Ruben Mejia Of SportsArt America: “To be a successful leader you need to love what you do”

…to be a successful leader you need to love what you do. Let’s face it if you don’t love what you do it’s work and work sucks. When you’re excited about your career, you don’t think about the effort and time you’re putting in every day. It’s not a struggle; you love the outcome of […]

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…to be a successful leader you need to love what you do. Let’s face it if you don’t love what you do it’s work and work sucks. When you’re excited about your career, you don’t think about the effort and time you’re putting in every day. It’s not a struggle; you love the outcome of what your task is. As a leader in particular, when you love what you do, your passion wears off on others. Your employees begin to exude the same passionate energy.

The global health and wellness market is worth more than 1.5 trillion dollars. So many people are looking to improve their physical, mental, and emotional wellness. At the same time, so many people are needed to help provide these services. What does it take to create a highly successful career in the health and wellness industry?

In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Health and Wellness Industry” we are talking to health and wellness professionals who can share insights and stories from their experiences.

In this particular interview, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ruben Mejia.

Ruben Mejia, Executive Vice President for SportsArt Americas has more than 24 years of collective experience across the technology, e-commerce, and fitness industries. In his current role, Mejia focuses on product software and technology as well as manages external customer relationships, marketing and sales. Prior to joining SportsArt, Mejia held other leadership roles, including a combined 16+ years in the United States Army and working in the telecommunications industry for the Department of Defense, which launched his career and interest in the technology industry. Today, he works to continue innovating, while also evolving the SportsArt brand.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?

I am the Executive Vice President for SportsArt America with 25 years of collective experience across the technology, eCommerce and fitness industries. I joined SportsArt seven years ago, beginning my career as a consultant and moved into the IT Director role, maintaining the technology for SportsArt America to ensure all employee technology was running smoothly. Shortly after, I became the Vice President of Innovation where I implemented internal analytics to make sure employee time was spent more efficiently. Through one of my projects, I saved over 200 work hours a year that could be redirected to more impactful duties. I worked my way to Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at SportsArt America where I became more involved working directly with product technology through client installations. As CTO, I focused on making SportsArt products and software more user-friendly and efficient. I was promoted to Executive Vice President in December of 2019, where my focus continues to be on product software and technology. Additionally, in this role, I manage the marketing and sales departments.

Prior to my work at the company, I held other leadership roles, including a combined 16+ years in the United States Army and working in the telecommunications industry for the Department of Defense, which launched my career and interest in the technology industry as a whole. After my work in the Army, I worked as an IT operations manager for three years at JustFab, the leading fashion subscription company. With my involvement in the management team, JustFab went from 150 million dollars to an over 500 million dollars/year e-commerce organization. Today, I work to continue innovating, while also evolving the SportsArt brand. I am dedicated to telling the SportsArt story and expanding to larger markets.

Was there a particular person or event that inspired you to live a wellness-focused lifestyle? Can you tell us about your main motivation to go all in?

Looking back, I would have to say my parents inspired me to live a wellness-focused life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect they really helped lay the foundation for everything I’m doing now. Growing up my parents found ways to leverage my childhood dream of becoming a baseball player to incorporate wellness in every aspect of my childhood.

There was always some sort of motivation from my parents, whether it was them reminding me to eat my vegetables, to using yard work as a leverage and a motivator to help me stay in top physical shape –

Whether they were encouraging me to eat my vegetables, because making healthy meal choices would help me stay in top physical shape or asking me to mow that lawn on a Saturday morning and somehow turning that into a leg workout, they always found a way to inspire and motivate me to help me stay the course to achieve my dream.

Most people with a wellbeing centered lifestyle have a “go-to” activity, exercise, beverage, or food that is part of their routine. What is yours and can you tell us how it helps you?

I whole-heartedly believe that regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health, so I have two go-to activities — playing recreational baseball and working out at the gym.

I play in two adult recreational baseball leagues but one of the teams has several guys on it that are younger than me, some are over 10 years younger — they have a lot of energy, they are physically fit, and I use these teammates as part of my motivation. If I’m not playing at or above their level, it pushes me to play better.

When I work out at the gym it gives me an opportunity to forget about everything. I zone out, I don’t think about work, or house or the dog, etc. It affords me mental clarity and I can enjoy that time and just lose myself in a workout.

To live a wellness-focused life is one thing, but how did it become your career? How did it all start?

