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UNITING THE WORLD OF FITNESS
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Health Club Management

Health Club Management

features

Interview: Steve Ward

From ukactive intern to CEO, Steven Ward has been at the helm during a time of explosive growth in the sector. Before he moves on to a fresh challenge at GO Fit, he talks to Kath Hudson about his 12 years with the organisation

By Kath Hudson | Published in Health Club Management 2019 issue 3
Steven Ward
Steven Ward
The amount of change in just the past five years has been enormous. The make up of the top 10 brands is unrecognisable: some of those who considered themselves the market leaders are now gone, replaced by challengers

So, how are you feeling?
Emotional and daunted, but also really excited! It’s the first time I’ve left a job, since I skipped a shift at TGI Friday’s serving tables to get through university. I started at ukactive 12 years ago, as a child!

Why is now the right time to go?
It’s four years since I took the baton from Dave Stalker as CEO. I’ve run my heart out and it’s now a good time to pass it on. We’ve just drawn up the business plan and it was very obvious that there was another four-year cycle about to start, so it was a neat and tidy time to move on.

As well as being a good time for ukactive, it was good for me personally. I was in danger of being a pundit without having been a player, so I’m really looking forward to getting on the pitch.

What have been the most significant developments during your time at ukactive?
The amount of change in the industry in just the past five years has been enormous. The make up of the top 10 brands is unrecognisable: some of those who considered themselves the market leaders are now gone, replaced by challengers.

New market leaders have emerged rapidly, with no legacy or baggage holding them back. We’re seeing innovators everywhere, across borders, and with great investment behind them.

The policy environment is also different, and the sector is now recognised for what it is – the backbone of an active nation. ukactive’s work on physical inactivity has become part of public health policy. We’ve lived through austerity, which has pushed the public sector to the brink in some places and caused significant change, with more to come.

In the wider world, the retail sector’s collapse has led to the opening up of property, allowing the industry to grow at pace. Boutiques, with their high quality engagement, have come on stream in the last five years. There’s never been a more fertile climate for awareness and growth around health and wellbeing.

I never imagined all this would happen. Remember the panic of 2008 when the financial crash happened and there were concerns the industry would implode? But there’s been growth ever since.

What are you most personally proud of about your time at ukactive?
The whole intern to CEO story is pretty cool, I’m proud of that. I know so many CEOs who started as lifeguards, so it shows this is a sector with no glass ceiling: if you’re passionate, tenacious, put the work in and collaborate with people around you then you can go all the way.

Was it daunting to become CEO?
Nothing really prepares you for stepping up to the top job after being part of the team for so long, but the amount of support I had from the members and the board really helped me.

I’m so lucky that I’ve had opportunities to learn from the most amazing people, such as: Harm Tegelaars, Fred Turok, Dave Stalker and Heather Frankham. Great entrepreneurs who gave me so much time. The whole experience has been incredible, especially working with our chair, Tanni (Grey-Thompson) and the team that has been built now. Tanni has given me so much support.

I love this industry because the people are deeply competitive, but there’s also a feeling we’re all on the same team and fighting the same fight. That’s really special.

What have been ukactive’s big achievements during your tenure?
There have been lots of long-lasting positive developments, the publication of Turning the Tide of Inactivity is a major one, as this has changed public health policy. Plus, we’ve built bridges with the NHS – the commitment to social prescribing in the NHS Long Term Plan is an enormous step forward for our industry and something we’ve been calling for in our policy work for years.

All the recent developments around personalised care and personalised care budgets – giving people a budget to manage their own condition – is linked to ukactive’s work. There’s also really exciting stuff happening around digital in the NHS, which could be the opportunity to build a technological bridge.

ukactive has diversified to welcome many new members and build new partnerships. In an average day you could be talking to a CEO of a major chain, meeting a top official in NHS England, out with local government, or with Transport for London, to see if they’ll support National Fitness Day by getting more people walking on their commute.

