Performance — Surround yourself with people who are the masters of their trades. In order to maintain the best performance, you need to be exposed to the best functional expertise; this can only come from others who know more than you. Trust and empower them. They will share their insights, their organization, their talent, and you will learn a tremendous amount along the way. This holds true both in business, when hiring leaders, or even in your personal life, as you entrust your wellness plan with experts who can help you forge a new path.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Blitz.
David is a developer who creates and builds businesses in the real estate, fitness, media, food and beverage and investment sectors. Beginning his career at Chicago-based Corus Bank in 2003, David established a keen ability to predict trends in the economic arena, co-founding BlitzLake in 2009 as its President and CEO. There, he has led the firm to more than a decade of success through distinctive investment sectors and product types.
Over the past two decades, Blitz has focused his attention on the financing and development of more than $4 billion in ground-up construction around the country, namely in Las Vegas, Miami, Washington D.C., San Diego and Chicago. He is dedicated to community redevelopment and job creation, collaborating with civic leaders, businesses and residents to ensure that construction continuously adds value to neighborhoods and improving the lifestyle of its residents.
Blitz is also the visionary of Studio Three, an acclaimed fitness boutique that has set new standards for interdisciplinary training as well as innovation during the coronavirus pandemic. As co-founder and CEO, introduced the concept in River North Chicago in 2015, opened a second in Lincoln Park in 2019 — and has a third outpost opening in Fulton Market in early 2021. Recognized by Crain’s Chicago Business as one of the city’s “Top Places to Work”, the brand continues to thrive.
Blitz received a BBA from The University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross Business School. He serves as a Commissioner of The Lakeview Chamber of Commerce SSA 17 and in 2020, co-founded the Chicago Boutique Fitness Alliance in response to COVID-19’s impact on the wellness industry.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born and raised in Chicago’s northern suburbs. Both of my parents worked as math educators, a profession I greatly admire. They tirelessly shared their knowledge with others, and with me and my younger brother. It was also important to them to share in experiences as a family, much of which happened through travel. Every year, we took trips — mostly by car — and by the time I graduated from high school, we had traveled to every one of the 48 continental United States. Those trips remain some of my fondest memories and instilled my love for exploring new parts of the country and world.
We were also a really big sports family. Michigan football was big in our household, and I also grew up playing football, basketball and baseball. My brother and I would organize pickup games with other kids in our neighborhood. I always loved to compete, loved to win. More than anything, though, I always strived to improve myself and enjoyed watching others become better through sport.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Since childhood, I’ve always been fascinated by how things are built. When I scored my first pair of Reebok pumps as a boy, the first thing I did was take them apart because I wanted to see how the pump mechanism worked. Needless to say, my parents weren’t thrilled. But they couldn’t argue with my logic for trying.
This natural curiosity fed into everything around me. I was always able to learn something new by breaking something down and putting it back together — with varying levels of success, of course.
The first time I traveled to Las Vegas, I couldn’t believe the intricacies of all that surrounded me. I wanted to understand the optics of the casinos, the restaurants, the shows, the hotel operations. I wanted to see every process that went into everything, within everything.
Going to school at University of Michigan further defined the path I chose to take. After earning my BBA, I initially took a position at Corus Bank in Chicago working on the equity side, financing exciting projects in development across the United States. But as I continued to mature into my career, the opportunity to utilize systems and processes towards creating sustainable businesses kept calling to me. It was then that I realized how much I wanted to be on the ownership side, making decisions that could impact communities and other peoples’ lives in a positive way. Shortly thereafter, I co-founded BlitzLake with my longtime friend and colleague Jeff Lake.
BlitzLake is a vertically-integrated real estate company with interests in fitness, hospitality, commodity trading and other strategic investment platforms. With a passion for iconic architecture, we are dedicated to community redevelopment and job creation — it is critical to me that we collaborate with civic leaders, businesses and residents to ensure that construction is continuously adding value to neighborhoods and improving the lifestyle of its residents. Over the past two decades, we have financed and developed more than $4 billion in ground-up residential and commercial construction around the country, namely Las Vegas, Miami, Washington D.C., San Diego, and Chicago.
In 2013, we envisioned Studio Three — a boutique fitness concept uniting three disciplines under one roof: Interval, Cycle and Yoga. We launched in Chicago’s River North in 2015, opened the second location in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in 2019 and have a third studio opening in Fulton Market in early 2021. The brand is thriving thanks to our incredible team of world class instructors and the positive community engendered by our members.