I’m only half kidding when I say this, but it’s my wife’s fault that I ended up with a career in fitness. I knew Carina’s dad, Paul Kuo, founded SportsArt, but neither she nor I had aspirations to work for the family business.

I was working at JustFab when Carina and I were dating, eventually I was introduced to the leadership team at SportsArt. Their CEO at the time asked if I would help on a couple of projects to assist their IT team out, and I agreed to help but eventually the company found itself without an IT director, so they leaned on me a little more. Around this same time Carina and I were looking for homes in LA and couldn’t find one that checked all the boxes. After a lot of time and frustration we looked at homes in Seattle because by now Carina was working at SportsArt. We ended up finding a home in Seattle and made the decision to move to the Pacific Northwest. For about a year and a half I worked remotely for JustFab and I would travel to California once a month to check in with my team. That worked for a while, but the travel back and forth just became too much. So, I decided to look for other employment opportunities a little closer to home. While I initially started interviewing with other companies in the Seattle area, Carina approached me with a formal position with SportsArt. She thought my background and experience could help SportsArt. If I’m being honest, I didn’t want to do it at first, I’m a proud man, I didn’t want people to think I got the role because of any corporate nepotism or favoritism, but eventually, over time, she convinced me to join the company.

When I started at the company, I wasn’t given a leadership role, I mastered my respective areas of expertise, and little by little I was able to gain the trust of both my colleagues and executives. Over the past seven years I was able to build their confidence and be recognized as a true leader within the company.

Can you share a story about the biggest challenges you faced when you were first starting? How did you resolve that? What are the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

One of the biggest challenges when I joined SportsArt was the fact that I was an outsider. In other words, my career in the fitness industry was only starting; a lot of people in our industry have been doing it for a long time. I had a scarlet letter on my chest and needed to prove myself.

More often than not, as the new guy, most people were pretty cautious to share information with me. However, as the IT guy, I started to get asked to help explain the technical ins and outs of our equipment to our extended sales team so they could then explain the same information to our dealers and distributors. At first, some of our dealers and distributors would call me up and ask for my help over the phone. As they got a little more comfortable with me their sales reps would ask me to share the information via email that they would then forward on to their customers. Once they trusted my expertise it got to the point where they would cc me on their communication and ask their customers to follow-up with me directly if they had any additional questions. Eventually we worked up to the point where they were asking me to present information directly to potential customers. It was a slow process, but over time this outsider was able to win over the trust of the team.

I’ve used being an “outsider” in the fitness industry to my advantage — it has provided me with the skills, experiences, and a fresh perspective necessary to drive innovation at SportsArt.

Can you share with us how the work you are doing is helping to make a bigger impact in the world? Can you share a story that illustrates that?

SportsArt’s goal has always been to leave the world a better place — through our products, our corporate practices, and our community outreach. The most apparent expression of our values is sustainability. Our ECO-POWR™ line is the world’s first and only energy-generating cardio equipment. Our ECO-NATURAL™ line completely eliminates the need for electricity with self-powered cardio equipment, or significantly reduces electricity usage through our innovative ECO-DRIVE™ energy-efficient motor.

But sustainability is just one of the many ways that we live our values. Our rehabilitation equipment helps patients and individuals who are physically unable to use standard cardio machines. Our equipment assists and enables people to regain or retain their ability to walk and improve their overall physical fitness levels. But beyond the physical aspect, what our rehabilitation equipment truly does is help people envision — and accomplish — what they can do instead of focusing on what they can’t do. We’re making fitness and health available to a broader, more diverse group of people.

Service is another area where we bring our values to life. Our customers feel it in the personal service we provide, the relationships we build and the quality we deliver. Those aren’t just words. That’s the heart of our brand on display every day in everything we do. And while feeling good about working with SportsArt is great, our values aren’t just about emotions.

When we say we serve others, that’s not just lip service. We genuinely listen to our customers’ needs — and then act upon what we learn. I’m reminded of our ECO-POWR™ installation at Penn State Altoona, a commonwealth campus of The Pennsylvania State University is just one example of how go above and beyond to provide exceptional service for our customers. While SportsArt has partnered with other colleges and universities, this was the first college installation that I was personally involved with. I made it a priority to spend a lot of time with the campus recreation director so I could understand his needs and connect how our equipment could ultimately help the college reach its goals. I came to learn that the reason the University chose SportsArt was to show their student body that sustainability was a shared mission across the entire campus. University leadership wanted the rec center not only to be a facility on campus where students, faculty and staff could workout, but it was also an opportunity to educate, promote, advertise and influence students that sustainability is a part of everything on campus.

