As a part of my series about the strategies that extremely busy and successful leaders use to juggle, balance and integrate their personal lives and business lives, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Gray. He is the Senior Vice President of Operations for the world’s leading Pilates brand, Club Pilates. Aside from his passion for business and fitness franchising, he enjoys spending time with his 11-year-old son, fishing, camping and practicing martial arts. He currently resides in California with his son.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was born in California and lived all kinds of places growing up — Germany, North Carolina, Texas, Colorado and then ended up back in California. I started my career in fitness between high school and college at Family Fitness Center, making 4.25 dollars an hour as a floor instructor. Family Fitness Center was eventually bought by 24 Hour Nautilus which later became 24-hour Fitness, where I moved up through the ranks to become District Fitness Manager. From there, I continued moving up as I transitioned to UFC Gyms, where I finished as Director of Operations. In 2016, I left UFC Gyms to join the team at Club Pilates as VP of Sales. While Pilates is obviously a fitness concept, as a 6’1”, 240-lb. former athlete, it’s definitely not in my wheelhouse. Thus, my journey here has been a welcome challenge and way to expand my horizons. Now I am the Senior VP of Operations. I partner with the Marketing and Development team, overseeing sales, long-term planning, the Education Department, teaching franchise owners and often hitting the road to meet with franchise partners.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’m a 6’1”, 240-lb former athlete that came from a conventional gym and mix martial arts background who is now running the world’s largest Pilates company. This just goes to show you can never judge a book by its cover, because fitness, like a business, is always changing and evolving. The ones who are able to adapt, roll their sleeves up and just put in some old fashion hard work can accomplish anything.
What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
Challenges in both my professional and personal life have definitely been interesting as they have been one and the same. I feel patience is something that most professionals are challenged with not only in their professional lives but in their personal lives as well. As a leader, I quickly realized the importance of patience. Sometimes things didn’t work out the way I expected them to nor in the time frame I wanted them. For me, like most, when I focused on a task or project that needed to be accomplished, it was easy for me. I would put my head down and simply outwork everyone until I hit the goal or accomplished the task or project at hand: you work until the job is done.
As my career grew, so did my responsibilities and my level of patience. It wasn’t about how hard I worked but how well I taught my team/co-workers/partner how to accomplish the task at hand. You might not always see eye-to-eye with your entire team so explaining and demonstrating how the job should be done instead of doing the job takes patience and clear communication- similar to being a father.
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
I’ve always said, “People don’t leave their jobs, they leave their leaders.” It’s important I am a positive, proactive leader, so I don’t make my team do anything that I wouldn’t do. As a leader, it’s important to ask your team members their “why.” Someone’s “why” isn’t always going to be monetary- it could be just having fun. I try to inspire others to lead by reminding them of their “why” and helping them set goals around it. In fact, I always ask my employees to send me their goals to put on my phone. Years later, I will circle back with these same people and check-in to see if they achieved the goal they set.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’d have to say, my mother, as my father died when I was 10. Premature death is rarely planned for, so this clearly hit us hard. Even so, my mom never skipped a beat. Being a single mom is no easy task but having a teenage son highly involved in competitive sports didn’t help. I watch my mom work two (sometimes three jobs) just to provide for our small family. She never gave up, no matter what was thrown at her.
She taught me the definition of hard work and perseverance: at the age of 40, she went back to school and graduated with a degree in business. Growing up I didn’t have a lot. My mom worked so much I’d have to find rides to school, take the bus or most often, I rode my mom’s old beach cruiser through Jr High and high school because we couldn’t afford a car.
When I asked my mom if I could help by getting a job she said no, “you need to focus on school and sports and I’ll take care of the rest. At least you have a bike.” I guess this was her way of teaching me that the glass is always half full and to be thankful for what you have.
My mom sacrificed a lot to provide for us, missing all of my sporting events and activities due to work. I didn’t understand at the time, but later realized she had done what any good parent would do for their child: teach them that life isn’t always fair and you don’t always get what you want. If you work hard and look at things as if that glass is always half full, you’ll always get what you need. Nothing beats hard work and while, at the moment, others may not understand you “Why”, that’s okay! In the end, it’s your “why,” not theirs, and that should motivate you.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?
Yes, it has been difficult to fit my life in with my career. Obviously, my role at Club Pilates is very involved, but I’m also a single father to an 11-year-old boy and have a girlfriend. I have to consciously remind myself to set aside “me time” or I would go crazy. That “me time” often involves a workout — I try to do martial arts, circuit training and Olympic lifting twice a week and then one yoga or Pilates class to reset.
I also hold down a rigorous schedule. I wake up every day at 5 am and get my workout in, first thing. Then, I get my son ready for school, walk the dog, take care of “dad stuff,” and get to the office by 8–8:30 am.
Like most, I thought setting aside time for myself and planning my schedule would be easy. Instead, I quickly realized the importance of “time management”. I used to set nine to 10 alarms in the morning just to get out of bed! One of my greatest accomplishments has been being able to control my thoughts and consequent mood. So much of your success is determined by confidence and ability to control your emotions as a leader. I never check my emails first thing in the morning or right before I go to bed, so I can start and end my day with a clear mind.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?
Yes, of course. Success can be very addictive- the more you have the more you want. I’m fortunate to have friends, family, and colleagues to keep me grounded. Time management becomes more important as well as an ability to stand strong and not get derailed.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?
1. Remember your “why”
2. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses; get to know yourself
3. Set specific goals so you’re not wasting time on unnecessary tasks- wasted time you could give to yourself or your family
4. Find time for yourself, even if it’s just a brief workout to reset
5. Early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride.
Personally, I’d have to say, my son. I’d also say watching my team and team members I have worked with in the past to accomplish their goals. Knowing I had some part in their success, while understanding they ultimately accomplished this due to their hard work, is pretty awesome to witness!
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. 🙂
Move. 85–90% of the workforce has an office-type job. To help increase movement, decrease stress, and improve morale, I’d create a month of movement. I’d create 30 different movements for every day of the month and recommend everyone perform one rep per hour for every hour worked in the day. You’d have to have everyone in the office pick a workout to do; this way, everyone is bought in.
For example, I work 10–12 hours a day so if the movement was push-ups, at the end of the first hour, I’d have to do 1 push up. At the end of my second hour, I’d have to do two and so on…..
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?