply, and it still does to this day. My life has been full of challenges, and I will work myself to the bone, so I’d say I’m pretty tough.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love to inspire a movement to help children in need. As I mentioned before, my wife and I contribute a lot to charity to help families with sick children. Someday I’d love to take this philanthropic giving to a company-wide level at Xponential. While boutique fitness is a great way to spread health to the world, there is so much more we can do and so many more facets of health and well-being in which we can make a difference.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!