For my YPO Spotlight series, I had the amazing opportunity to sit down and interview: Jennifer Vaughan Maanavi, CEO and Cofounder of Physique 57
Jennifer Maanavi is an accomplished entrepreneur and thought leader with more than 20 years of success across the health and wellness, fitness, and financial services industries. Jennifer co-founded Physique 57 in 2006. The company has 13 fitness studios in six countries, a rapidly growing global on-demand business and a U.S. franchise program. As a respected thought leader in her field, Jennifer is a frequent speaker on business and entrepreneurship and has been featured on media outlets including Bloomberg TV, Fox Business, the New York Times, and Inc. In addition, she is a guest lecturer at Columbia Business School.
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Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In my 20s, I worked on Wall Street and earned my MBA from Columbia Business School. I thought that I would stay on the banking track forever. That is, until I completely changed my mind over night!
While I was working 10-12 hours days at Morgan Stanley, I became a devotee of the local fitness studio named The Lotte Berk Method. This studio taught a rigorous, highly effective, strength training class that over time, completely transformed my body and more importantly, my mind set. The weight loss and sculpting results were fast, but a more important change occurred. I gained more self-confidence, tenacity and overall perseverance during my three-time-a-week habit over five years. I also witnessed other women miraculously transform physically and mentally at The Lotte Berk Method. I learned for the first time that women could derive pride, power and mental strength from good health and strong bodies.
The Lotte Berk Method closed its doors abruptly in 2005, and I was intent on keeping its mission alive. In just a few days, I chose to exit the corporate world for the chance to team up with Tanya Becker, a star Lotte Berk instructor, to create Physique 57. The rest is history.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It is easier to laugh at a mistake in retrospect! Most of our funniest mistakes came from taking our “Physique 57 Show” on the road. In addition to teaching classes 24/7 in 13 studios worldwide, we’ve taught the method at conferences and hotels throughout the U.S. and as far away as Hong Kong. Undoubtedly there is a snafu that catches us by surprise.
The method only requires light weights and a small exercise ball, and this little ball has caused a lot of grief over the last 13 years! From time to time, for a variety of reasons, we don’t have the right tools to blow up our inflatable balls when we are on the road. About 10 years ago at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Conference in D.C., we had no way to inflate 50 of our exercise balls. We learned of this dilemma late in the evening and class for conference attendees was at 6 a.m. the following day. The conference team and ours scrambled for solutions, and ultimately, I personally roamed the aisles of Target close to midnight to find the right ball pumps. This may not seem like such a nail biter, but when 50 of the most powerful women in the U.S. want a tough Physique 57 class, we need our balls ready for action!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our consistent life-enhancing, empowering client experience is our most unique selling proposition. With classes around the world, I am always striving for clients to receive the attention, care and encouragement they need to fight through a challenging Physique 57 class. I recently received these uplifting words from a client in Bangkok, which sums up what we do better than most. The client: “To my surprise, over the last month or so I have become a complete addict to barre even though I am clumsy, inflexible and terribly uncoordinated. And it’s all because of the phenomenal teachers at Physique 57 Bangkok. They switch effortlessly between Thai and English, always check and correct everyone’s form, and are absolutely inspirational. I took dozens of different classes … before settling on Physique 57 because the teachers were the only ones I found who really cared consistently about making sure that everyone had the right form and felt comfortable and empowered during the classes. By taking regular classes at Physique 57, I have begun to regain my sense of self after an intense twin pregnancy and feel myself getting stronger and more poised every day. Can’t thank the team enough.”
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We launched our U.S. franchise program in 2019, which has been very exciting. When Tanya, my co-founder, and I founded the company in 2005 we agreed on a handful of very important basic tenets. We will treat our team with care and compassion; we will grow the company with a compass, not a clock; and we will bring the beloved exercise technique to women around the world. We have stayed true to all three.
While we have expanded to Dubai, Bangkok, Mumbai, Manila and Riyadh, we have not expanded nationally. Now is our time to share the world renown method with women across America. Demand is higher than ever.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- While growth is exciting for the founders, it may bring some fear to your team and even clients, if they don’t see how they fit into the growth plan. When we launched Physique 57 in 2006, we were an instant hit and growth was inevitable. We opened on 57th Street and then opened more studios in a just a few years. It became clear during these fun yet chaotic years that our staff and clients were concerned that we would lose quality, efficiency and the personal touch we were known for. For example, when we announced our LA opening, we received calls from numerous internal and external stakeholders curious to understand how this evolution would affect them.
- As a founder, you will be the face of the business. When we started out, I was surprised by the press’s interest in me as a business owner and female entrepreneur. Naively, I thought that the press would be focused on our product. Consumers want to know the story and people behind the brand. Founders need to be comfortable sharing parts of their personal lives with the masses, especially these days.
- Saying “no” is 10 times harder and more important than saying “yes.” With popularity comes options. This is great news until you’ve committed to more than the company can handle. We enthusiastically said yes to many opportunities that often lead us down the wrong path or added unwanted complexity. We’ve learned to say no to whatever isn’t critically important to executing our strategy.
- The company’s organizational chart is beautiful mix of art and science. At every stage of a company’s growth, creating the right roles and filling them with the right people is basically your No. 1 priority. I have drawn and redrawn our org chart on an annual basis and this practice has led to massive changes in roles, reporting structure and, ultimately, better execution. At Physique 57, the org chart is a living document.
- External vendors need more oversight and attention than your own employees. When I first started, I thought that hiring consultants and agencies meant that I would “set it and forget it. I figured that these professionals would deliver their scope of work flawlessly, on time, with a smile. Wrong. I now truly partner with my external vendors. It’s a partnership that needs two way communication, deadlines, check-ins, feedback and oversight.
What is the value of a professional network?
CEOs have a tremendous responsibility to build a strong professional network to support the need all companies have for new ideas, new contacts, feedback and exploration. My YPO network is especially essential as Physique 57 grows its studios, media business and franchise program. I am constantly growing and nurturing my network thinking about what I can give back, before I make an ask. My network has a positive effect on the business, and me personally, in countless ways.