When Maurice Levine of Anytime Fitness talks about his work, it’s clear that it’s more than just a job for him. With passion and enthusiasm, the Master Franchisee of Asia operates the region’s largest and fastest-growing fitness franchise and says the company believes in a "sacred mission" to get people well, change lives, make franchisees money and have fun along the way.
The business has seen exponential growth since our interview in 2017, and Maurice is confident the future will see even greater opportunities. Here, he discusses his take on leadership, motivation and what it’s like working for an exploding business, from empowering his franchisees and collaborating with his team and vendor partners, to non-stop travel.
The CEO Magazine: What progress has the company made since we last spoke?
Maurice: It has been a never-ending cycle of fast growth, positivity and change. Anytime Fitness is now the number-one gym operator in Asia. We have sold approximately 800 gyms throughout the region.
We’re now in the process of forming a partnership in China, and we’ve opened up two new countries since our last conversation: Thailand and Indonesia. And we’re now 150 gyms strong in the Philippines and with that speedy growth, we had to adapt and evolve to facilitate the incredible demand for Anytime Fitness in Asia.
How would you describe the company culture?
First, we don’t take ourselves so darn seriously. We like to have fun. Having the discipline to head to the gym and looking after your nutrition and wellbeing is hard work.
It’s much easier to laze about and eat sweets and not consider the gym as a priority. We want to get people into the gym; we want people to think differently about working out.
We have to remove the intimidation factor, which is much of the challenge when people come into the gym for the first time. For some, it can be scary and uncomfortable. What we try to do is break down the barriers and make it social, exciting and fun, plus we offer classes and have great coaches to support our members in achieving their goals.
"To look now at all our franchisees who have succeeded – I’m very, very proud."
We try to entice people into the gym, then we deploy the very best experts, equipment, technology and resources to get them to stay with us for the long term.
In the end, our committed and expert team, including the very best Personal Trainers, take mutual responsibility and partner with our members to achieve their wellness aims so they can feel better for themselves and for their family and loved ones.
That’s what we focus on. Our culture is founded on the principles of fun and inclusion, and we have a growth mindset.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
There are many factors. We embrace four pillars: people, purpose, profits and play and that supports, underpins and guides us every day. My driver is empowering franchisees to make emotional returns on investment by helping members while also making financial returns.
Our franchise ecosystem is made up of passionate and well-intentioned people that are all on hand to help people. If I can be a conduit for that activity and also future-proof the business, I’ve done my job well and I am on the right course.
I also particularly love meeting members who have achieved their goals. They are so grateful and gracious with praise for Anytime Fitness, but I try to remove the focus on our role and, instead, I remind them that it was their hard work, dedication and commitment to their fitness journey, and that Anytime Fitness is always here to help harness their power and help with activation energy and expertise.
So, rather than honouring us, they should be very proud of their achievements, celebrate their own victory and pat themselves on the back.
How about your approach to management?
It varies, depending on who I manage. If they’re my team members, I put a lot of responsibility and accountability on them. I always ask them to never settle and always challenge themselves to do more and do better in supporting our franchisees and protecting our ecosystem.
I go to sleep and wake up thinking about how I can drive greater opportunity, profitability and joy for our stakeholders. I have the privilege of working with great people who take their responsibilities very, very seriously.
"I go to sleep and wake up thinking about how I can drive greater opportunity, profitability and joy for our franchisees."
I don’t lead by standing on a soapbox and yelling orders. For me, it’s just about having the right diagnostic conversations and learning from one another as we go through this journey together.
A great leader is someone who listens and is always curious, energised, passionate, emboldened and never truly comfortable with the status quo.
What motivates you to do what you do?
I am constantly moving around Asia and I find it very exciting as I travel that I am continually passing Anytime Fitness gyms wherever I go. The other day, I was travelling from the airport in Manila and I spotted eight gyms – where only a few years ago, there were none.
What drives and motivates me is empowering people and watching this amazing journey unfold, and that each gym that I pass and every future Anytime Fitness gym that has yet to be built will help more people and make franchisees money in the process.
What makes Anytime Fitness stand out from its competitors?
This might be strange to hear, but I don’t feel we have competitors in the market. There’s less than a 3% penetration rate of gym goers in Asia, so about 97% of people don’t have a gym membership.
Do I have competitors or do I have industry partners out there that are all looking to help people achieve their wellness goals? The high tide floats all boats – so the more gyms in the market, the greater the exposure and opportunity for the consumer – this is a good thing.
Therefore, I think I have partners. My greatest competitor is apathy, sedentary, poor lifestyle choices and an unhealthy diet.
We are focusing our attention and energy not on other fitness operators, but on what we can do differently to get people into the gym and to keep them coming back.
What is your greatest achievement so far?
Becoming the number-one gym operator in Asia in only a few years when all others thought we would fail. When we first went into Asia, we were met with great resistance and immense challenges.
Many said, "You can’t open up a 24-hour gym business," and that the model wouldn’t work in Asia. Some even tried to impede our progress. A lot of other gym operators were closing while we were starting up, which created discord and disharmony in the industry.
Moreover, we were the first and only 24-hour networked gym in Asia – and still are – and there was only limited infrastructure that existed for us in Asia to operationalise and systemise our development and growth.
"To look now at all our franchisees who have succeeded – I’m very, very proud."
What are your interests outside of work?
I like to travel. If I didn’t, I’d be in trouble; I’m in a perpetual state of motion. Today, I’m in the Philippines, tomorrow I’ll be in Hong Kong and then I’m off to Thailand. I’ve had the privilege of operating in and working in Australasia for more than 30 years now.
I’ve always felt lucky that I can combine my love of travel with work. I enjoy the cultures and food. As I get around, I eat, drink and celebrate my life with the locals. It’s a privilege. Plus, I hit the gym; it relieves my stress.
I have to walk the walk and talk the talk. The other thing I find critically important is being social. I choose to be social with my franchisees, my team members, my partners – whoever they are. If I can meet, talk to and listen, then walk away having learned more, that’s great.
Where are you based?
I’m primarily based on any given 747. I have a place in Singapore, which is my primary residence, but I have a place in Shanghai and one in the Philippines. There’s no fixed abode, as such.
What drives me is the value of being able to move around and having the freedom to connect with people wherever I am. That’s home for me.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
That a man is a combination of character and heart. I try to lead with love, and character is important to me. As long as I stick to my ethics and my moral compass, who I am as a person and what I stand for, and I show my authentic self, lead with heart, and practice love and care, then whoever comes into my world is either influenced by that, or they move on. So be it.
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