As we’ve become a campaigning movement, in addition to being a trade association, the organisation has evolved. We’re seeing more brands getting involved, major third-sector bodies and charities, and NGBs that are much keener to collaborate with the core sector.

ActiveLab (ukactive’s accelerator programme) is another success, and a world first. We’ve had 200 start-ups engaged, with applications from 14 countries this year. Openness to innovation is a mindset and that’s slowly spreading.

Also exciting is the launch of the Leadership Academy, in partnership with Pearson College. This is a fully-funded apprenticeship, giving young people the opportunity to do a degree while working, so we can give ambitious young people an entry route into the industry.

As an organisation, we now have so much data and intelligence to drive decision making, which will be exciting going forward. There’s the opportunity to do so much more, as there’s a section of the population that we’re not reaching as well as we might and that continues to drive us, but we’re making headway – we’re more relevant than we’ve ever been.

Have there been any regrets or frustrations?
My only frustration has been that ukactive’s most successful years have coincided with the national disaster that is handling the aftermath of the Brexit vote. Remain or Leave, you cannot deny that implementing the decision has been cancerous to the body politic, and its ability to think, decide and act. It’s scary to think of what we might have achieved in more stable political times.

My biggest regret is that I failed in my attempts to digitise the sector dating back to 2012, when our sector-led aggregator, spogo, failed. The wrong time, the wrong partners and we were – at the time – the wrong people to solve the problems that presented themselves.

The debate about aggregators still stalks the sector as a result, and it’s something we would have settled had we been successful. Instead, we learned an awful lot. It made us a better organisation and me a better professional. We’re only now addressing these challenges through the Open Active project, but we could have been so much further ahead.

What will happen next?
The last few years have been hectic and I believe the pace of change will only accelerate. There have been earthquakes in the past five years which have transformed the landscape, and that will become more pronounced.

I would worry about those businesses who don’t have a passion for R&D, as to how they will meet the evolving needs out there. We’ve seen what’s happened in retail, let’s hope we don’t catch that cold. Evolving to meet the needs of this on-demand society is a challenge, along with personalisation and the demand for frictionless customer service. Austerity will also continue to be a challenge.

But there are huge opportunities too: around ageing societies, the NHS, technology, and engaging with children and families. We need to evolve quickly to capitalise on new opportunities, new tastes and new behaviours.

What will your role be at GO Fit?
It’s a new role as chief transformation officer. The CEO, Gabriel Saez, is visionary, hungry and restless to evolve. He believes that unless you continue to transform then you go backwards, so I’ll be heading up the transformation and expansion agenda and thinking about engaging with start-ups and innovation and how that translates to the core business.

It’s a great company to be part of. It was formed in 2009, so has no past or baggage, and can accelerate towards the new future. It also has a dedicated R&D strategy and a huge war chest of funding.

The company has 19 clubs in Spain and Portugal, with 250k members, but is looking at France, Germany, Italy and other European markets. I’m hoping I can bring them to the UK if the conditions are right.

There’ll be a lot to learn – not least Spanish – and I won’t be shy in reaching out to all the amazing people I’ve collaborated with over the last 12 years.

Of course I’ll still take a keen interest in the progress of ukactive and am looking forward to taking up my role as cheerleader in the ukactive alumni and doing anything I can to assist from my new vantage point

