In today’s stressful lifestyle, health is the actual wealth a person can retain. And for an active and enjoyable life, fitness is the key. Being strong and fit means taking good care of the body. In an interview with Analytics Insight, Jean-Michel Fournier, CEO of Media at Les Mills shares how the company offers customized fitness programs to help people stay healthy and fit.
Brief us about the company, specialization and the services it offers.
Les Mills, the world leader in group fitness, started over 50 years ago in New Zealand by four-time Olympic athlete, Les Mills. The company is now headed by his son, Phillip Mills, also a former athlete and a true visionary entrepreneur, who, along with his wife Jackie Mills, has grown Les Mills International into a global phenomenon.
We truly create life-changing fitness experiences by curating the best combination of music and moves with some of the most influential instructors in the world. We have built 20 global group fitness programs, including BODYPUMP™ (weights), BODYCOMBAT™ (martial arts), RPM™ (indoor cycling), LES MILLS GRIT™ (30-minute high-intensity interval training) and the revolutionary immersive cycle experience, THE TRIP™.
Our workouts are all powered by science, constantly tested and updated, and delivered by 140,000 certified instructors in 20,000 clubs across 100 countries. We also cater to at-home exercisers via the LES MILLS™ On Demand streaming platform. Les Mills is one of the largest active fitness communities in the world with more than six million active attendees, weekly!
Give a brief overview of your background and your role in the company.
I was born in France, in a small village in south of France. I graduated from the Institut de Technologie in Nimes, France & University of Birmingham, UK with an Electronic Engineering degree. A few years after moving to the US, I had the opportunity to further my education and growth by pursuing my master’s at the Harvard Business School which was an amazing experience.
Before joining Les Mills, I co-founded and/or led several start-ups in Silicon Valley, including QEDSoft, Janalent and BitGym with some great successes and also big failures! I was also a Senior Vice President at United Health Group, and Vice President of Business Development at Hewlett-Packard.
Now, with over 20 years of professional growth and development, I am honored to be the CEO of Les Mills Media, a division of the Les Mills International Group. I head our worldwide consumer business, the entire B2B and direct-to-consumer digital portfolio of products and P&Ls, as well as our worldwide music management.
On the side, I’m also a strategic adviser for the French government, focusing on supporting the development of French start-ups abroad and I’ve served as a consultant to government organizations, venture capitalists and corporations about technology and business entrepreneurship.
Tell us how are you/the company is contributing in the Health and Fitness Industry and how the company is benefiting consumers/clients.
Our company motto is “For a Fitter Planet” – and we mean it. Les Mills supports millions of people to live a better life every single day by delivering amazing, motivational group exercise classes. Because our workouts are properly scientifically tested and delivered by the very best instructors, we know they really work. That’s what keeps our members coming back week after week – they get results.
As an innovation-led company, we are working to stay ahead of the curve. With digital disruption affecting every industry including the fitness industry, one of our big goals is to offer our club customers and their members a full fitness solution. We call it the “club of the future”, and it means going beyond the four walls of the traditional fitness facility so that customers can work out wherever and whenever they want.
With about 80 percent of gym members now being either Millennial or Gen Z, delivering what they expect as digital natives is crucial – and we know that most of them are also working out at home too, so it’s about meeting that demand and delivering the best products in the process.
What were the past experiences, achievements or lessons that shaped your journey as a successful leader in this space?
Throughout all of my life, I’ve always had a passion for fitness and athleticism. I was a multi-sport athlete in both team and individual sports from childhood throughout my teenage years. Personally, sports and fitness have always served as an important outlet for both my physical and mental well-being. Thanks to fitness, I learned many skills that have served me well throughout adulthood.
Professionally, it has been quite a journey, to say the least! At the age of sixteen, I dropped out of school to become an electrician. I was clearly lacking passion at school. However, I soon realized I wanted to achieve more and an advance education was the only way to achieve my dreams. At that time in France, pivoting back to an academic path was considered near to impossible. I credit the skills I learned as an athlete for teaching me that focus, accepting failure and sheer resilience can lead to achieving my goals. I eventually forged a path that led me to work at some of the largest technology companies in the world which took me from France, the UK and to Silicon Valley, and along the way, led me to become a graduate from Harvard Business School.
