Most innovative CEO 2005: David Patchell-Evans, Goodlife Fitness Clubs

The Boss report: 2006 | 2005

Intro | Top CEO | Top CFO | Top in sales | CEOs to watch | Top COO | Top in technology | Most innovative CEO

David Patchell-Evans
Goodlife Fitness Clubs

Date of birth: October 26, 1953
Years at company: 26
Last position: Ran a snowplowing business
Education: Phys. Ed., University of Western Ontario

David Patchell-Evans is not your typical chief executive. For starters, he eschews formal titles, preferring instead to be referred to as “Patch” by colleagues, family and friends. Then there's his handshake: a hearty, two-handed affair aimed at making a lasting first impression with new clients. And finally, there's his wardrobe, which is just as likely to feature athletic shorts and a T-shirt as a stiff suit.

As founder and CEO of London, Ont.-based GoodLife Fitness Clubs–Canada's largest fitness chain–Patchell-Evans has built a career, and a company, doing things differently. “In my business, people don't want a typical CEO,” he says. “What they want is a leader.”

Patchell-Evans was selected as Most Innovative Executive by Canadian Business and a panel of experts through an open call for nominations. For the 51-year-old, six-foot-four, 205-pound former champion rower, innovation is a hallmark of his leadership style. Last year, he acquired exclusive Canadian rights to Visual Fitness Planner, a software tool that allows clients at GoodLife's 101 locations to picture themselves before and after they've met their fitness goals. Depending on a client's lifestyle, genetics and other risk factors, the program also spits out customized exercise and diet recommendations. “You can take your 'after,' put it on the fridge and say, 'That's what I'm going to be,'” Patchell-Evans says. “You have to come to me to get it–that's got to help my clubs.”

In an industry where client retention is key, he has come up with new ways to attract and retain customers: free DVD rentals, babysitting and tanning services, and a web-based nutrition program that he'll launch in the fall. Patchell-Evans says GoodLife's “soft touch” has allowed him to grow his 26-year-old company into a national fitness brand, with more than 250,000 clients and 3,300 staff. “He's been able to differentiate his fitness club from the rest of the pack,” says Carol Stephenson, dean of the Richard Ivey School of Business and a member of our expert panel. “He lives and breathes in his life what he's doing as a job.”

There's also the stuff club members don't see, like GoodLife's partnership with RenewABILITY Energy Inc., an Aurora, Ont.-based company that has developed a system for recycling energy from hot water that would otherwise go down the drain. Patchell-Evans estimates he'll save between $6,000 and $20,000 per year at each of the seven locations retrofitted with the technology.

In 2001, Patchell-Evans also launched a series of women-only fitness facilities in locations like supermarkets that has helped attract clients looking for a convenient way to grab a quick workout and a few groceries.

Patchell-Evans acknowledges none of these innovations is rocket science. But he believes the added value to customers will ultimately bulk up GoodLife's bottom line. He says GoodLife has consistently delivered year-over-year revenue growth of 25% since 1979, and that the privately owned fitness chain has annual revenue of $100 million. His mid-term goal, he says, is to reach the 200-club mark by 2009. And his long-term target–what he calls his “big hairy audacious” goal? To be world famous, of course.