Ward says the sector is now more relevant than it’s ever been
Ward says the sector is now more relevant than it’s ever been
Ward says the physical activity sector is an industry with no glass ceiling
Ward says the physical activity sector is an industry with no glass ceiling
Ward will head up the transformation and expansion agenda for GO Fit
Ward will head up the transformation and expansion agenda for GO Fit
http://www.leisureopportunities.com/images/imagesX/454143_242176.jpg
Moving on after 12 years, outgoing CEO Steve Ward reflects on his time at ukactive, where he started his career as an intern
People
We watch trends closely at Stylist and we’ve seen a real growth in women strength training as a way of reclaiming a traditionally male space
People
Parents often tell their children to become doctors or lawyers, but now they’ll encourage their children to become fitness pros. At $1,000 an hour, they’ll make more than the best Wall Street lawyers. Trainers are the new superstars
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This isn’t a spin around the park: SUF Cycling requires participants to dig deep, which can push some people not used to HIIT out of their comfort zone
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HCM Celeb
The boxing entrepreneur aims to help people ‘unleash the fighter within’ to better handle life’s challenges, with the slogan, ‘It’s not yours until you fight for it’
Features
Asia
Over 300 fitness executives gathered in Singapore recently for the World Fit Summit. HCM’s Steph Eaves attended to chat with CEO and founder Ross Campbell and find out more about the industry in Asia
Features
Member payments
It’s essential for clubs that the payment process is as easy to use as possible. HCM caught up with some of the leading member payment services to find out how they’re helping clubs
Features
Strength training
You may be able to help your members and customers avoid or reverse osteoporosis by encouraging weight bearing activities, as Liz Terry reports
Features
ukactive
Following the ActiveLab Live! finale at the recent Active Uprising conference, we take a look at startups that are using technology to help people become healthier and more active
Features
Flooring
With the increase in popularity of functional training, the floor is increasingly becoming a piece of equipment in itself. Kath Hudson investigates
Features
Retention
There’s no one thing that will fix your member retention, but clarity of mission, a strong culture and an eye for data will drive significant change. Kate Cracknell reports from this year’s Retention Convention
Features
Retention
Are you optimising HIIT for your members, or are they put off by the pain? Abigail Harris looks at research into ways to better support members towards a positive outcome
Features
Statistics
The fitness market in Europe is entering a new phase of growth according to the European Health & Fitness Market Report 2019 by EuropeActive and Deloitte. HCM reports
Features
HCM Celebs
In the name of work, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth has undergone impressive physical transformations for film roles such as Thor in The Avengers and Marvel films. Inspired by the public’s interest in his workouts, he’s now created a health and fitness app called Centr that utilises the expertise of his team of world-class experts
Features
Active ageing
The older people get, the more likely they are to have a long term health condition. But getting ill is not an inevitable consequence of getting older, so targeting the over 50s market could bring about multiple wins. Kath Hudson reports
Features
Promotional Feature
Promotional feature
EMS training is a great opportunity to differentiate your offering in a crowded fitness market. The kit requires very little space and the business model can be extremely lucrative - Phil Horton, miha bodytec
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Pure Gym has appointed Premier Global NASM as its exclusive UK fitness training provider. The ...
Latest News
Solent University has officially opened its new £28m sports and fitness centre. The centre houses ...
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David Lloyd Clubs (DLC) has revealed plans to become the first fitness operator to commit ...
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Fitness subscription platform ClassPass has appointed a UK general manager as it looks to grow ...
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Bannatyne Group has named Karen Wilkinson to the board of Bannatyne Fitness. The appointment comes ...
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UK children will be offered a greater opportunity to take part in 60 minutes of ...
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Regular exercise, a balanced diet, quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol are the best ...
Latest News
The best class instructors earn the best salaries the market offers, bringing enhanced value to ...
Job search
POST YOUR JOB
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Featured supplier: Myzone vs. wrist trackers
According to ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal, wearables trumped the top spot for trends in 2019. However, the question between Myzone or wrist trackers still stands.
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Featured supplier: Solent University’s brand new Sports Centre receives high performance flooring and functional rig solutions from EXF
Leading bespoke fitness equipment manufacturer, EXF Fitness has recently completed an installation project at Solent University in Southampton.
Opinion
promotion
Member retention is a growing problem for long-established gym chains, who are battling the growing budget and boutique gym market.
Opinion: Are you trying to beat budget gyms at their own game?
Video Gallery
TRX MAPS
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TRX MAPS completes body movement assessments in just 30 seconds to help trainers develop personalized fitness plans and goals for members. Read more
More videos:
Company profiles
Company profile: Netpulse
Founded in 2001, Netpulse is the world’s number one provider of branded mobile apps for ...
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Company profile: GoCardless
GoCardless offers a simple, flexible way to reduce admin time by automating your payment collection ...
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Directory
Lockers/interior design
Safe Space Lockers Ltd: Lockers/interior design
Governing body
EMD UK: Governing body
Management software
GymSales: Management software
Skincare
Sothys: Skincare
Locking solutions
Ojmar: Locking solutions
Trade associations
International SPA Association - iSPA: Trade associations
Exercise equipment
EXF Fitness Equipment: Exercise equipment
Fitness equipment
Shapewatch: Fitness equipment
Whole body cryotherapy
Zimmer MedizinSysteme GmbH / icelab: Whole body cryotherapy
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions Ltd: Flooring
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
23-25 Jul 2019
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Melbourne, Australia
Diary dates
05-06 Sep 2019
TagusPark, Oeiras, Portugal
Diary dates

