Ep. 92 – Orangetheory Fitness COO, Griff Long

Ep. 92 – Orangetheory Fitness COO, Griff Long

Orangetheory is a one-hour, full-body workout focused on training endurance, strength, and power. They use heart rate-based interval training, burning more calories post-workout than traditional exercise. Cameron Herold’s guest today is Orangetheory’s Chief Operating Officer, Griff Long. An avid health and wellness enthusiast, Griff blends his passion for fitness with his drive to develop world-class organizations as the head of operational development and innovation at Orangetheory Fitness.

Griff Long is an avid health and wellness enthusiast. He blends his passion for fitness with his drive to develop world-class organizations as the Head of Operational Development and Innovation at Orangetheory Fitness. Griff has over 25 years of experience in transforming startup organizations into multi-million dollar corporations and is served leadership roles in both enterprise and consumer businesses across the country, including the COO of Pure Barre, VP of operations for Equinox, Senior Vice President of SoulCycle, and Senior Director of Operations for Hertz. A graduate from Bridgewater State University with a bachelor’s degree in business, Griff also prioritizes his own physical health and wellness as a US Triathlon Association coach, CrossFit coach, running coach, Senn Delaney facilitator and Six Sigma Green Belt. A classic underachiever, Griff Long. Thanks for being on the show.

Thank you for having me.

I read through that bio and they crushed it with bringing you on board as a COO. I can tell right away with every organization you were involved in, it was the top of their game as well. What was it that attracted you to Orangetheory?

A number of things, my passion for fitness, but most importantly the innovation and the science behind the workout. As a triathlete, I’m always studying. I track every one of my workouts and the things we’re doing at Orangetheory here get me excited to come to work every day. We’re not looking 3 months, 4 months ahead. We’re looking 5, 10 years ahead to change the scope of what fitness looks like to the member in their experience.

I guess I shouldn’t assume that everybody knows what Orangetheory does, although I’m sure most of us have at least heard the brand. Tell us what Orangetheory is, what you stand for so that we get a bit of an understanding?

We are a science-backed, technology-tracked, coaching-inspired group fitness workout. We use a few different tools within our studio to bring what I would say more life to our members. We do that through heart rate interval training. We get you on a treadmill, we bring your heart rate up and down. We operate in five training zones, orange and red. We try and get to twelve or more splat points in every class. You’re always going to have a cardio component. You’re going to have a strength and conditioning component. We also bring with the cardio, we’ll bringing in the rower in other tools to get that heart rate up and down.

Is that where the Orange comes from, staying below the red zone?

It’s the orange zone. When you have twelve or more splat points, you’re going to get this EPOC effect, which is going to allow you to continuously burn calories for up to 36 hours after the workout.

I remember when I was training for a marathon a couple of years ago that there was a certain heart rate I had to try to stay in it. If I stayed at that heart rate, it was like Forrest Gump. You could keep going but as soon as I got my heart rate too high, I was burning out weight too quickly.

That’s one of the things from my training when I started incorporating high-intensity interval training into my run and my swim workouts, it trains the game for me and elevated my physical fitness because you’re going up for small blocks at times which will help you train and be even stronger in your marathon. Willingly, I would even incorporate those high-intensity interval training into those marathons or those triathlon workouts to get the body to adapt more.

Orangetheory’s a great brand, getting great recognition, a strong reputation in a super competitive industry. There are many different chains and organizations. Do you compete against or is it rising tides, lift all boats or the market’s so big that it doesn’t matter?

We’re always monitoring competition, but I think we’re focused on what can we do to bring more life to our members. We’re doing that through technology and innovation, thinking about what do the members need to see to get their results. It’s easy to get somebody into a studio. If they’re not getting the results, then they’re going to leave. I think that’s what happens in most fitness concepts. The more data we can give them that simple, easy for them to use and understand the more we will get them to stick to this workout.

Walk us through to the leadership team and what did they see in you and bringing you on as COO?

We have a tight-knit group. There are nine people on the leadership team. Dave Long’s our CEO, Dave Carney’s our president and we are still privately owned. The reason they brought me on is I call it a double threat. I have an extensive background in leadership development training. This company has gone from 0 to 100 in only ten years. What they were looking for is more senior leadership. More of the process behind what we do now with all the initiatives we do. That Six Sigma background has helped me prepare them to say, “Let’s slow down. Let’s make sure we nail it. Let’s not go too fast.” Coupled that with the leadership development training. Is how can we support these franchises even more effective tomorrow than we are now?

