Women in Business Q&A: Jo-Ann Houston, Director of Business Development, GYMGUYZ

Jo-Ann Houston PT, CSCS is the Director of Business Development at GYMGUYZ, a mobile personal training fitness franchise company headquartered in Plainview, New York. Jo-Ann is also a New York State licensed Physical Therapist and certified personal trainer. She received her Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy from Hunter College in 1993 and Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Fairfield University in 1989. Jo-Ann is an NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist and an AFPA pre & postnatal exercise specialist. She has worked in a variety of settings including private homes, gyms, hospitals, private practice and corporate settings. Jo-Ann is also the former Director of Health and Wellness at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan.

Jo-Ann has a strong passion for empowering clients of all ages and abilities to not only reach their goals but to surpass them. She is a frequent guest speaker at local community events giving seminars on fitness and wellness related topics. Jo-Ann also serves as a mentor to the GYMGUYZ team helping to create innovative, challenging and creative workout programs.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I believe leadership is grounded in having a very strong work ethic. For me, that work ethic was fostered from a very young age. I credit my parents first and foremost with instilling in me the value of hard work and perseverance. I believe you learn to be the best from the best. Throughout different points in my career, I made sure to surround myself with people who were smarter, had more experience and who were just as driven as myself to succeed. I believe strongly that life presents opportunities in abundance. The key is keeping one's eyes wide open in order to see and grab hold of them.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as the Director of Business Development at GYMGUYZ?
My previous employment experience set the stage for my position as the Director of Business Development in every way from the very beginning. There is no better way to grow a business from the ground up than to start in the trenches. From my early days as a personal trainer more than 25 years ago, I understood the value of providing exceptional customer service whether that service was being provided at 4:30 a.m. on a freezing cold morning or 10 p.m. after an exceptionally long day. I never did then nor do I now ever underestimate the power of a smile, a firm handshake and an infectious enthusiasm. I've learned from my experience as a personal trainer, physical therapist and Fitness Director that a leader must take the initiative to solve problems but also be able to delegate with confidence. As the Director of Business Development at GYMGUYZ, it's my responsibility to empower and support our clients, our exceptional team of fitness coaches and our franchisees to succeed. My past roles in the health and fitness industry have taught me to be accessible, approachable and as knowledgeable as possible so I can serve to be the best possible resource to others that I can be.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's a constant work in progress! I'm a mother of two children, ages 7 and 8. As working moms know, it's no easy feat to balance the needs of your family and your work. Of course, there's my busy schedule and then there are school demands, homework, projects, sports, music, birthday parties and.....oh yea, the science fair this month! Point is, as moms know, at times you get stretched thin...very thin! Prioritizing and planning with a healthy dose of forgiveness and resiliency are key to maintaining the juggling act be it work, family or life in general. Hey, if I drop a couple of balls every now and then, I don't dwell on it. I pick them up and get them back in the air. That's what I try to teach my kids. And when I remember to, I laugh, they laugh...we laugh! Humor can go a long way when the stress-o-meter is hitting the red alert zone!

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at GYMGUYZ?
That's a great question in terms of timing. March marks my one year anniversary with GYMGUYZ. It's been remarkable to be a witness to and a part of a company that has grown exceptionally fast. But it's not only the rate at which we've grown that's been impressive, it's been the way Josh York, CEO & Founder of GYMGUYZ, has led our team to move in the direction we have. He's confident, ambitious and demonstrates boundless energy. As he often says, "every no gets you closer to a yes." That kind of attitude in business is contagious and serves to raise the standard of work performance. When the bar is raised and we collectively rise as a team to meet the next challenge, it's extremely rewarding.

Challenges are inherent in industries that are constantly evolving. In fact, the GYMGUYZ business model was built on challenges and as a result has proven to be a blue print for success. We're going through growing pains as every successful company does. We've gone from Josh York's one man/one van operation to an exploding mobile personal training franchise business with a worldwide vision. In order to keep pace with expansion, it's imperative to find the right people with exceptional drive and a super strong work ethic. That's a challenge in any business. That said, we have strategically put the platforms and systems in place to attract the most talented people in the business.

