Jane Riddell is a business powerhouse. Her trajectory to greatness began as an employee of one of GoodLife Fitness’s gyms. Today, she is the president of the company.
In her episode on The Brand is Female podcast, she talks about climbing up the corporate ladder, and the importance of aligning yourself with the right people that will help you shine.
What were you dreaming of as a career growing up? Was it something completely different from what you’re doing today?
Like most children, I think I bounced around quite a bit from goal to goal. And I had wonderful parents. We were actually very poor in many ways, but they were always so supportive of me. At one point, I said I wanted to be a veterinarian, and then I wanted to be a lawyer, but I was always good in school and when I got to university I really fell in love with academia and I thought ’This is where I’d like to be the rest of my life’.
I thought I’d like to be teaching at a university. So I did a master’s degree, and I was paying for my own education. So I had many, many jobs during my tenure at the university. And one of them actually ended up being in a tiny little fitness club.
So I’m doing a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and it’s working really well. And it was the best job I ever had in my entire life. It was so much fun going to work. It wasn’t like work at all. And I always tell people it was like going to a party every day where you meet all your favourite people, all your friends were there, it was such a positive environment and such a great vibe.
I really, really enjoyed it. But, of course, I was making minimum wage and I thought that I still needed to pay my bills and whatnot. But I stuck it out and as the company grew, I grew with it. And 40 years later, here I am today. I wish I could say I plotted my career very carefully, every single step by the way.
We could say you’re an intrapreneur because you didn’t create Good Life, but you’ve been part of its success really since the start. And you went up the ranks working alongside the owners. What was that like, having a career in fitness at that time?
As you move higher up the ranks, it’s always been more men. Except in our company. And that’s due to the outlook or the philosophy of the owner, David Patch Evans, who is still the owner today, he’s the CEO, and he was always looking for the best people.
He really didn’t care beyond that. If you had what it took to perform and be an excellent associate, you had a position. And so I just grew up with the company. I worked in one tiny club. We acquired another club, and I eventually started to manage, I managed two clubs.
I became a district manager. Vice President. Eventually, I became the CEO, and now I’m the president of Patch Holdings, which is the parent company of Good Life Fitness. But I can remember my dad saying to me, ’When are you gonna get a real job?’.
He didn’t think this was worthy of my education and my aspirations and my talents. So it was some challenging conversations with family and friends around, ’this is what you see on TV is not what we do’. We really want to give everybody in Canada the opportunity to live a fit, healthy life and be the best person they can be.
It was always a higher calling for all of us who were drawn to a good life and to working with Dave Patch. That was one of the obstacles. I think that I’m unique in the sense that I didn’t really encounter any internal opposition to my rise through the ranks because I was a woman. I do think that’s unusual, even in the fitness industry. I was very blessed.
How do you define leadership, and what’s your personal brand of leadership?
Leadership is a very amorphous concept. Great leaders pull people along, they don’t push them. People want to work for those folks. They want them to be successful.
So they’ll put in that extra 10% of discretionary effort that no one knows if it’s there or not, except the individual who is putting it forward. And I think being a great leader means being very visible doing the very hard tasks, setting an example, having challenging conversations with people.
But doing it in a way that maintains their respect and their dignity and making people feel like they’re valued. And they’re heard, that they have a voice at the table and that they have something to contribute. It’s not telling people what to do. It’s asking them and listening a lot, and then taking that information and using it, and if you can’t use it, then explaining why you can’t use it so that people are not afraid of putting forth opinions in the future.
It’s being really welcoming to people who are different people who have different opinions, people who come from different backgrounds, creating that diversity of thought and that, at the table, is extremely valuable.
You do that by tapping into folks who are from different ethnic backgrounds. Different religions, different from us. There’s a very strong compelling business case to do that, but it is just the right thing to do, to be an inclusive leader.
And look at people. From the perspective of who they are in terms of their abilities and not in terms of their stereotypical labels that sometimes are applied.
Do you think it’s still important to support women in business, specifically in 2023? And why is it so important and so relevant today?
At Good Life, 75% of our senior leadership team is female. So it is, once again, an anomaly in the industry. We’re very proud of that. And it’s something that we talk about a lot, it’s part of our, our DEI. But I think, in 2023, it’s still incredibly important to support women in search of careers and opportunities.