On the Six Sigma, where did you get trained in that? Was that at GE, Motorola or where did you get your exposure? Those are the only two big organizations that I know were deep in it.

I got it through Hertz, which was at the time owned by Ford, which was probably the third company that was big into the Six Sigma. I got to green belt. I didn’t go through the full black belt because that requires a full-time, but it helped me learn and understand the process. What I took away, one of the things we always talk about now is the failure mode effect analysis. If you have a project and you’re ramping it, but let’s figure out what could go wrong? Let’s put a risk score associated with it and that paid dividends in prior years when I was launching a new division for Hertz. If you can anticipate what could go wrong and put countermeasures before you even launch it makes your launches even more effective than they would have been.

The Six Sigma black belt, that’s like the Kona Ironman of process development. What would you throw out? Anything that you’ve learned in Six Sigma that you’re like, “We don’t like that. It doesn’t work or it’s too complicated.”

It was originally built for manufacturing and you have to customize a bit to your needs in whatever business you’re in, but the concepts and the principles behind Six Sigma are still all there. It’s customizing it to your needs and your business.

SIC 92 | Orangetheory Fitness
Orangetheory Fitness: It’s easy to get somebody into a studio, but if they’re not getting the results, then they’re going to leave.

 

You joined the organization. How did you come in, especially with an entrepreneurial organization, fast-growth organization, how did you get up to speed? I don’t imagine they have a strong onboarding process for you.

I’ve relocated 18 times in 25 years. I’ve learned what to do and what not to do when you come into an organization or to increased responsibility. I sit for the first two weeks, I shut up, listened and asked two questions, “What advice do you have for me and how can I make your job even more effective?” I got to know, focus on the people, then the process, the performance. Understanding the people, where were the opportunities, whether it’s personal or whether it’s within their area of responsibility. I think for me, the first 30 days is focused on getting to know the people and making sure I understood that culture because early in my career, I’ve stepped on some landmines by going in there like a bull in a China shop and do it this way. For me, it was about listening, learning and figuring out where the opportunities were.

What did you find on the opportunities? First on the people’s side.

On the people side, the most passionate people, team members in the world. Craving more leadership development and more of a structured environment. We have many initiatives up in the pipeline that we had to determine what is most important for us in prioritizing them and getting the right team members involved. There was a siloed approach in different departments and breaking down those silos and making sure that we are all connected, and the right people are involved early on in the process. There are no surprises, the finance didn’t know about this or retail didn’t know about this.

How did you break through those silos? I’m working with a coaching company that has gotten up to 750 people. In five years, they’ve gone from 70 to 750 and they’re starting to stratify into these silos. I’m trying to rage against that and break through it. I have a football analogy.

It goes back to staying off email and trying to manage the business and the team players through an email process. I would get the right people in the room, have conversations and making sure everybody’s aligned. One of the things we also introduced is what I call a golden thread to every project that we’re developing. This golden thread outlines what the objectives are of this project. It does a future state, describes the member experience throughout that. When we introduced the golden thread, we combine that with what Tony Robbins talks about, State Story Strategy. Every project now has a golden thread. It clearly understands the why behind it. Especially when you’re dealing with a large franchise organization, the why is so critical. These franchises are making money and they have a process. If you want something new, you’ve got to start with the why.

We used to say, “Sell them, don’t tell them.” I love the whole golden thread idea because it’s interesting how in the entrepreneurial world, I was building a company called 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and our founder would come in and he’d have this great idea. If he’d probably spend two months swirling around in his head or at minimum at least an hour. He would dump it onto either my lap as the COO or onto the laps of the leadership team. He rarely gave us the full why behind the what. We clearly understood what the project was, but we didn’t see how it all fit into everything. Slowing down to give them that bit more time, does that create more of the buy-in, is that why you’re doing it?

If we go and pitch a new idea to the franchise and it’s not vented out properly, they’re going to go right into judgment mode and start saying, “What about this, this and this?” another step in our process that I’ve instituted is we have a small number of corporate-owned studios. Before anything’s launched to our franchise system, we have tested it, broken it and proven it in the corporate studios. Find all the questions that we didn’t know answers to so then I can explain this and I get ahead of it. I said, “You might not think this is going on board, but here’s the data to prove it did. Here’s the data that shows this works,” and getting back to your why.