When I look back at taking apart those Reebok pumps, I am grateful, decades later, to be embracing that same spirit of curiosity every day. Breaking down, building, evolving, creating systems and new models for business that hopefully contribute to the betterment of the community around me.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I have to give the credit to my parents, who taught me to always, always treat everyone with respect. No matter how demanding their careers were or how stressful their lives were as young parents, they made it a priority to make time for me and my brother every day and remain completely present in their interactions with us.
My mother and father always encouraged me to follow my passions and supported me every step of the way. Their words to me, which ring true to this day are, “Treat everyone with respect, and you will go as far as you can dream.”
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Shortly after completing my undergraduate degree, I accepted a job with PricewaterhouseCoopers as a tax accountant. It was a well-respected company, and while I knew in my gut it wasn’t really what I wanted to do, I was lured by the prestige of the name and the salary that came with the role. I lived in Ann Arbor and commuted to Bloomfield Hills daily, where most of my working hours were spent on highly detailed data entry work.
The people were wonderful, but I was out of my element from day one and could have just kicked myself for going against my instincts. Because I knew before even saying yes that it wasn’t the job I really wanted. I said yes for the wrong reasons, resulting in a less than rewarding career experience and the need to completely recalibrate before making another move.
The takeaway? Listen to your gut. Don’t take a job for the wrong reasons, no matter how shiny it seems. It’s better to wait, decide on a path that motivates you and pursue that goal mightily. You’ll save yourself (and your future employers) a lot of heartache, stress, time and money in the long run.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Slow and steady wins the race. Take your time to decide what you’re excited about and allow that passion to guide your decision-making process. Don’t ever say no to an opportunity to learn from someone you admire. And respect always wins the day.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Great Good Place is one book that’s had a big impact on how I view the world and also how I guide my business ventures. It was written by a prominent sociologist, Ray Oldenburg, who breaks down the three places we occupy in our lives: home, work and most significantly, the third place. The third place might be your neighborhood coffee shop, a fitness studio, a retail store — anywhere that unites social interactions among others. We may act, talk, dress differently in all of these spaces, and with the third place in particular, we must constantly adapt to account for technological developments that could take away from its intended impact. For example, a likely third place in the 1940s could have been completely wiped out with the onset of radio news and entertainment.
The notion of the third place presented in Oldenburg’s book is one of the reasons why we gave Studio Three its name. We are extremely passionate about technology and are constantly changing, adding, customizing, upgrading to more state-of-the-art solutions. However, it’s not the core of our ethos. Our ethos is centered on human-to-human relationships and a community that can come together in shared interests, goals and connectivity.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I’m sure everyone has heard the phrase: “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” There is truth to this saying, and not necessarily because you happen to know the most powerful person in the room. It extends beyond that. It’s really about how you treated that person along the course of your relationship, and in most cases, long before that person was the most powerful person in the room. To truly know people, you must genuinely care about them and their point of view.
How you interact with people at every stage of life is how you will be remembered. It will define your reputation in the business community. Being known as someone who always communicates respectfully, and with presence of mind, will build powerful connections that will surely make your work more enjoyable — and potentially illuminate your career.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
There are two projects on the immediate horizon that we’re pleased to reveal.
We are looking forward to opening our third outpost of Studio Three in Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood. The studio opens early 2021 in a newly completed, 19-story building from the developers at Sterling Bay. The studio, designed by Gensler Chicago, will encompass 10,000 square feet of smartly designed, ground-level space celebrating our community and the signature wellness trifecta for which we have earned a fiercely loyal following: Interval, Cycle and Yoga.
The expansion of Studio Three to Fulton Market is preceded by our first two locations in River North (648 N. Clark) and Lincoln Park (2401 N. Halsted St.). Despite the challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it was essential to press forward as planned. We are living in a time when wellness is critical to our day-to-day lives.
One of our guiding philosophies as a company is to propel projects that enhance our communities. When COVID-19 hit, we quickly adapted our operations in River North and Lincoln Park to ensure that our members had somewhere to turn at a time when their routines were completely upended. We consulted with leading scientists. We built two outdoor fitness arenas, one of which is covered and heated year-round. We invested in custom plexiglass fabrications, UV and thermal technology and hospital-grade sanitation stations and products in the studios. Insofar as occupancy and gatherings are permitted under current state and city orders, The Studio Three Way represents our commitment to health, safety and wellness — both indoors and outside. The procedures, protocols and studio configurations afforded by the Studio Three Way allowed us to make necessary adjustments as we entered final planning for the Fulton Market location.
