Latest
issue
GET HCM
magazine
Sign up for the FREE digital edition of HCM magazine and also get the HCM ezine and breaking news email alerts.
Not right now, thanksclose this window I've already subscribed!
The Leisure Media Company Ltd
The Leisure Media Company Ltd
The Leisure Media Company Ltd
Follow Health Club Management on Twitter Like Health Club Management on Facebook Join the discussion with Health Club Management on LinkedIn
FITNESS, HEALTH, WELLNESS

features

Life lessons: Steve Schwartz

When a hefty round of investment coincided with the pandemic, the CEO of Midtown Athletic Clubs feared the company – founded by his grandfather – would go down on his watch. He talks to Kath Hudson about the pressure to keep the business afloat

Published in Health Club Management 2024 issue 4
Midtown clubs are sited in eight US locations, including Rochester NY and Atlanta GA / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / WALTER COLLEY
Midtown clubs are sited in eight US locations, including Rochester NY and Atlanta GA / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / WALTER COLLEY
I was disappointed in myself when I realised how much of my sense of worth was tied up in the success of the business

Bar none, the toughest time I’ve ever had was going through COVID.

In 2017 we undertook a US$90m development of our flagship club in Chicago. The biggest risk we’d ever taken, it represented the start of a new vision for our company – a multi-year project, combining all of the experience and skills and knowledge I’d developed over my 35-year working life.

We were in the thick of it when we had to close. I’m the third generation running a family business and before the pandemic, I felt at the apex of my career, but then was suddenly presented with the prospect of the business failing on my watch.

It was personally devastating, because it crushed my dreams, emotionally devastating because I had to lay people off – which went against everything I was trying to do. Then there was the element of failure and this being a family business. We were also too large to get any government support, so having been such a believer in the system, I felt very let down.

Unique situation
This was a unique set of circumstances and a unique situation. Previously, although we’d had various challenges and tough setbacks, I had always felt I could work through them and find solutions. But this was a case where we were told to close whether we liked it or not. I’m used to winning and have never felt so helpless.

I made the very risky decision to keep investing in the new vision – I thought if I’m going down, I’m going to burn all the way! I hoped the investment in creating state-of-the-art clubs would give us the opportunity to come back stronger once we were able to reopen and it’s easier to do renovations when there are no members around.

We had to engage with bankers while having no revenue, but fortunately they agreed to lend us money for capital investment.

It was a Thelma and Louise-style, ‘drive off the cliff moment’ and the stress was incredible. Sleepless nights, putting on weight. I was on Zoom all day long. My wife and I were eating and drinking too much and not exercising enough. It was terrible.

Keep enough chips
I don’t remember the date we became cashflow positive again, but I personally didn’t turn the corner until the beginning of 2023. It wasn’t just about having my company back, it was about thriving again. Not all the clubs are back to where they were – some are way ahead and some are still behind – but 2023 was a record year for us in terms of revenues and profits.

What did I learn from all this? That you can never have too much cash! As a privately-owned, family business, having a sound balance sheet had always been one of our core principles and that paid off in spades. When we were confronted with this existential threat, we were able to zero in on some of the things we needed to do because we didn’t have the choice to do otherwise. Nothing focuses the mind more effectively than the hangman’s noose!

Finishing the final two club renovations became an all consuming priority, as did taking the company’s IT platform from the stone age to the digital age.

Sense of worth
But I was disappointed in myself when I realised how much of my sense of worth was tied up in the success of the business. I have a wonderful family: a great wife, great kids, sisters, nieces, nephews, parents. I’m blessed in that sense and this experience made me realise I hadn’t appreciated it as much as I should have done.

My father, who died recently, was there supporting me every step of the way through the crisis. There were days when some people thought it would be better to just sell the business than reinvest, but there was no way that was happening with my dad and me. When we ran out of cash, both he and I put more money into the company. He’s a very tough act to live up to, but nothing years of therapy can’t cure!

There was a book which really helped me called The Biggest Bluff: How I learned to pay attention, take control and master the odds, by Maria Konnikova, about a psychology professor who became a professional poker player. She said to win you have to use your skill, keep your emotional control when you get a bad break and make sure you have enough chips in your stack to play the next round. I found it incredibly helpful to think in those terms.