features

Interview: Steve Ward

From ukactive intern to CEO, Steven Ward has been at the helm during a time of explosive growth in the sector. Before he moves on to a fresh challenge at GO Fit, he talks to Kath Hudson about his 12 years with the organisation

By Kath Hudson | Published in Health Club Management 2019 issue 3
Steven Ward
Steven Ward
The amount of change in just the past five years has been enormous. The make up of the top 10 brands is unrecognisable: some of those who considered themselves the market leaders are now gone, replaced by challengers

So, how are you feeling?
Emotional and daunted, but also really excited! It’s the first time I’ve left a job, since I skipped a shift at TGI Friday’s serving tables to get through university. I started at ukactive 12 years ago, as a child!

Why is now the right time to go?
It’s four years since I took the baton from Dave Stalker as CEO. I’ve run my heart out and it’s now a good time to pass it on. We’ve just drawn up the business plan and it was very obvious that there was another four-year cycle about to start, so it was a neat and tidy time to move on.

As well as being a good time for ukactive, it was good for me personally. I was in danger of being a pundit without having been a player, so I’m really looking forward to getting on the pitch.

What have been the most significant developments during your time at ukactive?
The amount of change in the industry in just the past five years has been enormous. The make up of the top 10 brands is unrecognisable: some of those who considered themselves the market leaders are now gone, replaced by challengers.

New market leaders have emerged rapidly, with no legacy or baggage holding them back. We’re seeing innovators everywhere, across borders, and with great investment behind them.

The policy environment is also different, and the sector is now recognised for what it is – the backbone of an active nation. ukactive’s work on physical inactivity has become part of public health policy. We’ve lived through austerity, which has pushed the public sector to the brink in some places and caused significant change, with more to come.

In the wider world, the retail sector’s collapse has led to the opening up of property, allowing the industry to grow at pace. Boutiques, with their high quality engagement, have come on stream in the last five years. There’s never been a more fertile climate for awareness and growth around health and wellbeing.

I never imagined all this would happen. Remember the panic of 2008 when the financial crash happened and there were concerns the industry would implode? But there’s been growth ever since.

What are you most personally proud of about your time at ukactive?
The whole intern to CEO story is pretty cool, I’m proud of that. I know so many CEOs who started as lifeguards, so it shows this is a sector with no glass ceiling: if you’re passionate, tenacious, put the work in and collaborate with people around you then you can go all the way.

Was it daunting to become CEO?
Nothing really prepares you for stepping up to the top job after being part of the team for so long, but the amount of support I had from the members and the board really helped me.

I’m so lucky that I’ve had opportunities to learn from the most amazing people, such as: Harm Tegelaars, Fred Turok, Dave Stalker and Heather Frankham. Great entrepreneurs who gave me so much time. The whole experience has been incredible, especially working with our chair, Tanni (Grey-Thompson) and the team that has been built now. Tanni has given me so much support.