My partners and our incredible team of instructors — we all feel a sense of responsibility to be there for our members, to help keep them well in both body and mind. With tens of thousands of residents in the West Loop and Fulton Market, we see a tremendous opportunity to accessibly share not just our elite fitness programs, but also the kind of positive and supportive community people need more than ever.
We are also nearing completion on Panorama, an exciting, 8-story residential development with 140 apartment units in Chicago’s thriving Lakeview neighborhood. This building represents dwelling units for over 200 Chicagoans, 8,600 square feet of prime retail space, a distinctive green design that seamlessly blends in with its surrounding neighborhood and more.
When it opens early 2021, Panorama will include a theater, pet spa, indoor/outdoor rooftop lounge, a gaming area, private study rooms, an on-demand fitness center, and a restaurant-grade kitchen with private dining room. We are proud to say that this project has created more than 700 jobs in Chicago.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Creating good habits is integral to living a healthier, longer and more productive life.
About four years ago, I really felt the need to prioritize my health and wellness. My diet and fitness were never totally off the rails, but as I entered my 40s and BlitzLake and Studio Three continued to grow exponentially, I saw an opportunity to improve my focus and better manage the stress levels that come with entrepreneurship. I started exercising, first once a day in the morning. Within months, I added a second workout at night. Then, I started eating more healthfully, first replacing soda with water, then the usual “vending” snacks with seeds, fruit and nuts and so on. It didn’t happen overnight, but the better I felt, the more I wanted to explore.
These healthy habits changed my life.
I do an hour of each workout daily, and I find that a combination of home workouts plus those designed by our trainers at Studio Three provide an ideal mix; I really love being with our team, our clients and in the supportive environment we’ve worked so hard to create. While it may seem overly ambitious, exercising in the morning and again in the evening bookends my day in a positive way. I know for certain that between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., I need be laser-focused on business. Exercise and better nutrition have improved my concentration, productivity and ability to perform during those hours.
It feels good to feel good. And to lead by example.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
There are a few habits that I adhere to consistently that I attribute to continued success:
First, I make it a point to get enough sleep so I can wake up early every day. I like to check the markets while it’s still quiet to get a sense of where they day might be headed.
Working out is non-negotiable. My morning session allows me to get the endorphins going before the day begins, while evening cardio allows me to process the day. In both cases, my mind gets a hard reset.
I also carve out some time to read about my fields obsessively. Even if you look for one article a day that focuses on your area of expertise, don’t ever miss an opportunity to absorb new information. This practice will also help with another critical mindset in business: Getting over the fear of failure.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
In developing good habits, start by implementing one new healthy habit at a time. Master that habit, and then add the next layer and master that one. Keep going. Before you know it, you will see that your life is transforming.
Get into a regiment and stick to it every day. Consistency is key. Add your workouts, meals, reading time and other activities important to your growth to your calendar, and treat them like you would an important business appointment.
Set goals for yourself. These may be monthly, weekly or even daily on a micro-scale. If writing down what you eat daily helps keep you accountable, do it. And set reminders to “meet” with yourself to honestly assess your progress.
In eliminating bad habits, it’s crucial to identify your triggers. Does an upcoming presentation keep you from preparing a healthy dinner or working out? Does a challenging conversation with your boss or your direct report prevent you from getting full night of rest? When facing challenges, we must envision the outcomes of reverting to our old habits. In most cases, doing so will have a negative impact on the quality of our work product and relationships. It takes an element of practiced mindfulness to stop and challenge yourself. But once you master mindfulness, you’ll often choose the newly formed, and far more beneficial, habit.
Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.
- Wellness — Be active both inside and outside the gym. Your activity shouldn’t stop with your workout. Seek opportunities to take in extra air and light whenever you can throughout the day.
- Performance — Surround yourself with people who are the masters of their trades. In order to maintain the best performance, you need to be exposed to the best functional expertise; this can only come from others who know more than you. Trust and empower them. They will share their insights, their organization, their talent, and you will learn a tremendous amount along the way. This holds true both in business, when hiring leaders, or even in your personal life, as you entrust your wellness plan with experts who can help you forge a new path.
- Focus — Pay attention to the tiniest of details. These matter far more to the customer than anyone might thing. Imagine the last time you bought athletic wear, signed up for membership or searched for a new apartment or home. The look and feel of the website, the social media channels, the tonality, the emotion conveyed — these minute details can make or break a consumer decision.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
- Wellness: Take walks. Walk while you’re on the phone, even if it’s in circles around the office. Get in the habit of going to the grocery store, and stock up on healthy food. People will snack on what’s directly in front of them. I always buy seeds, nuts and fruit to help satisfy cravings. Drink water all day, a gallon’s worth if you can; there’s no substitute for it. Keep a refillable water bottle handy at all times. You’ll thank yourself later.
