Having been at one company for 18 years seems almost unheard of these days; many people move from one opportunity to the next to find what makes them happy, what they’re passionate about, or just for something new and exciting. I’m grateful for having been at AXIS for so long as it’s given me the chance to learn lesson after lesson about running a business, and to really see what works and what doesn’t. One of Scott’s favorite sayings is “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning,” well, in that case I have learned my share over the years! One of the most valuable lessons is the importance of complete trust.
The first several years that I was at AXIS, it was during a time of what seemed like constant change and unsettled energy. We went through a few different CEOs and many managers, with a lot of trainer turnover. Scott, who started the company but now had little ownership, was trying to do whatever he could to keep a positive environment for the trainers. He and I worked together, always with the same goal of creating a great life for our trainers and clients, and we agreed (most of the time), on the best way to go about it.
Thriving in a Down Economy
When the economy went South in 2008, this was our greatest opportunity. The investors wanted out of the personal training business and Scott was able to buy the company and become the sole owner of AXIS. We were excited to focus on our trainers, the clients, and the foundation of what made it great from the start. The transition would happen over the following months; during which time, I was pregnant with my second child. Four days before giving birth, Scott and I were in an all-day meeting with the General Manager and the HR Director, both who would stay on and help out for part of my maternity leave. We spent that day planning for the transition, talking about policies, procedures, organizational charts, goals, etc. I left that meeting to start my maternity leave, and burst into tears.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Pregnancy hormones in full force, I realized I was going to have a baby, and very soon. I’d been so focused on the business and the transition that I had not thinking about much else. I left that meeting, nervous and scared about the upcoming birth, and also worried about leaving work for three months, in a most critical time. Would I become “out of sight, out of mind”? Would I not have the chance to shape the future of AXIS? I wanted to be there to support Scott and the rest of the team, and to help AXIS get back to what it once was. In the two years leading up to this, Scott and I had developed a good relationship, a partnership. I was unsure of how that might change now that it was his business again, and he had fought so hard to get back.
The Day I Almost Quit
After almost three months off, I was energized and optimistic about the future. I was excited to get back to AXIS. A few weeks before I was to return to work, Scott and I met at Starbucks to catch up and discuss the changes that had been implemented in my absence, mainly the management structure. The plan was that Scott would manage the higher level trainers, and essentially the whole business, and I would be the “Trainer Liaison”. I would train clients and mentor the new trainers. After several years of managing all aspects of the business, dealing with facility and client issues, marketing, financial modeling, strategizing, managing the team, educating the trainers, etc., my job responsibilities were whittled down to mentoring a couple of new trainers?! I left that meeting, and burst into tears.
That was the day that I almost quit. I was hurt, I felt betrayed; I had put so much of myself into the business and I truly believed in AXIS. I felt like I had not proven myself as invaluable; that was really hard to swallow. With two kids, daycare in place, and a Bay Area mortgage, I could not possibly leave my job at that point. I had to put on a smile and walk back in there and hope (sometimes that’s the only strategy), that it would workout (no pun intended).
I went to work that first day after my maternity leave, with a knot in my stomach. Scott welcomed me and promptly told me that my desk had been moved and was now shared. I felt like I wanted to crawl under a rock, but I smiled, I told everyone how great it was to be back, and I went to work (whatever that was meant to be). Over the next few weeks things started to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I was doing my job just as I had before, because that’s what I knew to do. I had to prove to myself and to AXIS, that they needed me.
For Scott and I what had once been a mutually respectful partnership became a guarded relationship between an employee and a boss. Scott saw me as part of the “Old AXIS” that he tried so hard to get rid of. It was at this point that we started over; we focused on the goals and passion for AXIS. We started working together and rebuilding our trust. Over time the line between boss and employee blurred into a partnership. Of course, the ridiculous title of “Trainer Liaison” was quickly retired as well. We can almost joke about it today 😉
Trust, From the Ground Up
As painful as that experience was, to feel that I had not proven my value and to have lost trust in a partnership, it was one of the best things that could have happened. It was a great lesson in never giving up and never taking for granted where you are, no matter how important you think you are to your company. I’m grateful for having gone through that; it makes me work even harder to this day, to always be better so there can never be any doubt of my worth.
For AXIS, it was the beginning of a long and trustworthy partnership. It forced Scott and I to start from scratch and build an even stronger foundation. While I was gone, Scott finally regained control of the business he started. I understand now that once he had it back, he was not going to let anyone or anything take it from him again. He had been through years of frustration of not being able to do what he knew was right; he was going to do everything in his power to never be in that position again. He was also given recommendations that fed this fear. He was encouraged to be the boss, to take the helm, to stay in control. However, it doesn’t take just one person to build and maintain a successful business. A business thrives on relationships, partnerships, trust and communication, and there must be a strong team of people who share the same goals and passion but who have different strengths and skills. A business is successful when the leaders are open, consistent and direct, and sincerely love their people. Establishing a deep trust is what gave us the ability to be vulnerable and real. We can have healthy debates and discussions to arrive at the right decisions. And above all else, we are always a united front.
The pain of feeling replaceable, was a hard but important lesson. The struggle of Scott and I not having trust in each other, was necessary. Having to build trust from the ground up has made us stronger and it has given us the ability to really thrive. We now trust each other completely, we can be truthful, we can disagree, we don’t hold back our thoughts and ideas no matter how dumb or incomplete they may be. We discuss every situation and we talk through every scenario. This is how we succeed, on trust built on a strong foundation. That is the only way.