Give back — in whatever way you can. Helping others always makes you feel better about yourself and very often the things you say/do to help someone else is what you need most to hear/do in your own life.
As a part of our series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Madeline Wolkove and Susie Lecker.
Madeline Wolkove, Founder of FitSwoop, has spent over 23 years being classically trained in business, marketing, technology and data at tier one companies like Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, Nestle SA and Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited.
Susie Lecker, CEO and Partner of FitSwoop, is a dynamic executive with over 20 years of experience launching and scaling global brands as the former Chief Brands Officer at Mattel, where she led a 2B dollars division of the business and represented the organization globally, working with industry leading partners like Nickelodeon, Disney, Warner Brothers, Universal, Netflix, Microsoft and Activision.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
MW: Thank you so much for having me! As a high energy, anxious person physical activity was just part of my daily life. As a child I played tennis and as soon as I was old enough to be allowed in a gym my parents got me a gym membership where I would go every single day before or after school. I always looked to physical activity as an outlet to keep me busy, focused and more importantly stress free! I spent over 15 years in the corporate world working at tier 1 companies where I climbed a massive corporate ladder dealing with all the cultural things that are so widely talked about now. For me to perform my best and deal with the mounting stress and anxiety that came with every promotion and new growth opportunity I habitually took to working out at 6am everyday. The result of this I really believe helped power me in a way that allowed for me to perform my personal best. With the explosion of the boutique fitness industry combined with all the content that became readily available in the wellness space, I no longer wanted to work out at just one club and needed variety in workouts. I was also travelling quite a bit and needed other options besides the hotel gyms to get a good sweat on and to feel inspired and energized. Available options at the time that would allow for variety had lots of friction baked into them — therefore, we started to work on a platform that would allow for people to “Swoop” in and out of gyms and wellness studios with no restrictions, memberships or strings!
SL: Thank you — It’s truly an honor to be included in this series! My professional and personal journey are truly aligned now in my role & partnership in FitSwoop — it took me a long time to find the physical, mental and spiritual balance in my personal life because my career was always the priority. I came out of school with a degree in psychology and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I started out as a secretary in a marketing department, and over the next couple of decades worked my way up the corporate ladder, finally landing my “dream” job in the “C suite” as Chief Brand Officer at Mattel. The journey was as great as it sounds — and I was blessed to have the opportunity to work with so many talented and generous people & companies, however the only way I knew how to cope with the stress of all that achievement was to eat. So — every rung of the corporate ladder that I climbed, came with substantial weight gain. I found myself in my late-40’s, a chronic yo-yo dieter in a size 22 — winning professionally, but at a significant personal cost. I decided to make a pretty dramatic life change — I gave up flour & sugar, started meditating and volunteering to help others with similar struggles — and began to make choices with self-care at the center, using that as a filter to decide all things personal and professional. My passion to give back and help others — especially the next generation — find the balance to live their best lives every day, is perfectly aligned to the FitSwoop mission.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
MW: With so many years spent building my career it is hard to pin down the most interesting story that happened to me. I think if I looked at my career in broad strokes I think an interesting theme I would have for people is the competitive advantage curiosity can give you. When you’re curious you often uncover business potential that lead to game changing ideas for categories, products and services.
SL: So many interesting stories — especially with 20 years in the toy industry… I have found that I have learned the most from the experiences that made me the most uncomfortable. Getting passed over for a promotion that I felt I richly deserved, made me realize that living in self-pity and resentment was only hurting me — I had a chance to stay or to go, and if I stayed I needed to be there with my whole heart — not with a chip on my shoulder. Saying the wrong thing in a meeting because I didn’t understand or listen to the issue — I was too busy in my head, crafting my response — made me work extra hard at preparation and listening skills.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
MW: I think one of the biggest mistakes I made in my career was choosing money as the #1 criteria for selecting the jobs I would take or pursue. What I learned from this is that the money will never make you happy or feel fulfilled if you really don’t feel passionate about the job/company or if the role does not align with who you are as a person or what fulfills you most as your purpose. Very early on in my career I accepted a job in an industry that I would never personally participate in because it offered me a healthy six figure salary plus a large signing bonus. I resigned from that company on the day of my 1st year and hated every single day I spent at that company despite my paychecks.