I love this industry because the people are deeply competitive, but there’s also a feeling we’re all on the same team and fighting the same fight. That’s really special.

What have been ukactive’s big achievements during your tenure?
There have been lots of long-lasting positive developments, the publication of Turning the Tide of Inactivity is a major one, as this has changed public health policy. Plus, we’ve built bridges with the NHS – the commitment to social prescribing in the NHS Long Term Plan is an enormous step forward for our industry and something we’ve been calling for in our policy work for years.

All the recent developments around personalised care and personalised care budgets – giving people a budget to manage their own condition – is linked to ukactive’s work. There’s also really exciting stuff happening around digital in the NHS, which could be the opportunity to build a technological bridge.

ukactive has diversified to welcome many new members and build new partnerships. In an average day you could be talking to a CEO of a major chain, meeting a top official in NHS England, out with local government, or with Transport for London, to see if they’ll support National Fitness Day by getting more people walking on their commute.

As we’ve become a campaigning movement, in addition to being a trade association, the organisation has evolved. We’re seeing more brands getting involved, major third-sector bodies and charities, and NGBs that are much keener to collaborate with the core sector.

ActiveLab (ukactive’s accelerator programme) is another success, and a world first. We’ve had 200 start-ups engaged, with applications from 14 countries this year. Openness to innovation is a mindset and that’s slowly spreading.

Also exciting is the launch of the Leadership Academy, in partnership with Pearson College. This is a fully-funded apprenticeship, giving young people the opportunity to do a degree while working, so we can give ambitious young people an entry route into the industry.

As an organisation, we now have so much data and intelligence to drive decision making, which will be exciting going forward. There’s the opportunity to do so much more, as there’s a section of the population that we’re not reaching as well as we might and that continues to drive us, but we’re making headway – we’re more relevant than we’ve ever been.

Have there been any regrets or frustrations?
My only frustration has been that ukactive’s most successful years have coincided with the national disaster that is handling the aftermath of the Brexit vote. Remain or Leave, you cannot deny that implementing the decision has been cancerous to the body politic, and its ability to think, decide and act. It’s scary to think of what we might have achieved in more stable political times.

My biggest regret is that I failed in my attempts to digitise the sector dating back to 2012, when our sector-led aggregator, spogo, failed. The wrong time, the wrong partners and we were – at the time – the wrong people to solve the problems that presented themselves.

The debate about aggregators still stalks the sector as a result, and it’s something we would have settled had we been successful. Instead, we learned an awful lot. It made us a better organisation and me a better professional. We’re only now addressing these challenges through the Open Active project, but we could have been so much further ahead.

What will happen next?
The last few years have been hectic and I believe the pace of change will only accelerate. There have been earthquakes in the past five years which have transformed the landscape, and that will become more pronounced.

I would worry about those businesses who don’t have a passion for R&D, as to how they will meet the evolving needs out there. We’ve seen what’s happened in retail, let’s hope we don’t catch that cold. Evolving to meet the needs of this on-demand society is a challenge, along with personalisation and the demand for frictionless customer service. Austerity will also continue to be a challenge.

But there are huge opportunities too: around ageing societies, the NHS, technology, and engaging with children and families. We need to evolve quickly to capitalise on new opportunities, new tastes and new behaviours.

What will your role be at GO Fit?
It’s a new role as chief transformation officer. The CEO, Gabriel Saez, is visionary, hungry and restless to evolve. He believes that unless you continue to transform then you go backwards, so I’ll be heading up the transformation and expansion agenda and thinking about engaging with start-ups and innovation and how that translates to the core business.

It’s a great company to be part of. It was formed in 2009, so has no past or baggage, and can accelerate towards the new future. It also has a dedicated R&D strategy and a huge war chest of funding.