I also kept the Nietzsche quote in mind: ‘What does not kill me makes me stronger’, although my conclusion is that if I could have avoided the experience, I’d be a little bit weaker and still be okay!

What does not kill me makes me stronger (German: Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker) is part of aphorism number 8 from the ‘Maxims and Arrows’ section of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols (1888).

photo: Midtown Athletics Club

"I thought, if I’m going down, I’m going to burn all the way" – Steve Schwartz

2023 turned out to be a record year for revenue and profits / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / anthony tahlier
2023 turned out to be a record year for revenue and profits / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / anthony tahlier
Midtown Athletics is a third generation-run family business / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / MyZone
Midtown Athletics is a third generation-run family business / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / MyZone
The Spa at Midtown in the Rochester club
The Spa at Midtown in the Rochester club
Athletic and functional fitness is a core offer at Midtown / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / WALTER COLLEY
Athletic and functional fitness is a core offer at Midtown / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / WALTER COLLEY
All the clubs have a luxury fitout and feature high end fitness and lifestyle offerings / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / WALTER COLLEY
All the clubs have a luxury fitout and feature high end fitness and lifestyle offerings / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / WALTER COLLEY
The flagship Midtown Club in Chicago underwent a US$90m development in 2017 / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / anthony tahlier
The flagship Midtown Club in Chicago underwent a US$90m development in 2017 / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / anthony tahlier
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/2024/889295_296050.jpg
The CEO of Midtown Athletics Club talks about how the timings of a major funding round and COVID threatened the existence of his family-founded company
HCM magazine
HCM People