SL: One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started was (unknowingly) talking to the press!!! In my first job — I worked at the company who made Wonder Bread in Canada. I was very low on the totem pole, and a reporter called to talk to my boss, and got to me instead — I had no idea in answering her questions that my responses would be published and I said something about how much people love “squishy white bread.” UGH. I learned very quickly to understand who I am talking to and be conscious of what I am saying is a critical business skill.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
MW: I met so many wonderful and smart people in my journey in the corporate world who would often mentor me and provide me with the EQ and IQ to ensure that I was always on a path to success. I achieved success from really being clear and self-aware on what my opportunity areas were and tried to utilize the people around me including the organization to close those gaps.
SL: That is SO true — I have been so fortunate to work with people who have believed in & championed me — 3 come to mind (can’t pick just one). My first mentor was a dynamic and vivacious woman who came from a traditional packaged goods background and trained me how to think critically, and differentiate between objectives, strategies & tactics. My next mentor was a British man who trusted me to run my own business, and when I delivered, ensured I received the credit internally and the opportunities to grow. Perhaps the person who had the most influence on how I developed personally and professionally is another woman — a born & bred New Yorker — brilliantly creative and so authentically herself. She taught me that I could be a stronger leader if I let my vulnerability show, and come from a place of authenticity. All 3 had wicked senses of humor — and I learned from all of them that the BEST results come when you are having fun, chasing the dream and not the money!
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
MW: YES! FitSwoop is really my passion project and has been built behind the purpose of wanting to power and nurture the next generation by democratizing fitness and having away with memberships and commitments. What we want at FitSwoop is to have people moving and participating in experiences that will power them mentally, physically and spiritually . Also through FitSwoop for Good, which represents our Youth Impact initiative related to our CSV goals has us working to support causes and young entrepreneurs who have a similar purpose to ours.
SL: It’s so exciting to be working in the wellness industry — and to be offering in FitSwoop, a brand with a mission to provide access to physical, mental & spiritual experiences to allow the next generation to thrive. There are 3 key elements to that mission that I believe will make a bigger impact — the first is ACCESS — there is no membership or subscription fee to book an experience on our app — so anyone who wants to “swoop” in just pays as they go. The second is the breadth of EXPERIENCES across the physical, mental and spiritual spectrum — giving users visibility to new & cutting edge treatments or classes that they otherwise may not have come across, or thought they couldn’t afford to try without a membership. Lastly — it is our focus on the NEXT GEN — we know from research that this “on-demand” generation values the immediacy that is available to them in most aspects of their life — FitSwoop makes it easy to plan ahead or be spontaneous and live the day to the fullest. Our passion is to provide the tools to this generation to live more balanced lives, sooner than prior generations — and optimize their impact on the world.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
MW: I am not a guru when it comes to wellbeing and I am sure nothing below will be incredibly insightful however these are the top 5 things I am working on right now.
- Work out! Breaking a sweat everyday will always continue to be my preference to ensure I am being the best I can!
- Say no! As a mother of 2 boys and the founder of a company I have really needed to become choiceful about how I spend my time so that I am allowing enough time for me to re-charge. This now involves saying no to drinks with friends , dinners and sometimes even just phone calls!
- No electronics or CNN before bed time 🙂 I am still working on this however sleep is critical and the need for quieting my mind has never been stronger, therefore I am doing this on a regular basis to ensure I can get better sleep.
- Shut my brain off! In a world overflowing with information at our fingertips, it’s so important to give our brains a break.
- Go easy on myself and try to live life in the flow. We can’t predict everything that is going to happen, but we can shift along with the tides. If this past year taught us all anything, it’s that being flexible to change and pivot is so important.