I love that you’re running corporate locations. One of the things that have always bothered me about many franchisors is they franchised because they couldn’t make enough money running locations. Instead of the franchisees had to make a lot of money and franchise owners that run corporate locations, understand the pain points. They understand how to get that leverage because they have to, plus they can point to themselves and go, “Look, it works.”

It really is the proving ground for everything that we do now. We’ve put a lot more structure working with our technology team to say, “We’re going to launch it. This studio expands from here.” It does make it bulletproof when you launch to the base.

I was going to tell this story about how to break down silos or something I’ve been working on and I was pulling away from and I said, “I keep seeing this Patriot shirt. I have to go into this.” If you think about Tom Brady for a second, you think about the Patriots, you’ve got the offensive team, you’ve got the defensive team and you’ve got the special teams, Tom Brady quarterback. What is his most important team?

I don’t think he could point to one. I think he would point to it, it’s the sum of all the parts.

That’s why you’re good at what you do. For many companies that struggle with silos, what happens is they think that the quarterback’s most important team is the offensive team. They think the VP of marketing’s most important team is marketing and it’s not. The VP’s most important team is the company. The CEO’s most important team is the company. The head of finance most important team is the company. Their second most important team is finance or marketing. Tom Brady’s most important team is the Patriots. The second most important team is the offensive team, but when he’s off the field, he’s watching what’s happening on there with the defense so he can show them what’s going on because they’re all in it for the good of the team. Did you have any of those issues at all where people were more focused and obsessed about theirs? Did you have to break through that at all or was it more communication on projects?

You see that in any organization I’ve worked for. You get tunnel vision and you start to think about one specific goal. My job, what is that? What do I have to do to get that done? What I always remind the team that we make better decisions when we make them together. I am the least important person in every room I’m in. I’m the one who will facilitate the conversation and make sure the different departments are saying, “What do you see? Help me see around corners. What are we missing?” Making sure that transparent communication and it’s a safe space where people can challenge the ideas and if you do that, that’s to me is how you break down those silos.

In the areas of operations, when you said you were meeting with the people in the first two weeks, what operational improvements did you see that had to happen?

I started with the corporate-owned studios. Typically in most startups, you have the opportunity because you’re on an upward trajectory like a hockey stick. We were really throwing a lot of bodies at problems with no clear infrastructure set-up. What I did to start on the corporate-owned studios, I learned this from Hertz Rent-A-Car is the COE concept. We don’t need twelve people working on marketing at the corporate-owned studios, we only need one expert. Then we need one expert on ops support and an expert on facilities. What I did is restructured the team. There are the regional managers up in the field who are generalists who know a bit about everything. When they’re coming back to the corporate and don’t have the answer, they can talk to a marketing expert who will help them create the right marketing strategy.

They’re struggling with lead generation or closing sales. They can talk to the sales expert in there. We would deploy these experts throughout the region. When I say region, in corporate-owned studios to make sure that each plan was being executed and customized to their needs. It’s not a one-size-fits-all for every studio that’s out there. Everybody has different challenges and pain points. That’s even more evident when you talk about international. What is the customized approach? My marketing person may be focused more on these three studios because they don’t have lead generation on the sales side. We’re going to have a couple of studios that are focused on that. It was creating the infrastructure in that COE center of expertise concept that I think made the biggest mark.

How do you run your corporate versus your operational locations in terms of, let’s say for marketing as an example, what decisions and programs are being managed nationally and what do you allow the franchisees to do?

SIC 92 | Orangetheory Fitness
Orangetheory Fitness: Orangetheory has gone from 0 to 100 in only ten years.

 

Our marketing team is robust and they have a marketing fund like most franchises. Their craft in the overall strategy, the overall message and that is more life. They are cascading that on a national campaign. As we get into our infrastructure, it’s then regional then it’s studio level. There are three tiers that we will operate on. The operation teams are more focused on tier 2 and tier 3, while our national marketing is focused on tier one. In addition, we also have co-ops in strategic areas that will partner together to get more bang for our buck in specific areas. If you think about New York, if every studio was spending $5,000 a month on marketing, it’s not going to have a bang, but when you have that combination of studios going after that, it puts more money and gives us more opportunity to create a message and to get that down to the local level.

How do you worry about this whole concept of death by a thousand cuts? In every single zip code, you’ve got a really strong gym that’s either an independent, another chain, another workout type or a big box. How do you guys stay focused when you have the opportunity to get distracted by whatever your competitor is doing?

