Women in Business: Q&A With Suzy Boerboom, Co-founder and CEO of Welcyon

After a long career in the health care industry, Suzy Boerboom -- a baby boomer herself -- took advantage of the booming senior demographic and created a new slant in the fitness industry by catering to the 50-plus crowd. Welcyon clubs have a smaller footprint and friendly ambiance, setting them apart from oversized, overcrowded big-box gyms. The clubs feature a highly-structured strength training program that allows older adults to exercise more safely and in a more welcoming atmosphere.

How has your previous employment experience aided Welcyon?

I truly believe my specialty is taking a concept and turning it into reality. I was drawn to the health care field at an early age and became a registered nurse. After serving as a psychiatric nurse, I founded a mental health technology program at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska. My love of teaching and working with older adults led me to work in long-term care as an instructor, director of nursing, and nurse consultant. I went on to serve as the Director of Customer Service and Education for 112 long-term care facilities. I also took on the role of Quality Management Director for Volunteers of America. I also have experience in the fitness industry when my husband and I owned six Curves franchises in Minnesota.

With more than 40 years of health care experience and background in the fitness industry, my husband and I were familiar with the negative effects of aging without exercise. We also saw a void in the market and wanted to create a unique exercise environment for those 50 and over -- a place where you could get a better experience and healthier results, no matter what your fitness level, and that's where Welcyon came in. Maybe it's the nurse in me -- but I have always wanted to help others.

How can you turn your passion into a career?

I believe you have to start by knowing what makes you happy -- above everything else. If you don't love what you're doing, it becomes a daily drudgery and ultimately you won't excel. I knew early on that I enjoyed taking an idea and making it come alive. I was also naturally curious and that fueled me to learn new things, not be afraid of change and take some risks. It's so important to take your passion and find a match in your career choice. And you can't be willing to settle.

How you maintain a work/life balance?

It's not easy and truthfully, it's a work in progress. Being in the health care field and seeing the fragility of life, I have a pretty good perspective on what's important. For me, it's family and relationships. Sometimes it takes friends, family or colleagues to point out that I need a break. I stay on top of my stress level by planning getaways, even if it's just lunch with friends. It's also essential for me to have alone time to recharge my batteries.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as founder of Welcyon?

Almost every day, I hear an inspirational story from a member about how exercising at Welcyon has changed their life. That has been the best highlight for me. To know that I am helping to make a positive difference is so rewarding. I love meeting new people and forming friendships.
The other highlight has been building the Welcyon team and watching my colleagues' talents and skills create this cutting-edge service. There is also great satisfaction in knowing that I have led the charge in taking a vision and really making it something.

What advice can you offer individuals who are seeking to establish a business later in life?

It's simple -- go for it. Don't be afraid to take risks and be a pioneer. It's important to make sure you believe in your idea. You have to do your due diligence and hire the best people for the job -- with aligning values and passion. Lastly, listen to them. I think people flourish in an environment where they are appreciated, listened to and feel empowered.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I think too often women are willing to take a back seat to men and don't speak up enough. Women need to find their voice and also see themselves as equals in the workplace. I also think another issue for women is finding that balance between work and family.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?

I really like Sandberg's advice about how women need to take a seat at the table alongside their colleagues rather than sitting against the wall and allowing themselves to be marginalized. I was part of the initial Women's Movement and had to break so much ground that I am happy to see a younger woman writing about these topics that are still in play. It's also valuable that Sandberg highlights that women have choices and the power to act on them.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

It's made a huge difference. My first mentors were my parents and grandmother. Through their example and their love, they really led me to want to help others. At the same time, they made me feel like I could do something special.

Another person that stands out for me is Phyllis Kendle. You probably have never heard of her, but this professor had a huge impact on my career and life. She gave me confidence and helped develop my pioneer spirit by giving me an opportunity that I had not yet earned. When somebody makes a decision because they "believe" in you even though you don't have the resume to back it up--that's a tremendous confidence builder.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I admire Sally Smith, who is the CEO of Wild Wings. She is very honest about how difficult the journey has been in building this highly successful business and has demonstrated great perseverance and courage. She has hired many women into leadership positions and remains humble even though the company has surpassed $1 billion dollars in revenue.

I also felt great admiration for Mother Teresa for showing courage against overwhelming odds but not giving up, realizing that one person can make a difference. She demonstrated servant leadership at its best along with passion and purpose.

What are your hopes for the future of Welcyon?

My hopes for Welcyon, is that it will be a highly successful fitness franchise across the country, helping to improve the health and happiness of at least a half a million adults over 50 -- that it will change America!