Jackie Wilson is founder and CEO of NOVA Fitness Innovation, a network of boutique fitness studios based in New York City that specializes in cutting-edge Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) workouts that provide the benefit of a traditional 90 minute workout in a third of the time.
But before his time as a professional trainer and launching the business, Wilson excelled in another field that relies heavily on hard work, discipline and attention to detail: the legal field. A graduate of both Duke and the University of Notre Dame law school, Wilson spent three years as a litigator and another five years as general counsel at an independent sports agency, where he represented professional athletes. Wilson soon found himself working with his athletes on the field after spotting flaws in the team training regimens. Those experiences help him in recognizing his true calling, and he transitioned into personal training full-time with the launch of NOVA Fitness.
Chief Executive spoke with Wilson to discuss the challenges of the crowded fitness business landscape, what lessons have carried over to the CEO’s office from the legal field and why company culture is so important. Below are excerpts from the conversation:
On what inspired him to launch NOVA Fitness Innovation
Ever since jumping back into a fitness full-time, I’ve been looking for different ways to challenge my clients and athletes and really get the most out of them. And in doing that, I came across a number of different fitness-related exercises and systems, and I came across EMS. EMS is something that I was familiar with from the rehabilitation standpoint, it’s been around for about a hundred years. As a former athlete myself, I’ve had more injuries than I can count. And so as a result, I had EMS treatment but I never knew about it in terms of the fitness space. It has been around for about 15 years in Europe and Central America, just not here. So once I found out about that, it became my mission to bring that here because I knew that it would help get the most out of my athletes and clients.
On the things that have carried over from his background in law into running the business
One of the biggest things that I learned from law school, as well as practicing law, was really just the attention to fine detail. So I’m dotting my i’s, crossing my t’s, those are things that when you’re drafting and reviewing contracts and the legal profession, those can make or break a deal. And so that attention to detail I’m bringing over to the fitness space allows me to one, help look at a client and see what their needs are. You can see muscular imbalances. You can notice little signs on their safety, like if you need a break and things of that nature.
So the attention to detail is probably the biggest thing that came over, as well as the critical thinking. Law school and practicing law teaches you how to think critically and problem solve, and in running your business you’re going to have problems that are predictable and problems that are unpredictable and your ability to critically thinking and manage and navigate those systems, those situations are incredibly important.
The challenges of navigating the crowded fitness market
The biggest challenge that we face is a consumer education. People are not as familiar with EMS in the fitness space as we would like for them to be. So a lot of what we do is based on consumer education, so letting people know what the benefits of electromuscular stimulation. And so just explaining the technology and explaining its benefit is really what’s been helping get the word out and really push the business forward.
New York is the fitness Mecca of the United States. And so as soon as someone finds a new thing that they are super-excited to share that with a friend, and that that has been super beneficial for us, for New Yorkers who are always looking for that extra edge. It goes a long way in terms of the word of mouth.
On company culture at NOVA
It’s really a team culture. With my background as a former athlete and in working in sports and in representing athletes, I am well-versed in and have a good understanding of the benefits of working as a team. Everything that we do, we try to make it a team involvement. And so if you come into NOVA, everyone who’s there will play a role in your experience, whether that’s from your first point of contact with the people at the front desk, whether that’s one of the managers or their trainer who is actually providing the instruction. Everyone plays a role in every single client that walks through the door.
Fitness tips for CEOs
The one thing that I would say is your business is your baby, and so as a result, all of your time, your resources, you will naturally flow into that, but it’s your health that is of utmost importance. An unhealthy CEO is not an effective CEO and so if you are making the time for your business and your making the time to make sure your business grows, you need to make sure that you’re carving out the time for your health and that doesn’t mean going to the gym for three to four hours at a time. Taking the stairs when possible and instead of taking the elevator, all of those things will add up and help you have an active lifestyle, which will help supplement the time that you’re not able to spend in the gym.
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