We’re laser-focused on doing and concentrating on what we’re great at and that is the science behind the workout. There’s a lot of great gyms out there, but I think when you look at what we do that differentiates us, is that we’re focused on the science. We’re going to prove to you that you’re getting more results. For example, we have InBody scales being launched to all our studios, which will get your BMI compensation. If you’re able to see that and look at it again in 90 days and see the results, there’s proof that it works. Whereas some people might not feel they’re getting the results because you can’t necessarily see your body transformed, but when you can put the numbers behind it, then you have the evidence. That’s where we like to always think about more sticky points as we call them to keep our members engaged.

How do you keep them engaged? What are those sticky points?

We have invested a lot in our mobile app. It’s connecting with our members through our mobile applications. It’s by delivering custom content to those members. The sticky points are, as I mentioned before, the data, the science behind the workout. If you took a workout for Orangetheory, it’s immediately being fed to your iPhone, our app and it’s going to give you a history and you can also see your progress. We have a challenge tracker that enables you to see what your fastest 1,000-meter row was. Six months later there’s another challenge put out there and you see your improvement. It’s sticky points through all of those components.

Talk about the leadership team for a second. How do you get your whole leadership team on the same page with the vision, operations and plan?

We have a cadence of meetings. Every week, we made it Tuesday at 12:00. It’s a short meeting, but it’s strategic with what are the key things each of us need to know. Every year we go away into what we call the strategic summit and we map out our priorities for that entire next year. I think we’re disciplined with staying on that roadmap. There’s always going to be an opportunity for things to change, but I would say 90% of those initiatives we start with, we finished the year by executing on those.

How do you stay on that roadmap?

It’s execution with discipline. It’s making sure that we are meeting, communicating with each other and making sure we’re always constantly aligned. We do that through those weekly touch-base meetings that we have. On the cake, I am connected with the team. We will make sure we pass through the hallways and have those water cooler conversations to make sure that we are always talking about those strategic initiatives.

Is your head office all in one location?

It is.

Are you looking at all to go with any remote team at all or are you trying to stay more and more on the corporate location?

For the executive team, we always want the team here because there’s so much going on and having them all in one place. I know there’s different points of view on that, but for me, being able to walk into the CFO’s office, Dave Long’s office or to one of my colleagues to have that conversation is so critical and you can’t do that via the phone as easy.

You talk about staying on plan and every once in a while, good ideas pop up. What system or process do you have in place to say yes and to say no or not yet to either ideas that come from the franchise or the operations group or the leadership team?

When we put an idea together, the first thing we’re doing and I mentioned this is we’re creating a golden thread. We’re going to make sure we have the state, the story and the strategy. We’re going to make sure that we put a business case behind this. Is this something that is going to be a revenue driver? What’s the why behind it? What’s the KPI to measure, to prove that this is going to work? It’s not going, “Great idea. Let’s launch it.” It’s, “Let’s prove it. Let’s put some numbers behind it and let’s see if when’s the right time to do this.”

I liked that you’re quantifying the decision on that golden thread as well. I created something called the Decision Filter, which is a similar setup. I looked down at the bottom of it and I say, “What’s the amount of cash we have to put in? What’s the ROI on that? What’s the number of hours or days we have to put in? What’s the ROI on that? Will it increase one of these four things or multiple? Will it increase our employee net promoter score, our customer and promoter score, our profitability or revenue?” It’s only once we filled out that form, are you allowed to say yes or no to a project.

There’s also the opportunity cost. If we put our resources to this, how crucial is that other project that might get down the priority list? We look at all those components before moving forward.

We’re the sum of all of our past experiences as leaders. If you were to go back through a little bit of your resume for us where we start with Hertz and go the other way. Would that be the direction you were in?

SIC 92 | Orangetheory Fitness
Orangetheory Fitness: If you can anticipate what could go wrong and put countermeasures before you even launch, it makes your launches even more effective than they would have been.

 

There’re some others in there. The majority my first fifteen years were with Hertz and then I went to work for Steve Case, the founder of AOL. He had a startup called Flexcar that merged with Zipcar and then I got into the fitness.

Let’s start with Hertz first then Flexcar, Steve Case then go to the others. What is your number one takeaway from Hertz or a couple of key things that you learned that you still carry with you now?

