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it,” says Kass. “And we’ve come up with many innovative ideas that have gone on to become across-the-board offerings. For example, in one rental building aimed at young professionals, we created a breakfast club where people could stop off and get a healthy breakfast on their way to work.” While healthy living is central to

the American Leisure philosophy, the emphasis is always on fun and participation, says Johnston. “We recognise that fi tness is one of the cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle, but we know that [working out] isn’t for everybody. So instead we’re creating a different kind of model that allows us to meet people wherever they’re at on the wellness continuum, through social programming that encourages individuals to adopt a more active lifestyle while getting to know their neighbours.” Giving the company another edge

is the fact that it has its own, modest property management arm, comprising 15 residential communities in the New York suburbs, all of which have a signifi cant lifestyle offering. “It’s a small operation,” says Johnston, “but it gives us an additional perspective on what’s going on with the end user.”

HEALTHY COMMUNITIES Johnston started his career as a gym instructor in the early 80s before

American Leisure: A new kind of fitness model based on social programming

moving first into sales and then into management. In 1990 he became general manager of the Weymouth Club, one of the best-known fitness clubs on the east coast of the US, before joining the Saw Mill Sports Management chain – whose owner Curt Beusman was a founding member of IHRSA – as vice president of operations in 1997. By the time he left that company

“We used the recession to strengthen our core competencies and now we’re poised to grow”

competencies and we’re now poised to really grow the brand.” Johnston hadn’t been with American

to join American Leisure 18 months ago, he had amassed a huge wealth of experience in fi tness industry operations – but, by his own admission, his knowledge of running lifestyle amenities in residential buildings was scant. “The opportunity to move into the lifestyle segment really intrigued me, but it was all new,” he says.

“So I really had to jump into the trenches, look around me and get to understand the business as best I could.” Having come on board

just as the recession really began to bite, his fi rst task was to assess the business from the ground up; make staffi ng changes, including cuts, where needed; and implement some new best practices. It’s partly as a result of those measures, he says, that the company has

The Setai in New York is a luxury condo development in the city’s financial district


“not only survived but is going to fl ourish as it comes out of this recession; we’ve actually taken this opportunity to strengthen our core

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Leisure six months, however, before he had another very specifi c focus: the KAUST project. The opportunity was, he admits, more the result of serendipity than strategy. “One of our residents in New York recommended us to Saudi Oger,” he says. “He’d had such a wonderful experience with American Leisure that, when they were looking for a company to develop a lifestyle offering at KAUST, they called us.” The goal is simple yet ambitious: to

create the healthiest community in Saudi Arabia. Facilities include two large multi-sports clubs with segregated male and female fi tness centres, as well as a climbing wall and a 16-lane bowling alley; a racquets club for tennis, squash, badminton and racquetball; a university fi tness centre; and a recreational facility offering billiards, table tennis and Wii games. There are also 14 parks, open- air swimming pools, outdoor tennis courts, a 5,000-seat sports stadium, a public library, a cinema and a theatre. In addition to overseeing all these facilities, recreation manager Jay Francis leads a team generating events and activities to bring them to life – recent examples include World Health Day, Earth Day, a gift bazaar, kite-fl ying, go-kart racing,

july 2010 © cybertrek 2010

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