Jen Holland

CEO: Edinburgh Leisure
Edinburgh Council will have a £143m budget shortfall by 2028/29 and so must find ways to become more efficient
HCM magazine
The European fitness sector is beating pre-pandemic numbers according to the 11th annual European Health & Fitness Market Report 2024 from Deloitte and EuropeActive, as Karsten Hollasch reports
HCM magazine
Pilates is having a moment. Steph Eaves asks suppliers how they’re responding to the demand
HCM magazine
What needs to happen to integrate physical activity with healthcare? Leaders in the sector share their thoughts
HCM magazine
Consumers’ growing love of strength training is to be welcomed, as this long-neglected modality has a renaissance, however, it’s vital we continue to make the case for cardio
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
Coaching workshops from Keith Smith and Adam Daniel have been designed to empower your team and transform your service
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
D2F had updated its brand styling to keep pace with business growth. MD, John Lofting and operations director, Matt Aynsley, explain the rationale
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
Epassi, a provider of workplace wellness benefits, is creating a fitter and more productive workforce, one membership at a time 
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
GymNation is pioneering the future of fitness with software specialist Perfect Gym providing a scalable tech platform to power and sustain its growth
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
Nuffield Health has worked with ServiceSport UK for more than ten years, ensuring the equipment in its clubs is commercially optimised
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
Operators, prepare to revolutionise the way members connect with personal trainers in your club, with the ground-breaking Brawn platform.
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
University of Sheffield Sport has opened the doors of its flagship Goodwin Sports Centre following a major refurbishment
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
The partnership between PureGym and Belfast-based supplier BLK BOX is transforming the gym floor
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
Francesca Cooper-Boden says health assessment services can boost health club retention
HCM promotional features
Latest News
The JD Gyms Group has completed a deal to acquire Simply Gym from Bay Leisure. ...
Latest News
Women’s health specialist, The Well HQ, has secured 'sweat equity' backing from Priya Oberoi, founder ...
Latest News
Peloton has secured a critical US$1bn five-year loan to shore up its finances. The loan ...
Latest News
Leisure Media has added another heavyweight to its line-up of CEOs for its inaugural HCM ...
Latest News
Empowered Brands has signed a deal with European staffless gym chain, Fit+, to be the ...
Latest News
Speaking to HCM for its 2024-2025 Handbook, which will be out next month, PureGym managing ...
Latest News
Leisure, lifestyle, wellness and entertainment growth investor, Imbiba, has invested in boutique gym brand, 1Rebel's ...
Latest News
Urban Gym Group will launch PILAT3S at ClubSportive in Amsterdam next month, to create a ...
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: W3Fit EMEA’s innovative programme sets sail for Sardinia, Italy
Following a hugely successful event last year in Split, Croatia, W3Fit EMEA, is heading to the Chia Laguna resort in Sardinia from 8-11 October.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Sue Anstiss' Game Changers podcast headed for Elevate 2024
Join us at Elevate from 12-13 June in London for a special one-off live recording of The Game Changers Podcast with Sue Anstiss, CEO of Fearless Women.
Company profiles
Company profile: Legend by Xplor
We help a wide range of public sector leisure operators (including Leisure Trusts, Leisure Management ...
Company profiles
Company profile: ServiceSport (UK) Ltd
ServiceSport (UK) Ltd specialises in maintaining, servicing and re-manufacturing all brands of cardiovascular and resistance ...
Supplier Showcase
Supplier showcase - Jon Williams
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Featured press releases
Speedflex (Europe) Ltd. press release: Speedflex hosts networking golf day at Close House
Speedflex, renowned for its innovative approach to fitness, recently ventured into new territory by hosting its first-ever networking golf day at Close House, one of the most renowned golfing destinations in the UK.
Featured press releases
Wattbike Ltd press release: EXOS adds Wattbike to its supplier list
Wattbike, leaders in indoor cycling, is proud to announce that wattbike is now included as an official supplier with Exos, global experts in human performance and corporate wellbeing solutions.
Directory
Cryotherapy
Art of Cryo: Cryotherapy
Lockers
Fitlockers: Lockers
Snowroom
TechnoAlpin SpA: Snowroom
salt therapy products
Saltability: salt therapy products
Spa software
SpaBooker: Spa software
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Property & Tenders
Loughton, IG10
Knight Frank
Property & Tenders
Grantham, Leicestershire
Belvoir Castle
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
30 May - 02 Jun 2024
Rimini Exhibition Center, Rimini, Italy
Diary dates
06-06 Jun 2024
Drayton Manor Theme Park & Resort, Tamworth, United Kingdom
Diary dates
08-08 Jun 2024
Worldwide, Various,
Diary dates
11-13 Jun 2024
Raffles City Convention Centre, Singapore, Singapore
Diary dates
12-13 Jun 2024
ExCeL London, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
03-05 Sep 2024
IMPACT Exhibition Center, Bangkok, Thailand
Diary dates
08-10 Sep 2024
Wyndham® Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs™ Resort, Lake Buena Vista, United States
Diary dates
19-19 Sep 2024
The Salil Hotel Riverside - Bangkok, Bangkok 10120, Thailand
Diary dates
20-22 Sep 2024
Locations worldwide,
Diary dates
01-04 Oct 2024
REVĪVŌ Wellness Resort Nusa Dua Bali, Kabupaten Badung, Indonesia
Diary dates
09-13 Oct 2024
Soneva Fushi, Maldives
Diary dates
10 Oct 2024
QEII Conference Centre, London,
Diary dates
22-25 Oct 2024
Messe Stuttgart, Germany
Diary dates
24-24 Oct 2024
QEII Conference Centre, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
04-07 Nov 2024
In person, St Andrews, United Kingdom
Diary dates

features

Life lessons: Steve Schwartz

When a hefty round of investment coincided with the pandemic, the CEO of Midtown Athletic Clubs feared the company – founded by his grandfather – would go down on his watch. He talks to Kath Hudson about the pressure to keep the business afloat

Published in Health Club Management 2024 issue 4
Midtown clubs are sited in eight US locations, including Rochester NY and Atlanta GA / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / WALTER COLLEY
Midtown clubs are sited in eight US locations, including Rochester NY and Atlanta GA / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / WALTER COLLEY
I was disappointed in myself when I realised how much of my sense of worth was tied up in the success of the business

Bar none, the toughest time I’ve ever had was going through COVID.

In 2017 we undertook a US$90m development of our flagship club in Chicago. The biggest risk we’d ever taken, it represented the start of a new vision for our company – a multi-year project, combining all of the experience and skills and knowledge I’d developed over my 35-year working life.

We were in the thick of it when we had to close. I’m the third generation running a family business and before the pandemic, I felt at the apex of my career, but then was suddenly presented with the prospect of the business failing on my watch.

It was personally devastating, because it crushed my dreams, emotionally devastating because I had to lay people off – which went against everything I was trying to do. Then there was the element of failure and this being a family business. We were also too large to get any government support, so having been such a believer in the system, I felt very let down.

