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Bahram Akradi, founder, chairman, and CEO of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life

A year ago this month, the bottom appeared to drop out of the economy as we knew it. Since then, most of us — businesses and individuals — have been forced to reconsider assumptions and reevaluate some priorities.

Although this process has been incredibly challenging, I can’t help but see it as a good thing. For me, both personally and professionally, this period of reflection has produced a lot of clarity about what matters most. It also catalyzed a re-visioning process that has left me more excited about the future than I’ve ever been.

As the founder of Life Time Fitness, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this company grow rapidly over the past decade, and while that aggressive growth has produced a great deal of satisfaction and excitement, it also produced an equal measure of pressure on our organization and its people.

At times, it felt a little like an adolescent growth spurt — impressive, but not without some attendant awkwardness and leg cramps.

When the shift in the economy obliged us, like many companies, to adjust our growth plan, I initially felt somewhat frustrated and impatient. Every club we build touches thousands of lives in positive ways, so delaying the opening of any new club even slightly always comes with some disappointment for me.

I quickly realized, though, that moving at a more moderate pace also presented some important gifts. Perhaps the most valuable was the opportunity to reintroduce more balance and focus into our efforts.

Rather than funneling so much of our energy into maximizing growth, we got a chance to rethink what kinds of growth really made sense and served our customers’ needs. Rather than looking wide — in terms of geography covered and new clubs opened — we started looking more deeply at what made each of our clubs special, and at what types of programming and amenities seemed to be delivering the best results and satisfaction for our members.

The beauty of this process is that it helped us get clearer about what our members really need from us now — support, education, motivation — and it also reinvigorated our passion for helping people lead healthier lives.

One final piece of clarity that came out of all this for me was that our company’s future growth and evolution must be rooted in sustainability. It’s obvious to us that environmental, social and economic stability go hand in hand, and that as a healthy-way-of-life company, we are inherently called upon to operate in ways that support the health not just of our members, but of our communities and the planet as a whole.

Like many corporate leaders, I have been influenced in this regard by the pioneering work of Ray Anderson, a self-described “former plunderer of the earth” who wound up writing one of the most important treatises on corporate sustainability, Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise — The Interface Model (Peregrinzalla, 1999), about his own company’s extraordinary environmental turnaround.

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