Grow Your Business and Leadership Expertise by Building Relationships Early

The Atlantic Club COO Kevin McHugh takes us back in time, sharing the one piece of leadership advice he wishes he had when starting out in the fitness industry.

The Lessons in Fitness Leadership series highlights IHRSA’s industry leaders and thanks them for their continued commitment to growing, promoting, and protecting the health club industry. By sharing their business expertise, we hope that you will get to know them, what they've learned along the way, and how they view leadership.

Leadership Atlantic Club Column

Kevin McHugh
The Atlantic Club

What is the most fulfilling part of being a business leader in the fitness industry?

In particular, I think it is our direct ability to enhance the lives of all people of all ages and fitness levels. This is a unique premise when compared to other industries.

It is also being able to build future leaders in this industry. When they are able to understand that they can make a difference in the lives of people at the club and in the community—whether it’s through programming that supports research and treatment for breast cancer, ALS, or another cause—getting leaders involved with these initiatives can really help change the world. It’s amazing to see the connections that people in this industry have. We’re all working toward doing good, and the passion that these people have can be multiplied many times over.

If you were able to go back in time, what is one piece of leadership advice you would have given your younger-self about working in the fitness industry?

From day one, Patricia Laus—the owner and founder of The Atlantic Club—was always involved with IHRSA and upon joining The Atlantic Club 24 years ago, I was also fortunate to be also extensively involved with IHRSA. Early in my career, I remember coming up to Boston and having breakfast with John McCarthy. Prior to our meeting, I thought the industry might be too small to get involved with, but he sold me on the fact that it was a unique industry, unlike any other. He had a big vision for the industry, its growth, and its advancement.

Going back in time, I didn’t develop enough relationships with people in the industry early in my Atlantic Club career. During the course of the last 10 years, with Pat’s vision that involved Augie’s Quest, I really became extensively involved in Augie’s Quest and other initiatives where I began meeting many other club operators and owners within IHRSA. Then I slowly started meeting people that had clubs similar to The Atlantic Club and then meeting another 30, 40, 50 people that these people knew. I’ve accomplished much more during this time period because of the relationships built over this tenure.

And, I would add that it is important to get involved with organizations that are progressive and forward thinking and build relationships with them.

What prompted you to join the Industry Leadership Council (ILC)?

Pat [Laus] has always been an IHRSA advocate. We were involved in the ILC from the moment it was founded. The reason we got involved was because we knew we should. It’s an association that is there to help you protect your business. It doesn’t help IHRSA. It helps the clubs that are part of IHRSA. I believe it’s important that clubs contribute to the ILC not only in dollars, but in time. The people that belong to the ILC are those that “Show Up” and “Make a Difference.” We are always in need of more people to show up.

“It’s amazing to see the connections that people in this industry have. We’re all working toward doing good, and the passion that these people have can be multiplied many times over.”

Kevin McHugh, COO

The Atlantic Club

What has been your most memorable experience as part of the ILC?

About five years ago, I got a call from Amy [Bantham] to meet with a state legislator in New Jersey. I agreed to go visit this unhappy legislator’s office in Trenton. When we arrived, she expressed a situation that had happened to her mother at a health club when she changed her membership.

The legislator wrote a bill that could’ve easily gotten passed, but we knew that the issue in question was one that was based on a miscommunication and could be easily resolved without passing this bill that would take it out of proportion and cause harm to clubs in the state.

We needed the protectionism, so I told the legislator that I would send her examples of why this bill would be bad for clubs and why she should reconsider. She took the time to read what I sent her and in a week’s time, she contacted me saying she was not going to go through with the proposal.

The meeting we had was simple, quick, and made an impact. It made such a difference that IHRSA acted quickly and was able to speak with her from the perspective of a club operator.

The Personal Health Investment Today Act, or PHIT, is legislation that would make access to physical activity more affordable. How will passage of this bill help America get fit?

I believe what it will do is it will give the industry a platform to use PHIT as an advertisement to get people to “MOVE MORE.” Clubs will benefit from the common message that “we need to exercise more” by helping members apply PHIT to club memberships, personal training services, etc. We must look at PHIT as a marketing opportunity as well as the right thing to do in getting more people active in the community and then active at clubs.

PHIT will benefit people and will give us a real opportunity to move the industry forward, reach beyond the 18% of people that this industry serves, and acknowledge Washington for rewarding people for staying healthy.

IHRSA does a significant amount of advocacy work to Grow, Promote and Protect clubs across the country. How do you feel that work benefits your business or the industry at large?

I believe that the ILC is the most valuable component of IHRSA, and unfortunately, it suffers from a lack of involvement from most IHRSA clubs. What people don’t realize is that if they don’t support ILC, they are not helping themselves. The list of clubs that are trying to impact the entire industry should be longer than one piece of paper. It should make up volumes.

IHRSA clubs need to realize that they need to support the ILC because it supports them. Regardless of what the contribution amount is, all clubs should be donating in order to help themselves.

There is also a great ILC track that IHRSA provides to ILC members at the IHRSA conference. Every year, we take advantage of the track to meet people in the industry, strengthen relationships with them, and have good conversations.

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Shannon Vogler

Shannon Vogler is an avid fitness consumer who uses her creative abilities to craft beautiful content for health and wellness businesses. She offers a variety of digital marketing services that aim to promote the importance of an active body and mind. When she’s not working, Shannon enjoys lifting, running, and cheering for the New England Patriots.