My first anonymous jobtalk so far. The general manager (GM) of a thriving fitness club chain shares his career path and gives an honest perspective of what it’s like to be a GM in a corporate, sales-driven business. Check this interview out if you are interested in sales or management.
Title: General Manager
Education: B.S. Sports Management, West Virginia University, 2003
What was your first job after college?
I was a regional event director for soccer tournaments. Basically, I was given 10 events, and I had to build them up from the ground up using grassroots marketing. I did this for a year, then the company went bankrupt.
Oh no! Were you bummed out?
Yeah, it was a really fun job. I got to travel around the country and see a lot of different things. What it boiled down to is that the company bit off a lot more than they could chew. They thought doing a certain quantity of events over quality was going to make them money, but it didn’t work out.So where did you go from there?
From there, I was unemployed for a bit.
I know what that’s like!
I was living in Denver, Colorado, and I loved it. But I couldn’t find a job. There were mainly tech jobs out there at that time. And I was young, so I didn’t have my head on straight. When I was looking at jobs, I only thought about taking a job that I wanted to do, instead of getting a job to get my foot in the door and work my way up somewhere. So I came back to New Jersey (where I was born and raised), and got a job through a friend running football camps for kids with NFL players. That was another position where the business got hit hard by the economy. The company went from 15 employees to 4. I was not one of the four.
What did you do after that?
At that point, I was doing the same thing the first time I was unemployed where I was only looking for jobs that I wanted, ‘cause now I had done events and marketing and I thought, “You know what, this is a lot of fun.” I wasn’t looking at the fact that most of those jobs are with small start-up companies and you don’t know what you’re going to get.
But you ended up at this fitness club instead at another event planning job, right?
Yeah, I applied to work at this chain. I didn’t have enough management experience, so the human resources director recommended that I start as a membership consultant, which means sales.
What was that like?
Being a membership consultant was challenging. One day you can make 5 sales, the next day zero. I used the marketing experiences that I had as well as what I did with the football camps and learned the sales processes along the way. It took me 3-4 months to hit full stride. Coming in, I made it known that I wanted to get into a management position, so the management came up with a road map of how I could accomplish that; after 9 months in sales, I was promoted to an assistant manager.
What did you learn as an assistant manager that prepared you for the role you’re in now?
I learned what goes on behind the scenes of the management team. One thing I learned is that it is important to know about areas that you need to improve on and then verbalize that to someone you know can help you. A lot of times people don’t want to say anything because they think it holds you back.
So you were an assistant manager for 15 months and then got promoted to a GM?
What are your responsibilities as a GM?
I’m responsible for profit and loss management – many factors go into that. I have to oversee one other manager who oversees the fitness department. I had to learn a lot about that; I didn’t come in with a fitness background. The more I learned about it, the more I was able to lead him effectively. I also have to maintain the overall logistics of the facility (maintenance and renovations) and communicate with the employees and the members. You have to make sure that people know about changes and that they’re communicated clearly. I do a lot of paperwork that nobody sees, which takes a lot of time. You have to always be available for customers and employees and to have that open door—even if you’re having a rough day you have to push whatever you’re dealing with to the side.
Describe your typical day.
Chaos and disorder. You come in with a game plan and it gets thrown for a loop by so many other things. You know, with a 30K square foot facility things pop up all the time. You can walk in with a full slate of tasks and things are going to pop up that need to be addressed right away. But realistically, I come in and do my administration work, then look at sales. When employees come in we have group meeting and individual meetings. Then I respond to facility or customer issues. I put aside time each day to source for new members and new employees and to do interviews and phone screens. I also talk with members and employees – shaking hands, kissing babies whatever you want to call it. As the day ends, I plan what I need to do for the next day; throughout the day I have to roll up numbers to my boss; and there’s always a lot of paperwork to do at any hour.
Is this a 9 – 5 job?
No. We are scheduled for 9 hrs a day with 1 hour for lunch, which never happens. I do the best I can to balance my work/personal life schedule, but it’s hard. If you aren’t having success, the first inclination is to be here; but you also have to show you trust the team.
What skills have you learned or improved by doing this job?
Conflict resolution. Whether there’s a problem with members or between employees, problems come up on a daily basis. You also have to be an excellent communicator. The industry is always changing, so you have to be able to communicate that vision and make employees and customers comfortable with the changes.
What is challenging about management?
Having difficult conversations with employees who are under-performing. Not getting caught up in the moment is also difficult. Even when you make changes for the better, people are going to give you feedback that they’re upset. For example, we could replace on old machine with a new one, and someone will be upset because he always used it. But you have to learn how to not get caught up in an emotional reaction to complaints and mishaps, so you can continue to do your job.
What’s exciting about your job?
What I like is the fact that I get to be a coach of a team. And that you can make the slightest difference in your employee’s lives…. sometimes it’s the message that you have to give when you’re firing them or the day-to-day messages of how they can improve. Or, it could be just helping to teach necessary life skills that will help an employee who’s going to college.
What advice do you have for someone that’s looking to get into a management position such as this one?
Never stop learning. You’re going to have to put your time in. Be patient in waiting for a potential position and also with the people that you work with; you don’t necessarily need to go to college for a position like this; retail management is a place where you can put the hard work in and become a manager; if you’re looking for a management position in the higher ranks and you’re going to school, then go to class! I didn’t realize that there was a lot to be learned when I was in college. If I had learned more in college, I could have applied it to my job now instead of having to learn certain things on-the-job. Communicate. Talk with people about what your goals are and look within yourself for ways to improve. It’s easy for me to tell someone how to improve, but a person should look within and do self assessment.
What skills do you need to be able to do your job?
You need to be personable. You also need the ability to make quick decisions with little information and the ability to make big decisions with a lot of information. You need to be organized. I get interrupted on what I’m working on all the time. You need to be able to go right back to working on the job that you were doing when you got interrupted and not get sidetracked or else things get left undone. You need basic knowledge of Microsoft Office; you have to be an expert about your business; you need to know the ins and outs about it so you can give a compelling message to new members and existing members.
What kind of person shouldn’t try to do your job?
If you don’t like people, there’s no reason to be doing this.