By the way, I also went from not speaking English to studying in the UK to living in Silicon Valley – although I never lost my French accent!
So, while working in large corporations, I realize how much I enjoyed mentoring and supporting the development of start-ups – not just with their business models, but also, with their professional and leadership development. As I served as a consultant for start-ups and other organizations, I further fueled my passion for learning, development, and helping people grow.
Combining my passion for entrepreneurship and growth with my passion for fitness and it’s easy to understand why I am at Les Mills.
Kindly mention some of the primary challenges that you faced during the initial phase of your journey.
There have been all kinds of personal challenges, from changing careers, industries to learning new cultures and moving countries. But the biggest business challenge is always about building a team that is not only extremely gifted and/or skilled, but also passionate about our purpose and having the ambition to change the world for the better.
In today’s complex business environment, where things are changing constantly, speed of execution is a lot more important than perfect execution. While you’re trying to perfect a certain solution or product, the situation might have changed already, rendering your product or solution irrelevant. Make it “good enough,” ship it, improve it based on market feedback, rinse and repeat. Like Reid Hoffman said “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”. This approach achieves a solution much faster, because of the snowball effect of iterative learning.
Because we have to apply a constant “test and learn approach,” it means we are always being challenged – we have to accept failure, but fail as fast as we can, in a resourceful way. In that sense, applying the lean start-up methodology has been very valuable throughout my career.
How do you see the Health and Fitness industry in the future?
We see a lot of articles and blog posts about the future of fitness being live streaming everywhere, or connected fitness. I don’t believe the market is ready for either of them, at least in their current form. That’s not to say the future is not digital – it clearly is. But in the end this is a very human centric industry – it’s about physicality and movement, and a sense of community. People want to enjoy their fitness experiences.
We are social animals, and we think that “social fitness” will always be paramount. While the live experience will always be best, fitness can be augmented with all the other benefits digital technology can deliver, such as on-demand workouts and virtual classes. Looking further ahead, I believe “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) will be transformative for fitness and wellness. It’s all about data, data and data! People want advanced personalization and amazing immersive experiences. They want the right recommendation to improve their lifestyle, and be fully immersed into amazing fitness experiences wherever they are. So, I believe this is where we are heading in the future.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Action. There is no other way. Our team will brainstorm or someone might just have a moment of genius, and we make it happen. I much prefer imperfect action than no action at all. It’s also interesting to see how an idea develops along the way. Sometimes it’s exactly as it was when it was first conceived, but other times it evolves so much you can forget where the idea initially came from. I think the key is to be flexible, allow the idea to follow its own potential and give it the support that it needs to thrive.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
To be frank, actually seeing a “fitter planet” happening. Without saying we can save the world on our own, we can do our bit to meet the environmental challenges facing us. Healthier, fitter populations are just better for the planet – from the transport choices they make to the food they consume to the money they save on healthcare budgets. There are so many opportunities and so much technology coming to the forefront these days that we have huge potential to change the health of billions of people. And I believe AI will be at the center of this transformation. That’s exciting.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Gratitude. Every day I am grateful for my life. Every day I am grateful for the love, help and support of my team and the people around me. When I am grateful for every situation, every lesson, and even every obstacle that I am presented with, it allows me to learn from the situation, observe from that greater perspective and persist in a way that is congruent with who I am and why I am here.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
If I look back, the best advice I could have given myself would have been to follow my instincts and put them into action sooner.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Do what you’re passionate about. Do what you believe in. What I do is never about me. It’s about a purpose bigger than myself. I’d encourage everyone to be aligned with who they are rather than what the rest of the world thinks they should be.
Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
I’m resilient — that’s the secret to my journey. I don’t make the mistake of thinking I am smarter than anyone, but my resilience and passion are off the charts, and I think that accounts for so much.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Hire people that are better than you.” As we grow at such a rapid pace, we have to also give a lot of autonomy to the people working with and for us. It’s the best way to scale yourself and continuously improve while doing it. If you can’t rely on the people around you to do the job, the chances for successful and strategic growth drop significantly.