Being able to be part of this project and help get the message of sustainability out to young up-and-coming professionals was truly inspiring for me. While SportsArt is on a mission to change the world one workout at a time; personally I think it’s important to get the word out as much as possible about the importance of taking care of the planet. Our fitness equipment is just one way to do that.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

One of the most exciting projects we’re working on right now involves eco-tourism. Whether you call it green travel, eco-travel or sustainable travel, whenever someone tries to travel more lightly and in an eco-friendlier way this is considered eco-tourism. In the hospitality sector particularly there’s a growing need to provide amenities to eco-travelers. Currently SportsArt is finalizing an agreement with a multinational hospitality company to become their preferred fitness equipment provider. Once finalized, our ECO-POWR™ line of fitness equipment could be available at over 5,000 properties across North America and Europe. Together we’re providing guests with innovative solutions for their wellness experiences while they explore new and unfamiliar environments.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

First and foremost, I believe a successful leader needs patience — patience with people and with your own progress. Webster’s dictionary defines patience as, “the quality of being capable of bearing affliction calmly.” It can be one of the easiest things to talk about, however it can be extremely difficult to practice patience. If I’m being honest, when I look back over the course of my career, because of my military training and experience in eCommerce, over the years I would get frustrated because things would move as fast as I wanted them to. Eventually I realized that everyone has different ways of working and processing information and that’s OK. Taking this step back I was able to be more in tune with whoever I was working with and support them in the best way possible.

Secondly, to be a successful leader you need to love what you do. Let’s face it if you don’t love what you do it’s work and work sucks. When you’re excited about your career, you don’t think about the effort and time you’re putting in every day. It’s not a struggle; you love the outcome of what your task is. As a leader in particular, when you love what you do, your passion wears off on others. Your employees begin to exude the same passionate energy.

Last but not least, to be a successful leader you need to trust your team. When your employees feel appreciated and know that their contributions matter, you’re not only able to redirect your focus elsewhere, but you also help your team achieve their highest levels of productivity and effectiveness. After all, the entire concept behind a team is being able to depend on each other and working in a low trust environment is a complete drag while working in a high trust environment can feel like a real high. Who wants to work around people they can’t trust or worse yet people who don’t trust them!

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. Wellness is an incredibly broad topic. How would you define the term “Wellness”? Can you explain what you mean?

People often think about wellness in terms of physical health — nutrition, exercise, weight management, etc., but it is so much more. For me, wellness means being in the state of good physical and mental health. Good mental health can positively affect your physical health. In return, poor mental health can negatively affect your physical health. Think about it, if you have a stomach flu, the last thing you want to do is join a business meeting. Conversely, If you’re stressed at work and working on several projects that are on a tight deadline, the last thing you want to do is find time for a workout. Mental and physical health are fundamentally linked, and when they work together, you’re able to become the best kind of person that your potential, circumstances, and fate will allow.

As an expert, this might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Can you please share a few reasons with our readers about why focusing on our wellness should be a priority in our lives?

I believe wellness matters because everything we do and every emotion we feel relates to our well-being. There are studies out there that show that happier people have a higher immune system, fewer chronic pain conditions, are unlikely to experience a fatal accident, and have a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease. Happy people also tend to be healthier people and healthier people tend to be more physically active and socially connected, two key factors that further contribute to overall health and well-being — AND generate positive emotions. In this way, happiness, physical exercise, and social connection work together to create an upward-spiral. Our wellness and well-being directly affects our actions and emotions. It’s an ongoing circle. Therefore, it is important for everyone to achieve optimal wellness in order to subdue stress, reduce the risk of illness and ensure positive interactions.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increasingly growing understanding of the necessity for companies to be mindful of the wellness of their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, can you share steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees’ mental and physical wellness?

This pandemic has taught us many tough lessons. We’ve learned how precious life is, how much we depend on interpersonal interaction, and how much well-being ripples into every aspect of employees’ work lives. Early on the leadership team at SportsArt recognized that things got pretty hectic at an accelerated pace, so we made a swift decision to announce there would be no layoffs or furloughs from COVID. We wanted our employees to know their well-being mattered more to us than the bottom line.