I just read the other day about women still only make about 80% of men, in Canada. So there’s that financial gap that is closing, but it’s so painfully slow. And I think that there are still lots of obstacles for women in most industries.
There’s a lot of work to be done. We’re definitely moving in the right direction in the fitness industry. We’ve made some strides, for sure. The head of Ursa, which is the global, sort of governing body for fitness worldwide is now female, Liz Clark. And in Canada, our director of the fitness business is also female.
Those are big steps for us, to have women in those roles to act as role models. We scratched the surface, but we still have a long way to go yet. We can’t stand around and pat ourselves on the back just yet.
Is there something you wish you knew before starting your career and kind of rising up the ranks at Good Life that you know now, something that could have proven useful in business or in life in general?
I think the biggest thing would be that I would not have been so hard on myself. I would’ve allowed myself to be a lot more easygoing, not achieving perfection as much. If I make a mistake, no one is going to die, we can make a correction.
It’s not a big deal. And you know, there’s so much stress that we, as women, put on ourselves because we think we have to be perfect. We have to be twice as good in order to do what our male counterparts are able to do.
That’s the other learning I’ve had. You’re only as good as your peers. And if you are able to attract good people into your circle, people who believe in what you want to do, who believe in you, who have the same similar values and aspirations and goals, it makes for a tremendous support system when things aren’t going well.
And that’s when we really do need support. It’s easy to be all sunshine and roses when things are going really well, but when things start to get a bit dark, as they did during the pandemic, it is priceless to have that circle of support around you.
What kind of support system is important to you? What kind of network or community have you built?
Family for sure. And friends. But a lot of my friends, because I’ve worked in this company for so long, are also my coworkers. We share this common experience in this community, and it makes for a very powerful bond. When you have experienced something together, and you’ve been able to overcome challenges together, you sort of come through the fire together, it creates an incredibly strong bond.
And it’s something that I can’t even articulate to be quite honest. You feel that they have your back and you have their back. And it’s almost unconditional support, and it’s priceless. It’s irreplaceable.
How can anyone, whether they’re an entrepreneur, a supervisor in a company, or just in our everyday lives, better support fellow women in the workplace?
I think it’s first a question of talent. Your talent acquisition programs and your philosophy, and it’s really around looking for people who, first and foremost, want to make a contribution and looking for people who have aspirations to move up in your company. So it’s really giving that opportunity to cast that wide net, make it really inclusive. And make it really safe for people.
Once you’ve identified those top or high potential people, or they have identified themselves to you as having aspirations in your company, then it’s really sitting down and getting to know them. Like really having those in-depth conversations around what’s important to them where do they want to go, what do they want to do how do they want to contribute not just to this company, but to the planet.
And making sure that you have a good cultural fit there. Once you have that, that’s a really important piece of the puzzle to having a great associate. It’s that cultural fit. Because skills we can teach, you know? Those are things that we can provide support to people for.
And then that’s what you have to do as well, you have this group of high potential folks who then you need to provide training and support and mentorship and feedback. And you need to give them the opportunity to stretch and to fail and to feel okay about that.
You know, I think mentorship programs are really important. I think that is one of the key ingredients to developing great leaders, great women leaders, is to provide strong mentorship and, strong leader leadership and allow them the opportunity to tap into the experience that others have gained so that they don’t feel like they have to reinvent the wheel all the time.
What are daily or regular practices you need to feel grounded, to stay healthy, to feel like you are living your best life?
Yeah, I think it’s changed over the years. As I’ve aged, I’ve given myself some grace in terms of physical activity. And not really trying to do high-intensity workouts anymore. I still work out, I do strength training – I think that’s really important for us as women to maintain, the integrity of our bony structures.
I need to be in nature every day. I moved to a farm six years ago, and honestly, I feel like I should have been a farmer all my life. I just love it there, I enjoy so much getting outside and walking with my dogs every morning on the trails, really.
It really centres me for the day ahead. So I do that every day. Regardless of rain, shine, snow, whatever, we’re out there all the time. And I think the other thing is really around rest and allowing yourself to take the time to replenish. It’s making sure I have good sleep habits, I don’t regenerate as quickly as I used to.
So I have to allow myself that opportunity to make sure that I do get decent sleep. And I also have taken up reading again, just reading for pleasure. Because I was always reading for self-improvement and for business.