I printed my top ten that I keep it with me all time because I thought you might ask this. If I had to pick, probably in no particular order, but number one is, build relationships rooted in trust. I always say this, especially when we’re talking to the 5,500 coaches and network. People aren’t going to remember what you said, but they’re going to remember the way you made them feel. I think building those relationships and finding people’s why, I don’t care if it’s an entry-level person that’s working part-time. I want to understand who they are and making sure that entire team is vested in building those relationships. For me, it’s about staying humble and vulnerable. Early on my career, especially at Hertz back in the day, if you ask questions, you showed weakness.

I quickly learned that if I can be humble enough to ask for help and be vulnerable to know that, “I need some more people on this to make a better decision.” I’m going to be even more effective of a leader. The third thing is empowering and trusting your team. The more empowerment you give them. I say to my team constantly, the same thing I do with coaching Ironman and triathletes, “There’s a level inside of you that you have not tapped into and the next year we’re going to tap into that. How do you want to go about doing this?”

You throw it back to them to see how they want to do it as well. You’re right about that level of energy that’s still in the tank. I remember finishing my first marathon and crossing the line and going, “Damn.” I wouldn’t have wanted to go and run another 10K, but I was like, “That wasn’t actually as hard as I thought it was going to be.”

That’s why my best races are when I get sick at the end. I know I had nothing in the tank and that’s when I said, “Good, I nailed it.”

You mentioned the humility of a leader. I think that Jim Collins talked about that level five leadership, and it sounds like you run in that thread. As a COO, I don’t think we’re supposed to be strong in everything. The COO has got to be strong in a couple of them. We have to counter, but where do you think your weaknesses would be that you’re more cognizant of?

I always have to remember that people operate at different speeds and I have to be patient. Most COOs would say the same thing. I don’t have a lot of patience. I will give somebody an assignment and then 24 hours I’m like, “How are we doing on that?” I always have to remember that not everybody operates at the same level and making sure that you’re more of a support network and know when to push and when to pull. Sometimes people need help and they’re drowning. That’s why it gets to that building the relationship rooted in trust. When your team has trust in you, I’ll give you a quick story. I was in New York and we were about to open this studio. I immediately went into the studio and I started pointing out all the things that needed to be repaired in the next 24 hours.

My studio manager came up to me and this is a relationship rooted in trust. She says, “Griff, can you tell me one thing that you liked about the studio?” Right there, I stopped, I gasped and that’s all Griff falling back in and into that A-type personality. I said to Emily, “Emily, I want to thank you for coaching me on this and making sure I was set.” I sent her a text at the end of the night. “I’ll be back on my game tomorrow.” I came in hot and I apologize. That’s where I go about being humble, vulnerable and rooted in trust. When your team can tell you that, you can course-correct immediately. If I keep going and nobody coached me, that whole team wouldn’t have been inspired for all the hard work they had done. I was so focused on making it perfect. I missed that.

The school system hurt us as leaders, as humans in a lot of ways. They kept showing us that if we were bad in one subject, we needed to get a tutor at it and work at it then we can become horribly average at something we didn’t enjoy. Instead of saying, “I’m not good at that,” and letting someone else be good at that. I think in leadership, sometimes we have to give away some of those. Are there any real skills that aren’t so much a strength of you, but are a weakness? For me, I’m bad with numbers. I flip and transpose a lot of my numbers. I struggle with financial statements. I struggle with budgets and spreadsheets.

For me, it’s along the same lines, if you give me an Excel spreadsheet with hundreds of lines of information, I’ll have people on my team that can translate that into high-level data because I don’t like getting in the weeds of those Excel spreadsheets, “There are seven pages of files here, give me the punchline. What do I need to focus on?” That’s where I think great leaders will surround themselves where they have people that love to do that and can focus on that.

It’s important for us to be humble and say where we’re strong on something. I heard a funny joke about humility and I said, “I’m so proud of how humble I’ve become.” I think of a dashboard in our business, almost like our car dashboard. Our car dashboard might have 10 or 12 metrics on it, but then if you plug-in the car, there are thousands of data points that the mechanics can look at. God forbid, if those were ever in front of us, we wouldn’t be able to drive the car. We have that big one that’s the speed and then the small one that lights up when it’s less than a quarter tank that goes, “Fill up with gas.” That’s how I want our leadership team dashboards to be, a little bit more than rows and rows of data.