What advice can you offer women seeking a career in your industry?
My advice is referenced in the question. Focus on the career, not the next job! A career implies bigger picture. A career speaks to the development of interests, skills and talents. A career often demands commitment and elicits passion. If a woman is truly pursuing a career in the fitness industry, my advice to her is to develop a rock solid foundation be it in personal training, management and/or business ownership. Don't stop learning whether it be through experienced mentors, coursework or reading up on the latest research. Use that knowledge to create your own professional destiny. Set clearly defined goals, do what it takes to achieve them and then set new goals. Speak up, get noticed and create a demand for your skills and talents!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think women need to find their individual and collective voices. I'm not exclusively referring to equal pay and equal opportunity. I'm talking about confidently and firmly voicing opinions, making recommendations and taking initiative when it comes to solving problems. Everyone has insecurities and fear--everyone! Men tend not to show it. That can be interpreted as being more capable and more confident than women. Women are extremely smart, patient and are excellent multi-taskers. In my professional experience, women tend to be more thoughtful and strategic in making decisions which could be misinterpreted as being indecisive. Women need to support one another in the workplace but as importantly need to command the respect of their male and female colleagues by stepping forward and speaking up even in the presence of doubt and insecurity.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
Lean in? Lean out? Lean back? Every woman's aspirations, needs and situations are unique at any given time in her professional and personal life. Sheryl Sandberg is an advocate for women. Period. Some will argue that she raises the bar to an unobtainable and uncomfortable level. Others deem that Ms. Sandberg has had advantages that average women don't. And then there are millions of women who stand in unison behind the Lean In movement. I do believe that women need to lean in in order to rise through the ranks and obtain positions of leadership. To me, "leaning in" translates to using an assertive voice, standing your ground and overcoming your own insecurities and fears. It means being prepared to take action when opportunity presents itself and hardest of all, it means embracing the undeniable challenges of balancing work and family. But I also believe that it's an intensely personal choice. I don't subscribe to the "woman can have it all" message that is often fiercely debated. Perhaps we can have it all but do all women want it all? Who's defining "all" anyway? What I do know is that whatever it is I want in my professional and personal life, I'll create the conditions to obtain it. If that means leaning in harder at times or consciously leaning out so be it, that's exactly what I'll do.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
It's made a huge difference! Having the privilege of several great mentors throughout my career has been priceless. Great mentors instill values that can be embodied in every situation, be it professional or personal. Josh York, GYMGUYZ Founder & CEO, has served as my mentor since day one at GYMGUYZ. Early on he emphasized that the company's core values would serve to guide our daily decision making and strongly influence our interaction with our in house team, clients, franchisees and any other business partners we had or would come to have. Those core values are spelled out in the acronym DRIVE and represent vital characteristics of our company. DRIVE stands for Determination, Respect, Integrity, Versatility and Excellence!

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
That's a tough question. I admire so many female leaders both in the spotlight and in the shadows in the fields of business, film, politics, philanthropy and sports. I particularly admire women who have climbed to the tops of ladders in historically male dominated fields while balancing the demands of family and work. I admire women like Diane Sawyer, Sheryl Sandberg, Angelia Jolie, Hillary Clinton and Dina Dwyer-Owens, Co-Chairman & Former CEO of the Dwyer Group who was awarded the IFA's (International Franchise Association) highest award for women who mentor other women and advance the careers of women in franchising. I deeply respect the collective show of strength and smarts that women in the workplace and in the home demonstrate especially in the face of adversity or controversy.

What are your hopes for the future of GYMGUYZ?
My hopes are aligned with my expectations. GYMGUYZ will be a worldwide personal training company that will revolutionize the fitness industry. Currently, we have 21 locations which include our corporate territories. We have 14 additional in the pipeline. Considering our goal was to get 10 more up and running in 2015, we are well positioned to exceed that goal. The writing is literally on the walls of our brand new corporate office that's triple the size of our former one. These are the "growing pains" that feel pretty good!