THE BLOG
09/04/2014 09:41 am ET | Updated Nov 04, 2014

Women in Business: Q&A with Sarah Robb O'Hagan, President of Equinox

Sarah Robb O'Hagan joined Equinox in September 2012 as President of the world's premier fitness lifestyle company, comprising the Equinox, Soul Cycle, Blink Fitness and Pure Yoga brands. Under her leadership Equinox is undertaking an aggressive expansion strategy to grow its family of brands around the world and into additional lines of business, leveraging new digital technologies.

Prior to joining Equinox, Robb O'Hagan served as Global President of one of the world's most iconic sports brands, Gatorade. Under Sarah's leadership, Gatorade embarked on a transformational journey from sports drink company, to sports performance innovator led by the launch of the G Series.

Robb O'Hagan joined Gatorade after nearly six years at Nike where she held marketing and general management roles. She was a member of the team that launched Nike Plus in collaboration with Apple. Prior to Nike she worked at Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Megastores and Air New Zealand.

Beyond the interests of Equinox, Robb O'Hagan supports the advancement of women's leadership worldwide and has a particular interest in helping underserved girls get access to sports. She has served on Hillary Clinton's US State Department Council to Empower Women and Girls through Sports, and is also a trustee of the Women's Sports Foundation.

Throughout her career Robb O'Hagan has been recognized for some of her achievements. Her most recent honors include being named one of the "Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company magazine (2012), being named to the top 40 Under 40 lists by the Sports Business Journal (2009, 2011 and 2012) being named among Forbes Magazine's "Most Powerful Women in Sports" (2009) and Ad Age magazine's Women to Watch (2010).

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I'm constantly thanking my parents for my fortunate early life experience. I was born in New Zealand, but we relocated to the United Kingdom when I was three months old, and moved back to New Zealand when I was 10. This moving experience showed me that there was always more on the horizon if you looked for it, and that change is constant. I'm also the youngest of four high-achieving siblings; I think I was destined to make bold moves in my career.

Along my journey, the epic fails have had just as much impact on my leadership style as the successes. I have missed out on jobs I desperately wanted, I've been fired, I've landed jobs where I could not influence people, etc. All of those experiences have helped me become more resilient, more determined and more patient as a leader.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Equinox?
I truly feel like my entire career prepared me for this position. I began in the luxury airline industry at Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic, where I learned a tremendous amount about delivering a powerful service experience to consumers to drive great loyalty. Afterwards, my journey through Nike and Gatorade taught me so much about the possibilities of human potential at every level, and how to improve performance. Now with Equinox, where we focus on consumers who are incredibly driven and lead a "high performance life," I feel as though every experience helped me to see and develop successful, holistic business opportunities.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Equinox?
Without a doubt, the greatest highlight is the people. #SquadLove is my favorite hashtag! I just LOVE the team that I get to work with every day. We are 10,000 strong and when I say strong - I do of course mean it in the literal and emotional sense of the word! Our team is such an inspiring bunch, and the stories I hear about the members' lives that they have transformed through better fitness, nutrition and regeneration are incredible.

In terms of challenges, I think we need to be focused. We see the macro trend that "health is the new wealth" and people are investing in the health and fitness area like never before. We have so many opportunities in front of us, but I have learned that we need to be thoughtful, focused and patient to continue to drive great success.

What qualities do you think are important for a female leader to have?
An important quality is quite simply to be yourself. The best teams are always made up of diverse people who are leading with their own unique style. Women bring incredible qualities to the table as leaders. We see different meanings in business decisions; we tend to enjoy collaboration and idea sharing. Too often, we see women trying to adopt archetypal male style of leadership. I think it's so much better for the team to have the balance of both styles.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
First, I believe you must "find what you love, to love what you do." I had quite a journey of ups, downs and sidesteps through various industries before I landed in an area I was totally passionate about. When you are passionate about what you do, blurring work and home life is quite a comfortable thing to do. Most of my closest friends see my posts in social media and say "Really - you get to workout for your job - that's so you!"

However, I do believe it's critical to be "in the moment" wherever you are. When I am at the office with my team, I try really hard not to multi-task with my iPhone. I'm in the moment, focusing on the discussion at hand. Likewise, when I'm with my family, I'm fully engaged and present. I call myself a bit of a "work ninja" - I will find pockets of time all through my week where I can get it all done, even if it means doing business phone calls while I am jogging which has been known to happen!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think the biggest issue is not having or making enough time to dedicate to the in-person networking needed to build deep-trusting relationships with those who have the opportunity to promote you. Unfortunately, women are never going to show up in the men's locker room where some of that social bonding and camaraderie happens. It's just something to be aware of. Ultimately, so much of business comes down to who you know and how much they will support you in good times and bad. It's important to build real, authentic relationships with people of both genders that can help you progress your career.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has made a massive difference for me. From the very first job I found myself, I had incredible mentors that I still communicate with today. I always joke when I meet someone who becomes a mentor, I have a habit of "adopting" him or her, so they should not expect to get rid of me easily! I also love being a mentor to others. I believe that mentoring is a two-way street. You absolutely get as much out of it as the mentor because you learn so much by seeing a problem through the eyes of another person.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Kate Sheppard. You may be asking who that is! But she's an icon for the global women's movement in my view. She led the suffragette movement in New Zealand, and we were the first country in the world to give women the vote in 1893.

Tina Turner. I have always admired people who have the courage and creativity to cut through and create a completely new perspective. She is the original rock star and such an icon for women due to her courage and tenacity.

Angela Ahrendts. I am so inspired by her work at Burberry - but more importantly for someone at her level, she is incredibly generous with her time and advice. I can't thank her enough for some great insights she has given me.

Billie Jean King. She has done so much to inspire women and girls to play sports and to help us see the connections between sports and leadership. And she never stops! Her energy is contagious.

What do you want Equinox to accomplish in the next year?
It's a huge and exciting year for us at Equinox. We are blessed to be in a position as the market leader where we have a lot of room to experiment, taking our member experience to the next level. We are investing heavily in our knowledge around Regeneration (sleep and mindfulness), as well as Nutrition, so that we can bring our programming to a more holistic level for our members against their personal fitness goals.

We already do a fantastic job sharing our findings through our digital magazine called "Q", but over the next 12 months you will see us start to roll out some exciting new technologies that enable us to aggregate all sorts of health and fitness data for our members, personalizing our recommendations to help them better manage their high performance lives. We think about it as the future "always on" fitness membership and we are pretty fired up for the opportunity!