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For this CEO, fitness is a family business—and she's working to keep it that way.
(Photo: New York Health and Racquet Club)
(Photo: New York Health and Racquet Club)

Kim Manocherian was just 14 years old in 1973 when her father, Fred, opened the first New York Health and Racquet Club. Forty-one years and eight clubs later, she’s the CEO.

But don’t think she didn’t work her way up.

Manocherian spent her teenage summers at the club working as a receptionist, sales associate, and later club manager. Then, she started at the corporate office after college, working in the public relations and advertising departments before taking leave to raise her family—and ultimately coming back as CEO.

Now, at a time when the fitness world is becoming more and more specialized (and competitive), she’s working to keep the gym’s family feel, in both literal terms (her older son even works with her in the marketing departments), and in terms of creating a true community among members.

We chatted with the fitness family matriarch about the gym’s history, how the workout world has changed, and her current goals.

1. What are your first memories of the club from childhood? Well, I was about 14 years old when the club first opened. I have vivid memories of the construction. The first club was on E. 76th Street. It was such a new idea at the time, to offer fitness as an amenity. I grew up with workout activities at home as well. My father still exercises seven days week. He’s one of those irritating people that’s only fluctuated about four pounds during his entire life. He’s very disciplined.

2. Did you ever think you’d eventually take over running the club? For quite a while I was home raising my kids. It’s actually amazing how parenting skills can cross over to running a business. Listening is really important, and rewarding for good behavior rather than punishing for bad behavior—guiding people through positive reinforcement. So I didn’t always know I’d run the club, but I think parenting in part prepared me for it.

3. How has the club changed since when your dad was running it? A lot has changed. We were the only club of our kind when we first opened. There were gyms, but there was nothing about the lifestyle aspect of fitness at that time. It was very exciting. People loved working there and coming there. It’s a real community. When my dad stopped running them and before I stepped in, someone else ran them in the interim period, and we lost a little bit of that. It became a little more about the business. I now make it a real priority to never let the social part go. All of the directors know most of the members by name. Also, many of the group instructors work at different companies now. We have some instructors that are exclusive. It’s important to me. That’s certainly a way in which the industry has changed.

4. What’s changed in terms of what people want from their workouts from when it first opened? I would say personal training. Forty years ago, there was no such thing as certification for personal training. We had people showing members how to use the Nautilus equipment, but the whole personal training business didn’t exist when we first opened.

5. Is there constant talk of the club at family get-togethers? Certainly lots of dinner chat. There are very few decisions that we make that aren’t emotional. Business is very personal to us. We are aware that we can’t look at it purely as a business, because there’s so much passion in our family for it. —Jamie McKillop

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