Our decision was beyond making sure our employees could make ends meet, we wanted to do anything we could to ease their stress during this difficult time. We were happy knowing they were able to keep paying bills and taking care of their families and it helped us in the long run. During this time, we pulled together and looked at this as an opportunity to catch up our competition or finish projects that have been put on the back burner.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Health and Wellness Industry”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

This goes along with what I was just saying, your number one priority should be your employees. They are more than just a number — when you care for them, they know and they’re more invested in you. At SportsArt we care about each and every one of our employees. In fact, we view our people as an extension of our business, they are our friends and our family, and we want them to know that we’re in this together.

Since COVID and shifting to a work from home environment, a lot of companies have struggled with keeping that close connection with their teams. When you see someone every day and have built a rapport, it’s easy to notice when they’re having an off day; however, it’s much harder to read people over Zoom. I encourage you to reach out, not as a manager or a company leader, but as a friend. You never know how much a text or Facebook message or casual email just to let someone know you’re there can make a difference in their day. This is something I practice with my team and I’m proud I’m able to be there for our employees, both personally and professionally.

Second, be patient. As we talked about earlier, if you’re not patient you’ll just stress yourself out more. When I lived in LA, I only worked about 23 miles away from my house, but it probably took me an hour to get to work every day. And every day I would weave in and out of traffic trying to cut down on the time for my commute. But then it hit me — why use time and energy stressing about a situation I can’t change. Instead, I decided to take a breath, put on some good music or call someone and took a moment to enjoy the extra time. Life is hard enough, don’t make it harder on yourself.

Next, take the time to really listen to people — when you hear them out you can uncover great ideas.

Listening shows respect and regard for the people you work with. It helps to build rapport and demonstrates that you care about others and what they have to say.

Listening broadens your perspective and helps you accumulate important information. One of the first few projects I had at SportsArt involved upgrading our Enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which probably hadn’t been touched in at least eight years, and this was a system that almost everyone uses within the company. Working on the project, I thought I had all my bases covered and while II gathered input from the entire team, before I pushed the new system live, I happened to ask a long-time employee if he thought there was anything we missed or if he had any suggestions. And he recommended that we create a shortcut for this process because that would save us a small amount of time during calls — we crunched the numbers, and this one simple suggestion ended up saving the company 200 work hours at the end of the year! And had we not asked the question; he might have never brought up this genius idea.

Fourth, I believe these go hand in hand — practice what you preach and lead by example. A leader doesn’t sit behind their computer barking orders, but rather, a true leader gets out there, stands with their team, and gets their hands dirty. A great example of how I bring this practice to life is by attending trade shows. I don’t have to be at the trade show until it starts, but as a company leader I arrive early and help set up our booth and the machines. I’m out there with our setup team carrying treadmills, running wiring, and getting dirty right alongside everybody else. I’ve been told that it motivates our teams when they see me out there sweating and pushing through when I’m just as tired and exhausted as they are. By rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty, I’m able to show my team I’m versatile, flexible, and not afraid of hard work.

Last but not least, don’t feel like you have to do what everyone else is doing — be confident enough to take calculated risks. I like being on the forefront of things. Being a little edgy is OK in my book, because if you’re leading while on the edge that means everyone else is going to follow. That’s not to say that approach doesn’t come with some failures, but you’re going to learn from those failures and if you’re doing things right, you’re going to learn what part to improve on even if it wasn’t successful.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would promote the most wellness to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could start a movement, I would encourage people to be vulnerable when it comes to their health and wellness journey. I realize that vulnerability is not for the faint of heart. It requires an enormous amount of courage to share personal things about yourself, to allow yourself to be fully seen, and to put yourself out there. But recently, I’ve been inspired by the vulnerability my friends have exhibited on social media by posting progress photos of their fitness journeys.

As scary and uncomfortable as it is, the more vulnerable you allow yourself to be, the more powerful you can feel. Vulnerability is saying I choose courage over perfection and choose to fail and fall time and time again just so that I can learn about the person I am becoming. There’s also something very liberating about vulnerability. It’s honest, raw, and there’s no pretending that things need to be perfect. I think if more people were comfortable with being vulnerable and shared their progress, we could have a much healthier world — mentally and physically.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Out of the millions of people I could have lunch with the first people that came to mind were the Obamas. Personally, I can relate to the story of their upbringing. I find how they pushed through adversity and remained calm and positive extremely admirable — it takes a lot of courage to be better than others and rise above.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can visit our company website for the latest company information or follow us on social media.

  • Instagram: @GoSportsArt
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  • Twitter: @GoSportsArt

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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