Unique situation
This was a unique set of circumstances and a unique situation. Previously, although we’d had various challenges and tough setbacks, I had always felt I could work through them and find solutions. But this was a case where we were told to close whether we liked it or not. I’m used to winning and have never felt so helpless.

I made the very risky decision to keep investing in the new vision – I thought if I’m going down, I’m going to burn all the way! I hoped the investment in creating state-of-the-art clubs would give us the opportunity to come back stronger once we were able to reopen and it’s easier to do renovations when there are no members around.

We had to engage with bankers while having no revenue, but fortunately they agreed to lend us money for capital investment.

It was a Thelma and Louise-style, ‘drive off the cliff moment’ and the stress was incredible. Sleepless nights, putting on weight. I was on Zoom all day long. My wife and I were eating and drinking too much and not exercising enough. It was terrible.

Keep enough chips
I don’t remember the date we became cashflow positive again, but I personally didn’t turn the corner until the beginning of 2023. It wasn’t just about having my company back, it was about thriving again. Not all the clubs are back to where they were – some are way ahead and some are still behind – but 2023 was a record year for us in terms of revenues and profits.

What did I learn from all this? That you can never have too much cash! As a privately-owned, family business, having a sound balance sheet had always been one of our core principles and that paid off in spades. When we were confronted with this existential threat, we were able to zero in on some of the things we needed to do because we didn’t have the choice to do otherwise. Nothing focuses the mind more effectively than the hangman’s noose!

Finishing the final two club renovations became an all consuming priority, as did taking the company’s IT platform from the stone age to the digital age.

Sense of worth
But I was disappointed in myself when I realised how much of my sense of worth was tied up in the success of the business. I have a wonderful family: a great wife, great kids, sisters, nieces, nephews, parents. I’m blessed in that sense and this experience made me realise I hadn’t appreciated it as much as I should have done.

My father, who died recently, was there supporting me every step of the way through the crisis. There were days when some people thought it would be better to just sell the business than reinvest, but there was no way that was happening with my dad and me. When we ran out of cash, both he and I put more money into the company. He’s a very tough act to live up to, but nothing years of therapy can’t cure!

There was a book which really helped me called The Biggest Bluff: How I learned to pay attention, take control and master the odds, by Maria Konnikova, about a psychology professor who became a professional poker player. She said to win you have to use your skill, keep your emotional control when you get a bad break and make sure you have enough chips in your stack to play the next round. I found it incredibly helpful to think in those terms.

I also kept the Nietzsche quote in mind: ‘What does not kill me makes me stronger’, although my conclusion is that if I could have avoided the experience, I’d be a little bit weaker and still be okay!

What does not kill me makes me stronger (German: Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker) is part of aphorism number 8 from the ‘Maxims and Arrows’ section of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols (1888).

