Exos, the fitness brand known for its high-output training programs, has a new boss.
Former Equinox president Sarah Robb O’Hagan, who has been advising Exos’s board since September of last year, will take the reins as chief executive officer, the company said today. She replaces longtime CEO Dan Burns, who will remain on the company’s board. Burns is stepping away from his day-to-day role to care for his wife, who was diagnosed with brain cancer.
New Zealand-born Robb O’Hagan, a health and fitness industry veteran with an eclectic résumé, is an inspired choice to run the Phoenix-based Exos. With about 600 global locations, the 20-year-old company has a reputation as a trainer of elite athletes, but it’s also trying to broaden its appeal in a crowded space populated by the likes of Peloton, SoulCycle, and Mirror. O’Hagan has a track record of driving big changes—notably spearheading a major turnaround at Gatorade in the late 2000s. She’s also held leadership roles at Nike and Virgin Atlantic Airways. More recently, she served as CEO of Flywheel Sports and wrote a book called Extreme You, where she takes aim at the “everyone gets a trophy” ethos of the modern self-esteem movement.
Yesterday, I caught up with Robb O’Hagan and Exos’s founder, Mark Verstegen, to discuss her new role and what it means for the company. Below is an excerpt from our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Fast Company: Sarah, what drew you to Exos?
Sarah Robb O’Hagan: I go way back with Exos to around 2008 when I was leading the turnaround of Gatorade, and that’s was when I first got to meet Mark and the team. That’s when we were essentially trying to position Gatorade back to its core—focusing on athletic performance and young athletic consumers . . . when I was reintroduced to the [Exos] team a few months ago, I was thinking about my next chapter. It was one of those things like, ‘Hey, this is like all of my worlds coming together.’
FC: Mark, do you want to talk about Exos’s founding story, for people who might not know?
Mark Verstegen: I could, but at the same time, I’d probably just simplify it: In a very simple way, we exist to upgrade lives. And our entire Exos brand has resonated by fulfilling that responsibility to our clients. We have a relentless determination to fulfilling that responsibility, to truly understand who they are as people. And then ultimately: How do we take that understanding and develop the most personalized, precise, and efficient game plan for their performance? . . . We’re unbelievably passionate about fulfilling that responsibility by democratizing performance, and no one is better to lead that than Sarah, so we’re really lucky to receive her leadership.
FC: One of the words you see a lot when you read about Exos is the word “elite.” Men’s Fitness called it the “the world’s most elite gym” about three years ago. Does that word still ring accurate? You mentioned democratizing fitness.
MV: It’s funny—and I think Sarah knows this, too—if Exos has ever signed off on anything, then it’s of the utmost respect and humility, because we’re on this Earth to serve, and we do not believe that should only be for the elite. For us, it’s much more about the mindset of those we serve . . . We’ve always served the performer, and that’s a mindset, and we’ve always tried to help those people who have that performer mindset.
SRO: When I think about this notion of being elite, with all the brands that I’ve worked on in sport, we would absolutely serve the most unbelievable high-performing professional athletes on the planet. And the same thing appeals to those who are driven to achieve and perform in their life . . . I’m the least elite-performing athlete on the planet, but I’m very very motivated by things that can help me perform day to day in my life, and I think that’s what excites me about when we take what we do for people from multiple different orientations and we apply it to what we call the “corporate athlete” in the workplace.
FC: What would you say is the biggest change in the fitness industry in the past 10, 15, 20 years?
SRO: Some of the ideas that we have for Exos—to be able to bring this ability to drive performance to a wider audience—I think those are now possible in a way that they just weren’t five to 10 years ago, because of two things: First of all, the technology exists to track basically everything and anything that you put in your body, do with your body, etcetera. But second, I do believe that the consumer, on a very wide scale, has become very engaged in the data. Right now, they’re tracking a lot, but they’re not really sure what to do with it. There’s data and there’s knowlege, and I think what Exos can bring to consumers is, really: How do you make sense out of all this?
FC: It feels like success in that area would also require the consumer’s willingness to be tracked. With the privacy conversation having shifted a bit—say, in the past year or two—do you worry that there may be a shift away from the type of willful data tracking that consumers have not just tolerated but embraced?
SRO: At the end of the day, it’s a very important responsibility of any company like ours to take people’s data with care. For years, we’ve had personal data shared with doctors, practitioners, whatever, and it has been cared for appropriately. And we see ourselves, in terms of serving this population, that we have to do the right thing to protect and care for their data, and ensure that it’s being used to help them in a really positive way.
FC: Sarah, the last time we talked, we discussed the self-esteem movement, and you seemed very passionite about the idea that everyone should not get a trophy just for showing up. It’s been three years since that conversation, and I wonder if you had any thoughts on where the culture has moved since then—more trophies less trophies?
SRO: [Laughs] I’m so glad you asked me that question . . . It’s interesting because I’m studying millennials versus Gen Z, and I’m also raising a bunch of Gen Zers at home. It’s fascinating to me that we’re now at a time where [college-age kids] will actively tell you, ‘no, I don’t want trophies. That whole thing where they used to reward you for just showing up? Yeah, that’s not us.’ I think because it’s been so widely covered in the media, that we are seeing a little bit of a pendulum swing back with Gen Z . . . This is a generation obviously that grew up with the 2008 recession as a pivotal life experience, and I think there’s just a little bit of a shift toward, don’t have expectations other than you’re going to have to work really hard.