The company has 19 clubs in Spain and Portugal, with 250k members, but is looking at France, Germany, Italy and other European markets. I’m hoping I can bring them to the UK if the conditions are right.

There’ll be a lot to learn – not least Spanish – and I won’t be shy in reaching out to all the amazing people I’ve collaborated with over the last 12 years.

Of course I’ll still take a keen interest in the progress of ukactive and am looking forward to taking up my role as cheerleader in the ukactive alumni and doing anything I can to assist from my new vantage point

Ward says the sector is now more relevant than it’s ever been
Ward says the sector is now more relevant than it’s ever been
Ward says the physical activity sector is an industry with no glass ceiling
Ward says the physical activity sector is an industry with no glass ceiling
Ward will head up the transformation and expansion agenda for GO Fit
Ward will head up the transformation and expansion agenda for GO Fit
http://www.leisureopportunities.com/images/imagesX/454143_242176.jpg
Moving on after 12 years, outgoing CEO Steve Ward reflects on his time at ukactive, where he started his career as an intern
Latest News
Pure Gym has appointed Premier Global NASM as its exclusive UK fitness training provider. The ...
Latest News
Solent University has officially opened its new £28m sports and fitness centre. The centre houses ...
Latest News
David Lloyd Clubs (DLC) has revealed plans to become the first fitness operator to commit ...
Latest News
Fitness subscription platform ClassPass has appointed a UK general manager as it looks to grow ...
Latest News
Bannatyne Group has named Karen Wilkinson to the board of Bannatyne Fitness. The appointment comes ...
Latest News
UK children will be offered a greater opportunity to take part in 60 minutes of ...
Latest News
Regular exercise, a balanced diet, quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol are the best ...
Latest News
The best class instructors earn the best salaries the market offers, bringing enhanced value to ...
Latest News
Research from property experts at Colliers International suggests people are increasingly willing to pay more ...
Latest News
The Grade II listed, 17th century Grantley Hall hotel and wellness retreat will reopen today ...
Latest News
Boutique health and fitness operator Ten Health and Fitness plans to double the size of ...
Job search
POST YOUR JOB
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier: Myzone vs. wrist trackers
According to ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal, wearables trumped the top spot for trends in 2019. However, the question between Myzone or wrist trackers still stands.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier: Solent University’s brand new Sports Centre receives high performance flooring and functional rig solutions from EXF
Leading bespoke fitness equipment manufacturer, EXF Fitness has recently completed an installation project at Solent University in Southampton.
Opinion
promotion
Member retention is a growing problem for long-established gym chains, who are battling the growing budget and boutique gym market.
Opinion: Are you trying to beat budget gyms at their own game?
Video Gallery
TRX MAPS
TRX Training
TRX MAPS completes body movement assessments in just 30 seconds to help trainers develop personalized fitness plans and goals for members. Read more
More videos:
Company profiles
Company profile: Netpulse
Founded in 2001, Netpulse is the world’s number one provider of branded mobile apps for ...
Company profiles
Company profile: GoCardless
GoCardless offers a simple, flexible way to reduce admin time by automating your payment collection ...
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Directory
Lockers/interior design
Safe Space Lockers Ltd: Lockers/interior design
Governing body
EMD UK: Governing body
Management software
GymSales: Management software
Skincare
Sothys: Skincare
Locking solutions
Ojmar: Locking solutions
Trade associations
International SPA Association - iSPA: Trade associations
Exercise equipment
EXF Fitness Equipment: Exercise equipment
Fitness equipment
Shapewatch: Fitness equipment
Whole body cryotherapy
Zimmer MedizinSysteme GmbH / icelab: Whole body cryotherapy
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions Ltd: Flooring
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
23-25 Jul 2019
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Melbourne, Australia
Diary dates
05-06 Sep 2019
TagusPark, Oeiras, Portugal
Diary dates
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