I talk about dashboards all the time, give me the punchline. Let’s get into the weeds with the analysts behind the scenes but the punchline, especially when you’re dealing with franchises. You have to keep it simple and straightforward. Show the why.

You are nine people on your leadership team. What’s your meeting rhythms with the leadership team? What types of meetings do you have and what frequency do you guys have them?

We have a once a week touch-base with the round table meeting with our team where we go around the room and share what are the critical projects. In addition to that, we have the Strategic Leadership Summit that we do once a year. I think it depends on the topic. I spend a lot of time with our Chief Technology Officer working on initiatives because we are much aligned in where he delivers our product. It’s my responsibility to decide when it’s rolled out. Once it’s done, his payday comes to us, it goes to our corporate studio. The best thing about the COO job is you’re involved in everything. I promise you, I touch-base with every one of my C-Suite executives at least once a week on a different topic.

How do you stay out of all the areas that we could get ourselves into or how do you stay at the level you’re supposed to be and avoid getting in on everything?

I have amazing people behind me and I’m able to leverage my team in those players that are asking for more. I won’t go to every meeting. You can’t possibly do that, but they’re great at talking about the critical decision points or this came up in saying, “You’ll need to be involved in this,” or I can give them the marching orders and go back up. For the most part, it’s empowering and sometimes deciding what meetings are most important.

You do your one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. How many direct reports do you have and what one-on-one or coaching do you work with them on?

I have probably sixteen direct reports as we’re creating some more infrastructure. It’s not optimal. I want to be down to eight. We’re looking at how to tighten up. Those I’ve taken on more departments and more responsibility and we’re still building that infrastructure. I do half-hour check-ins with every single one of my team members and those meetings are based on, “What do you need from me?” I use what I call a traffic light. Red, “What do you want me to stop doing?” Yellow, “What do you want me to think about?” Green, “What do you want me to keep doing?” They provide me with a quick update of the key projects they’re on. Outside of that, we will have at least every two months what I would call a development meeting.

SIC 92 | Orangetheory Fitness
Orangetheory Fitness: You can’t necessarily see your body transform, but when you can put the numbers behind it, then you have the evidence.

 

I create a personalized development plan for every single one of my employees, which is about leadership. It has nothing to do with KPIs or matrix. It says, “To be more effective of a leader, what do you need from me?” One example would be, “I need to empower and trust to my team more.” We would sit down and write, “When you’re faced with this, you’re going to do this,” and create a course of action. Every one of my people have the development and there are the monthly financial reviews with every department to see how they’re performing and where are we, where our opportunities are.

What do you mean by that, with the financial reviews with each department?

When you think about our corporate-owned studios, we are sitting down and we do report out to executive teams. Each team member has a local component of that. The corporate-owned studios will have the marketing component or the sales component. We leverage the data to say, “How are we performing? This studio is up 20%, but we’re not closing leads.” We’re doing a deep dive into each KPI to determine where our opportunities are.

How about your area of growth? You talked about the personal development of some of your team and the one-on-one meetings with them. What are you working on now for yourself?

Communication has been in my project claims since I started. I think about how I can be more effective as a communicator. I asked myself and this goes back to one of my coaches in triathlon. They said to me, “What does it look like tomorrow if you had ten times better than you were today?” I’m always thinking of how I can be more effective as a communicator and that could be with public speaking. That could be with motivating teams. That could be with being a better listener is something important to me. When I say listening beyond the words so that person that I’m talking to feels like they are the only one on this planet. On communication, thinking about how I can flex my style to different personality types. I got trained to be a Senn Delaney facilitator many years ago at Hertz. The biggest takeaway was thinking that we’re always operating in a non-personality type and when you can learn to flex the different people’s styles, it is powerful because you’re connecting with them on a deeper level.

Talk about Steve Case. You got to work with Steve when he was the founder or co-founder of AOL, what was that like?

I was working for Hertz for fifteen years. I had a great run with them. I was never ever going to think about leaving. Growing up, I spent no more than two years getting from one position to the next, and then a recruiter called me up and said, “Go down.” I’m like, “I want to meet Steve Case. He’s cool.” I thought it was an opportunity with no intention of taking the job. I spent a half-hour with Steve Case. We ended up talking for an hour and a half and his humbleness, his ability to connect with people is something I aspire to. I actually signed the contract and quit my job on the way back to go work for Steve Case and the innovation and the way he thought about things. I learned so much in that year and a half I was with Flexcar. I’ll never forget it.

