Leading Through Vision with Mercedes Club COO Tonya Jacobs- EP063

 In Podcast

“I truly believe in earning your stripes and working all the positions you can—being the first one to put up your hand and say, ‘I’ll take on that initiative. I’ll take on that new responsibility,’ and not expect anything in return… It gives you more substance as a leader. When you’ve worked every position and you say to an employee, ‘I need you to clean this toilet,’ and they know that you’ve done that before and you’ll do it again, there’s a built-in respect.”




Tonya Jacobs is the COO of Mercedes Club New York, a luxury health and fitness oasis boasting an elite personal training staff and unparalleled member service. Tonya began her lifelong athletic career as a formally trained dancer, and she spent eight years touring the world as a performer at luxury resorts and casinos. In 1993, she moved to New York City and began her journey in the health club industry. Mentored by leading fitness executives, Tonya worked her way up from an entry level reception position to the upper echelons of management. She has more than 20 years of experience in the luxury sports and fitness sector, having served as Regional General Manager for both The Sports Club LA and Reebok Sports Club NY before joining the team at Mercedes Club.

Today, Tonya explains how the world of fitness has changed in her time in the industry, offering her take on the differences between big box and boutique clubs. She discusses the fitness and health of her staff as well as Mercedes Club clients, sharing the systems in place to engage with new members. Tonya speaks to her experience as a woman in leadership, a mom, and a role model for health and fitness. Listen in for Tonya’s advice for aspiring industry leaders and learn her approach to leading through vision.

Topics Covered

[0:52] How Tonya got into the world of fitness

  • Background in dance (toured professionally)
  • Moved to NYC, health club was natural fit
  • Began as receptionist and worked way up
[3:34] How Tonya’s experience differed among gyms

  • Better Bodies was hard core gym for ‘tough guys’
  • Reebok Sports Club = five-star luxury environment
  • Different culture between New York and LA
[6:13] Tonya’s insight on how fitness has changed

  • People more educated, savvy
  • Train selves through technology
  • Fads come and go but basics remain
[7:19] The challenge around technology and technique

  • Good instructor, PT will correct form
[8:32] Tonya’s take on big box gyms

  • Work well in suburbs for families
  • Cities want personalized experience
[9:23] Tonya’s approach to gym management

  • Lead through vision to go above and beyond
  • Support with core values and guiding principles
  • Treat employees well, they treat patrons well
  • Look for strong EQ when recruiting new staff
  • Empower employees to solve problems
[14:34] The fitness and health of Tonya’s staff

  • Part of interview process
  • Serve as role models for members
[15:12] How Tonya ensures that members are healthy and fit

  • New members contacted for complementary eval
  • Encouraged to meet trainer within first 30 days
  • Discuss goals, design program and follow up
[17:23] How Tonya handles members with anorexia athletica

  • GM or Fitness Manager initiate conversation
  • Discuss decline in health, request doctor’s note
[19:28] Tonya’s experience as a woman in leadership

  • Female mentors as role models
  • Use assertive tone with condescending men
[21:14] Tonya’s advice for aspiring industry leaders

  • ‘Earn your stripes’ to establish built-in respect
  • Prove yourself and rewards come later
[22:52] How Tonya remains fit and healthy despite responsibilities

  • Committed to workout routine (5am M-F)
  • Prioritizes intense workouts over yoga
  • Quality time with family comes first at home
[25:06] Tonya’s insight on being a working mom

  • Giving your best ‘has to be enough’
  • Serve as positive role model for daughter

Learn More About Tonya

Mercedes Club

Mercedes Club on Instagram

Mercedes Club on Twitter

Mercedes Club on YouTube

Tonya on LinkedIn



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