Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?
Ben: I never graduated from college. I was also on unemployment a number of times as well as food stamps back when I was getting started in the fitness industry. I’ve always looked at challenges like those as things that should motivate you, not hold you back.
Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Ben: I learned the fitness business from the very bottom up. That’s not an exaggeration: My first job in the industry was cleaning gym machines. Since then I’ve worked in pretty much every role and every type of club, and gained my knowledge through experience along the way.
During that time I have run into almost every kind of failure you can imagine. I have made so many mistakes, bombed so many times. But I’ve also set records at every company I’ve worked for, and have helped build some incredible businesses.
Through it all, I’ve found that in any negotiation, no matter who it’s with, you want to make sure that your goal is fair and balanced for both sides. Then everyone involved can walk away feeling good about the relationship.
If you build your world that way, you create a strong culture that can weather more things. People don’t want to feel like the next time they’ll deal with you, that you’ll be out to beat them. That’s not the goal: You want everyone to win along the way.
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Ben: Put your ego last. That doesn’t mean you have to be so humble that you don’t stand up for yourself, but if you can’t check your ego, that’s going to be your biggest issue.
It’s also really important to always seek to understand the other person first, in any business interaction. Consider everything that the other person says, and form your opinion after that, not before you walk into the room.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Ben: Be humble, be driven, be fair.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Ben: In terms of guiding principles, Aristotle’s virtues to live by are tough to beat. I even have these on our wall at home for our kids to see and read. Tom Morris summarized them like this:
Courage – a commitment to do what’s right despite the threat of danger
Temperance – a rational moderation and proper self-restraint in our pleasures
Liberality – a freedom of giving to others what can be of help to them
Magnificence – a capacity for acting on a grand scale
Pride – a true sense of honor and worthiness
Good temper – an inner calm manifested by appropriate outward behavior
Friendliness – the demeanor of treating others convivially and sociably
Truthfulness – a strong disposition toward honesty in all things
Wittiness – the ability to see and express humor appropriately
Justice – the fundamental disposition of treating others well and fairly
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Ben: When it comes to philanthropic activities, you really have to focus on doing good where you think the most good is needed. There are so many things people need help with nowadays, and the most important thing is just to be involved somehow. I think not being involved is taking your own success for granted. It doesn’t have to be money, it can be time, sometimes time is much more valuable and rewarding but in any respect you need to play your part in helping others.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?
Ben: This isn’t very surprising but I’m a bit of an exercise fanatic. I guess I kind of have to be! I love skiing, boating, fishing, shooting – pretty much any outdoor activities and of course doing them with my family is as good as it gets!
Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Ben: Just be consistent. Don’t change your approach over time. If you’re operating under a strong set of values, don’t let that be shaken. In the long term, that’s how you’re going to be remembered. Too many people break, compromise too early. Life’s too short for that. Have patience, have courage, have a long-term view.
Oh also: If you have kids, spend as much time as you possibly can with them! They’re not going to be kids forever. Don’t be so consumed by work that you neglect the most important thing in life, your family.