Leadership Series by Ali Parnian
Published October 1, 2018 in the Phoenix Business Journal
I had the opportunity to meet with Tom Hatten, CEO of Mountainside Fitness, who started off in 1991 with a single location in Ahwatukee when he was a 23-year-old junior at Arizona State University. Today, Mountainside Fitness is the largest locally owned health club chain in Arizona, with 17 fitness centers across the Valley. Hatten spoke to me about how important alignment and culture are to his company's success.
What does alignment mean to you?
It is the commonality between all of our locations to ensure the culture, and the consistency of all as well as the functionality of both, are in alignment with each other. This is something we have seen throughout our growth. They both need to happen to a singular outcome.
Why is it important to you?
Consistency to the end consumer is vitally important. We have such a high volume of people that our strength is to win the war on Controllable as I call it for us that’s a big win. We like to concentrate on what we can control first at its highest level, before taking our energy concerning ourselves in what our competitors are doing.
When parts of your organization are misaligned, what do you observe? What is the impact?
If the misalignment is because of operations, (staying on task to the core principles) we may see an attrition in members. It just means we need to work harder in training our staff members to embrace the same objectives. It’s a never-ending process of staying aware of ourselves to stay aligned.
How do you drive alignment to the organization?
I have learned over the last 28 years that it is important to bring in people that understand the culture and want to fit into that culture. If more of us carry the flag so to speak we become stronger and the brand grows.
What does culture mean to you?
Culture is the soul of the company and I believe allows the company to have staying power. We created a culture that is very low pressure. Not a “salesy” culture for our operating clubs. Progressive, clean, and being fun with no pressure. We built a brand because of our culture and those four items. When I walk into a club I want our staff to have fun, I want them to be talking to members, that is what they are paid to do, and they really enjoy their jobs and the time they spend at work.
If employees are consistently happy, having fun, and the clubs are clean and progressive the sales will happen without the need for pressure.
How do you drive the culture?
We onboard everyone through our corporate headquarters. We show them videos of our events like our MSF Awards ceremony and other events. We talk about what we look for in an individual and show them “live” the things that are happening in the clubs. We really try to do our best to indoctrinate them into who we are in a short amount of time. We then follow that up with Mountain Side University (MSU) and we orient them on how to do things like answer the phone, greet members etc. This helps them understand exactly what we expect from them.
Do you do strategic planning?
Yes, every club has its own membership & operational goals. Operationally we walk through clubs and grade them on a monthly basis. Memberships are a little easier to measure.
Which area of alignment is the most challenging and why? Strategy, Culture or Leadership?
I believe leadership starts with me and the consistency of the culture and strategies along the way. We learned that in order to execute we need to be very clear on who we are and with over 1,400 employees just that message alone is a full-time job.
Are there any tools you use to drive Strategy?
Health clubs are high volume retail businesses with a membership model. We have a database of all of our current and past members and we use this to learn who we are, where we have been how we are evolving in our membership and where we need to go. That information drives the strategy. We also onboard using MSU and continue the education in MSU because we are always training and always learning.
If you could give advice to a reader that is struggling to align their organization what would it be?
Understand what leadership means to you and how that translates into the other aspects of the company. Whether its culture or strategy so that you know how to hire the right people to fill those roles and manage them. Stay true to your vision, believe in it!
Always be asking yourself if you are doing the best you can and analyzing all of the information you have available to you. It will aid you in your growth and understanding of where you are going.
What is your favorite quote?
Richard Branson said if there are questions that you have been asked that you don’t know the answers to, say “yes” and go figure it out the answer on your own. I feel like this is a lost art due to so much information readily available. 28 years ago, I didn’t know a lot, I just had 2 years in college, no business, economics or finance background, but along the way I had to go figure it out. If I didn’t have the answers, I just said “yes” to myself, and moved forward to get it done.
Like being a parent for the first time and when I had my son, along the way I figured it out. Some people think they can only start a business when they have assumed to figured out everything. I ask them, “Do you love it? Do you have the energy and drive?” If the answer is yes, then they should go and start their business. The rest will come!
Where did your inspiration come from?
It came from the challenge of doing something I didn’t know anything about. I am a challenge driven person I love sports and competition. I liked being in an environment where people were trying to feel better about themselves. In the beginning I always focused more on how people feel versus how they look. I also learned to love business and building a brand. Combining the two was very rewarding. When things were tough my love for business and helping people get healthy and feel better about themselves kept me going.