- Performance: Always give yourself something to look forward to. When strong performance is rewarded with a trip, a workout, a team outing, it makes the journey all the more exciting.
- Focus: It is imperative to be present in all conversations for yourself and those around you. Try to put physical (mobile phones) and mental (anxiety, stress) distractions aside to ensure a positive engagement and shape the future with those around you.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.
To me, getting adequate sleep is essential. It radically adds more peace and motivation throughout the day.
At maximum, plan or book only half of your day. When you’re overbooked, you’re eliminating a chance for a reset and the ability to catch the details. If you’re going from meeting to meeting or call to call, you’re not going to be able to give 100% percent. Half-measures amount to redoing the work again.
You are what you eat. Make sure that you’re fueling your body throughout the day to avoid overindulging, irritability and lack of concentration.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
As you work towards getting more sleep, start by going to bed thirty minutes earlier than you normally would. About an hour before bedtime, start to minimize your screen time on your laptop, phone and television. This is the time for you to prepare the body for rest.
Broaden your search when hiring talent. When you open yourself up to new candidates and truly invest in their training and development, you’ll find that those overscheduled, back-to-back days will start to resolve themselves.
Stay positive. No one is perfect, and we all have weeks that we don’t exercise or eat as clean as we’d hoped. Be kind to yourself. No one ever said that a journey towards healthy habits comes in a straight line. Every day is a new day to write your script.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
Take your time with projects. If you fly through something for the sake of checking it off your list, there’s a good chance you’re going to need to repeat the effort. Work smarter, not harder.
Try not to multitask. Juggling multiple back-to-back engagements while trying to “carve out time” for one more “quick meeting” will ultimately leave conversations, projects — and possibly deals — on the table.
Give people your undivided attention. It’s not only the respectful approach to business, but when you truly connect with others over a brainstorming session, a new business meeting or a team outing, you have made a meaningful deposit in that person’s emotional bank account that will deepen your relationship. And guaranteed — you’ll learn something from that person along the way.
As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
Flow is a fragile thing that requires constant reinvigoration. It’s important to challenge yourself, give yourself new goals and constantly evolve. This is partly why I enjoy reading so much about the industries in which we specialize. Seeing what others are doing, have tried, are investing in, are creating…there’s no end to inspirational sources.
Also, as we try new things, it’s important to know that failure doesn’t necessarily mean disruption to your Flow. Failure is part of Flow. Some things will stick, and others won’t. Just remember that it’s never too late to nurture your interests towards new career opportunities. Studio Three is a strong example of a business born of my enthusiasm for wellness. I harnessed that passion to develop a new, boutique model that serves as a welcoming, healthy community for thousands.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Wellness extends far beyond than just exercise. Wellness, of course, should be present in our everyday movement, but also in the way we structure our day (i.e. in the habits we form); the environments in which we live, work and play; the manner in which we interact with others; how we make purchasing decisions; and more. Wellness should be at the heart of all of our actions and spaces. One of the organizations we support at Studio Three is called Digs with Dignity, which elevates the lives of those transitioning by providing them with a beautiful, dignified home. When you see first-hand how a completed living space can transform one’s life outlook, an organization like Digs with Dignity is giving them a unique kind of wellness that propels the next steps on their courageous journey.
There are tremendous opportunities to look at wellness with this kind of 360-degree thinking. It would be fascinating to create a collective with like-minded organizations, partners and experts that allows us to enliven communities by providing wholistic opportunities to live well physically, spatially, emotionally, mentally and socially. This kind of approach has the potential to transform lives at all stages, and especially those of our youth.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Brunello Cucinelli is someone I’d like to meet. He is a humanist, capitalist philosopher who has beat the odds to build a respected empire. In addition to a fine eye for design, he has innovated the way in which he manufactures his partnerships and how he’s scaled his brand, especially in the past 15 years.
Cucinelli grew up in poverty and now owns a public company. This doesn’t happen without constant learning, overcoming fear of failure, establishing healthy habits and thinking about the big picture. The mastery of these qualities allow an entrepreneur like Mr. Cucinelli to foster great, loyal talent who believe in his vision and nurture it as if it was their own.
How can our readers further follow your work online?