photo: Midtown Athletics Club

"I thought, if I’m going down, I’m going to burn all the way" – Steve Schwartz

2023 turned out to be a record year for revenue and profits / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / anthony tahlier
2023 turned out to be a record year for revenue and profits / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / anthony tahlier
Midtown Athletics is a third generation-run family business / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / MyZone
Midtown Athletics is a third generation-run family business / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / MyZone
The Spa at Midtown in the Rochester club
The Spa at Midtown in the Rochester club
Athletic and functional fitness is a core offer at Midtown / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / WALTER COLLEY
Athletic and functional fitness is a core offer at Midtown / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / WALTER COLLEY
All the clubs have a luxury fitout and feature high end fitness and lifestyle offerings / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / WALTER COLLEY
All the clubs have a luxury fitout and feature high end fitness and lifestyle offerings / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / WALTER COLLEY
The flagship Midtown Club in Chicago underwent a US$90m development in 2017 / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / anthony tahlier
The flagship Midtown Club in Chicago underwent a US$90m development in 2017 / photo: Midtown Athletics Club / anthony tahlier
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/2024/889295_296050.jpg
The CEO of Midtown Athletics Club talks about how the timings of a major funding round and COVID threatened the existence of his family-founded company
Latest News
The JD Gyms Group has completed a deal to acquire Simply Gym from Bay Leisure. ...
Latest News
Women’s health specialist, The Well HQ, has secured 'sweat equity' backing from Priya Oberoi, founder ...
Latest News
Peloton has secured a critical US$1bn five-year loan to shore up its finances. The loan ...
Latest News
Leisure Media has added another heavyweight to its line-up of CEOs for its inaugural HCM ...
Latest News
Empowered Brands has signed a deal with European staffless gym chain, Fit+, to be the ...
Latest News
Speaking to HCM for its 2024-2025 Handbook, which will be out next month, PureGym managing ...
Latest News
Leisure, lifestyle, wellness and entertainment growth investor, Imbiba, has invested in boutique gym brand, 1Rebel's ...
Latest News
Urban Gym Group will launch PILAT3S at ClubSportive in Amsterdam next month, to create a ...
Latest News
The American Council on Exercise has appointed Dr Cedric Bryant as its new CEO. Bryant ...
Latest News
Sport England’s This Girl Can team has launched a new campaign, Let’s Get Out There, ...
Latest News
Improving physical strength and fitness, mental health and confidence are the main reasons for joining ...
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: W3Fit EMEA’s innovative programme sets sail for Sardinia, Italy
Following a hugely successful event last year in Split, Croatia, W3Fit EMEA, is heading to the Chia Laguna resort in Sardinia from 8-11 October.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Sue Anstiss' Game Changers podcast headed for Elevate 2024
Join us at Elevate from 12-13 June in London for a special one-off live recording of The Game Changers Podcast with Sue Anstiss, CEO of Fearless Women.
Company profiles
Company profile: Legend by Xplor
We help a wide range of public sector leisure operators (including Leisure Trusts, Leisure Management ...
Company profiles
Company profile: ServiceSport (UK) Ltd
ServiceSport (UK) Ltd specialises in maintaining, servicing and re-manufacturing all brands of cardiovascular and resistance ...
Supplier Showcase
Supplier showcase - Jon Williams
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Featured press releases
Speedflex (Europe) Ltd. press release: Speedflex hosts networking golf day at Close House
Speedflex, renowned for its innovative approach to fitness, recently ventured into new territory by hosting its first-ever networking golf day at Close House, one of the most renowned golfing destinations in the UK.
Featured press releases
Wattbike Ltd press release: EXOS adds Wattbike to its supplier list
Wattbike, leaders in indoor cycling, is proud to announce that wattbike is now included as an official supplier with Exos, global experts in human performance and corporate wellbeing solutions.
Directory
Cryotherapy
Art of Cryo: Cryotherapy
Lockers
Fitlockers: Lockers
Snowroom
TechnoAlpin SpA: Snowroom
salt therapy products
Saltability: salt therapy products
Spa software
SpaBooker: Spa software
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Property & Tenders
Loughton, IG10
Knight Frank
Property & Tenders
Grantham, Leicestershire
Belvoir Castle
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
30 May - 02 Jun 2024
Rimini Exhibition Center, Rimini, Italy
Diary dates
06-06 Jun 2024
Drayton Manor Theme Park & Resort, Tamworth, United Kingdom
Diary dates
08-08 Jun 2024
Worldwide, Various,
Diary dates
11-13 Jun 2024
Raffles City Convention Centre, Singapore, Singapore
Diary dates
12-13 Jun 2024
ExCeL London, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
03-05 Sep 2024
IMPACT Exhibition Center, Bangkok, Thailand
Diary dates
08-10 Sep 2024
Wyndham® Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs™ Resort, Lake Buena Vista, United States
Diary dates
19-19 Sep 2024
The Salil Hotel Riverside - Bangkok, Bangkok 10120, Thailand
Diary dates
20-22 Sep 2024
Locations worldwide,
Diary dates
01-04 Oct 2024
REVĪVŌ Wellness Resort Nusa Dua Bali, Kabupaten Badung, Indonesia
Diary dates
09-13 Oct 2024
Soneva Fushi, Maldives
Diary dates
10 Oct 2024
QEII Conference Centre, London,
Diary dates
22-25 Oct 2024
Messe Stuttgart, Germany
Diary dates
24-24 Oct 2024
QEII Conference Centre, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
04-07 Nov 2024
In person, St Andrews, United Kingdom
Diary dates
Search news, features & products:
Find a supplier:
The Leisure Media Company Ltd
The Leisure Media Company Ltd
Partner sites