What was he like as a leader?

He’s humble and I think it goes back to some of the principles I talked about. He built relationships rooted in trust and he really empowered the team to make decisions. He had a general vision and he talked about that, but we brought it to life and he enabled and allowed us to challenge that.

I see him every year at the main TED Conference, I’ve never actually either sat with him at dinner or been able to walk up and say, hi. I think I’ll make a point to go and say hi to him. He always seems to be so approachable. It’s not like he’s surrounded by a crowd anymore. It’s not like Zuckerberg showing up and people would swarm Steve. He’s been around the industry for so long that he’s like any of the VCs that might be there.

When he started Flexcar, he knew there were opportunities where he wasn’t an expert in and the people he brought on, he brought on Joe Vittoria, who is the retired CEO of Avis. He brought on the guys from Nantucket Nectars. He had a cross-functional team that knew how to market, knew the car rental process. That was a great learning experience because I realized, find people that don’t have the expertise you do, leverage that and bring them on board to make your team stronger.

Over to Equinox, that’s more the large format I call the big box, how was it working with that organization?

That was probably one of the best experiences of my life, going from being in the transportation industry to try and infiltrate this organization where I was passionate about. It took a long time, and I didn’t apply for anything. I actually wrote a letter to the president of Equinox, Scott Rosen, and said, “I have this set of skills. I see you may be looking for something here. I’d love to meet and talk.” Scott and I met for six months before he finally offered me a job, but it was an amazing experience.

Dabbling on the franchising space. You’ve been in franchising, multiunit operations now for so many brands. Few companies are those multiple brand or multiple location-type businesses. What do you think we need to be better at when we’re running those companies? What lessons can the single-unit operators learn from the franchisors or multi-units?

The first thing I’ve learned working for different franchise organizations is you can never listen to your franchisees enough. It’s we think we know what’s best. That’s why you mentioned it earlier, having a selection of corporate-owned studios so we can see the pain points and understand that. I think sometimes in some of the organizations, we forget that our customer is the franchisee. We’ve got to listen to what their challenges are in trying to devise solutions to help them be even more effective than they are now because ultimately if they’re not successful, we’re not successful.

When I left 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, they brought in the former president of Starbucks US to replace me and she was gone twelve months later and she did not listen to the franchisee. She didn’t even like the franchisees and was thinking of it as a more corporate decision that we would roll out. I’m like, “No, they built this thing. They know it better than anybody. They know the employees, they know the customers, they know the pain points and the pricing. They know what’s working, what’s not working.” All we have to do is ask them and do what they want, for the most part, filter it through the highest leverage because some of them have random ideas that won’t get leverage of but we don’t have to think of anything. They’ve already got all the thoughts.

That’s what I did. They built the foundation that this company is now the reason why they’re successful. I went out and identified who were the senior members of the team and what are their pain points. It also gave me additional credibility because I had some franchise owners that own 20, 30 studios talking to them and understand what should I focus on first then going back and then being able to deliver that gives you credibility. If you are operating in a box and you’re not visiting your franchises or listening to them, I’ve seen what can happen in those cases.

You think back to when you were 22 years old, you’re starting out in your business career. What word of advice would you give yourself back then that now you had known to be true, but you wish you’d known at 22?

I would say don’t be a jackass and leave your ego at the door. I remember when early in my career, I always been an athlete. I’ve always been a performing student, and I’m like, “We’re number one. We’re the best. That’s all that matters. I’m the best.” What I realize, even if my region was doing the greatest, a true leader is going up and talking to his colleague that is not doing as good as you and making sure you’re helping them being humble, vulnerable and allowing yourself to continue to grow. For a few years back then when I was twenty-something, I stopped learning. As a result, I stopped growing. The other thing I’d say is never allow yourself to be a victim. There are many opportunities where something goes wrong and you can blame technology, you can blame finance or whatever it is. I find a way every time when something doesn’t go right and say, “What could I have done differently?” As soon as I own it, I’m actually able to get on with it and be more accountable. I don’t spend a lot of time pointing fingers. I spend a lot of time saying, “What did I do? I didn’t ask the right questions. I should ask better questions.”

That’s one of the biggest things I look for in leaders is people who are introspective and they’ll blame themselves before the outward forces. Griff Long, the COO for Orangetheory fitness, thank you for being with us.

Thank you. I appreciate your time.

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