A Balanced Approach to Professional Fitness

Hilary Sutton Executive Features, Finance Leave a Comment

CFO Dorvin Lively blends expertise in business and finance to help lead Planet Fitness into the future.

Portrait of Dorvin Lively of Planet FitnessPlanet Fitness may be best known for its $10 per month price tag or its “Judgement Free Zone®,” but behind the scenes CFO Dorvin Lively works vigorously every day to make decisions to ensure that Planet Fitness is not only the club where its more than 7.1 million members feel at home now, but where they will return for the next ten years and beyond. With over 1,000 locations in 47 states, Puerto Rico and Canada, Planet Fitness has become one of the most recognizable names in the fitness world.

The Impact of the Founder Mentality

Lively has a lengthy background in finance. For some thirty years he has worked in leadership roles with household names like Maidenform, ACE Hardware and Radioshack. Planet Fitness is actually one of the youngest companies Lively has worked with. At only about 20 years old, in some ways Planet Fitness still feels like a startup when compared to the century old companies Lively has worked with in the past. “It creates the excitement of that founder mentality,” said Lively. Lively’s approach at Planet Fitness is geared toward growing the company. “Coming in as CFO here in a company that is in high growth mode, I have to make sure I’m really focusing on critical factors of how to run the business—not just looking at results but asking ‘what’s underneath that? What are the key metrics? What are the key drivers that are causing the business to perform as it is?’”

At Planet Fitness Lively leads his finance team. His leadership approach varies widely from person to person. While some employees may need more hands on help to interpret the numbers, others flourish functioning more autonomously. Lively likens his leadership style to that of a rope: “I can give you as much rope as I think you can handle. One person I might give more rope to than another. That’s the difference between micromanaging and macro-managing. You may need to pull the rope in for someone who performed well at a certain level but needs more development to excel at a higher level. It’s a situation where you have to assess each person individually.”

The Impact of the High Growth Mentality

One of his greatest aims in leading his team is to help them determine which key metrics deserve their focus. “Because it is numbers-based sometimes people tend to try to analyze way too many factors and not really focus on the real drivers of the business. Some people can get into minutiae,” said Lively. He pointed out that those key drivers of the business may change rapidly so auto-pilot is never an option. “My role is to try to hone in on what those key drivers are today. They might be different than what they were two years ago. In a high growth environment things change quickly,” said Lively. He also has to determine not only what matters now but what will matter in the future and make decisions today based on those predictions.


The Impact of Technology

While at first glance technology innovation may seem like it would have little impact on a gym full of dumbbells and treadmills, Lively said it is and will be one of the most impactful changes on the business. “The thing that I talk about to our team and our board is ‘Where do we think we’ll be 2-5 years from now?’” Lively expects innovation in wearable technology, mobile connectivity and apps to make a major impact on the future of the industry. Speaking of wearable technology Lively said: “we’re just barely scratching the surface. Because it’s health-related and activity-related, it can have a huge impact.”

Lively’s focus on the business of Planet Fitness exemplifies that he is not a CFO of the past, hunched over a ledger. Rather, Lively is highly involved in the business of Planet Fitness and believes that CFOs can no longer simply focus on balancing budgets. “Because the CFO is in front of many different stakeholders, not only in the finance function, but side by side other leaders, you have to be able to help various functions make decisions in the right interest of the company and keep things balanced within what the company can afford. You’re the watchdog. The board views the finance leader as a responsible sounding board within company,” said Lively. He explained that simply being good with numbers does not land anyone in the c-suite any more. “No one is looking for a good finance executive. They’re looking for a good finance executive that’s a very good business person.” ♦

The Impact of a Mentor with Dorvin Lively

Mentorship has been a point of serious focus for Dorvin Lively throughout his career, whether it’s been through a company-facilitated mentoring program or an unofficial investment in a younger team member. In his first position out of college Lively was mentored by a senior leader in his company. “That first experience of being mentored by a very senior guy really put an emphasis on how critical that concept is,” said Lively. Because of how helpful and rewarding the experience was, Lively has made it a priority to mentor others throughout his thirty-year career.

Lively looks for a few signs when determining who could benefit from mentorship: “you may recognize a strong employee could be a great contributor but you sense that they’re struggling in their current role…I think it’s really rewarding if you can get in those situations and help people out.” According to Lively, mentoring works best in cross-functional relationships. He may even go to a senior leader in another department and ask him or her to reach out to someone in his own department that could benefit from some personal investment. “If I know someone in my department may be struggling, I may go to someone who I trust and have them talk to the employee to get a sense of what’s going on,” Lively explained.

Lively values mentorship in the workplace and considers it one of the more important functions of his work. “I want to be one of those people that someone else goes to to help. That’s the way I try to approach that,” said Lively.

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