SL: I don’t know if this will work for everyone, but these are the top 5 things I changed that helped me achieve a daily happiness that — despite material success — eluded me before.
- Cultivate a spiritual practice — whether that is through meditation, yoga or whatever connects most to you. I always thought this was a bunch of hooey — but it honestly is the most important change I made to transform my life. It allowed me to root my day in acts of gratitude for all that I have, in place of fear that I wasn’t enough, or that I wasn’t keeping up with others.
- Really believe in and practice self-care, understanding that it is the least selfish thing you can do! I always thought I had to put everyone else’s needs first, or I would be acting selfishly — I now realize, I show up SO much better for others when I have looked after myself first. Workout, nutrition, spa day — whatever that looks like for you — learn to care for yourself.
- Give back — in whatever way you can. Helping others always makes you feel better about yourself and very often the things you say/do to help someone else is what you need most to hear/do in your own life.
- This one sounds SO cliche — but stay in the moment. I have found — if I am thinking too much about the future I get anxious and if I think too much about the past I can be filled with regret or depression — so when I start spiraling into one of those thought patterns — I bring myself back to the day, and go straight to gratitude for when I am right now — it’s the only place to find happiness!
- Exercise the right you have to choose your actions — this can take on many different forms — for me, it was recognizing when someone “put down” guilt, worry, fear — in the past, I would pick that up and try to make it better. Now, I recognize that it is not mine to solve — I can listen and support — but I don’t have to pick it up and make it personal.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
MW: My movement would be called “Just Swoop” and would encourage ppl to just move and be inspired by being around others!
SL: That’s precisely what we are trying to do with FitSwoop — in our Utopian future — Swoopin’ is a verb — used interchangeably for doing anything that involves wellness, freedom & flexibility. Just like we now say we “uber’d” or “venmo’d — we want people who have just had a great mind/body/soul experience to say they just “swoop’d”.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
MW: #1. My number one is probably the one that holds the most weight right now and that would be: Trust your gut. If your purpose is clear and you really believe in it to the core then your intuition and gut will never steer you wrong.
#2. Watch your competition
#3. Money will disappear fast
#4. Surround yourself with a strong support system
#5. Be prepared to change directions daily!
SL: So — in addition to all the excellent points Madeline made…
#1. You will make mistakes — that’s ok — as long as you pivot quickly and LEARN from them.
#2. The best laid plans can have unexpected results — as an “A” type, I try to think ahead and “control” for the outcome — but control is an illusion — and what you expect to happen can sometimes disappoint, and sometimes surprise & delight.
#3. Getting traction — no matter how brilliant the idea — takes time, money & constant pivoting.
#4. It’s all a bit of a roller coaster — emotions run high with wins and low with disappointments — keeping the balance for ourselves that we are advocating to others is how we stay grounded.
#5. How rewarding it is to be building a brand from the ground up with a team whose intentions and belief in what we are trying to accomplish are totally aligned. I have worked on great teams before — and in the corporate world, I was always building Shareholder value — it is totally different to be building a business in true partnership.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
MW: Mental Health! Having been through 2020 and as mother of 2 boys under the age of 11yrs old I feel incredibly passionate about Mental Health. The world today has not been easy on anyone therefore people need outlets and tools to ensure that they are powering and nurturing themselves while also staying positive.
SL: This is a leading question — considering the brand and industry 🙂 Definitely Mental Health, and I would add inclusion to the list. So many cultural issues around diversity and equal opportunity — which is about ACCESS, and is one of our key tenets. From a mental health perspective — we are at a tipping point — and I believe Gen Z are the first to truly understand they have to proactively manage their stress to keep the mental health balance. This generation is already proving they will find the solutions for many of the big topics listed above — Swooping will help them keep the positive flow going!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
FitSwoop on LinkedIn
@FitSwoop on Instagram
@FitSwoop on TikTok
Thank you for these fantastic insights!