Club Insider

Brent Darden Sets a New Course for IHRSA as Interim CEO

Posted: September 3, 2020 in IHRSA

Brent DardenBrent Darden

BOSTON, MA – Over the past several months, the world as we knew it has undergone changes many of us could never have imagined. The fitness industry was especially hard hit by the pandemic that the world has struggled to contain, resulting in an economic downturn, government restrictions on clubs and shaky consumer confidence.

These challenges were also deeply felt at IHRSA, and the Board of Directors deemed that a new tact was needed to best serve the industry during this time. On August 21, they announced the appointment of Brent Darden as Interim President and Chief Executive Officer, effective immediately. Darden replaced Joe Moore, who served as IHRSA’s President & CEO since 2006.

“Joe’s departure reflects a decision by the IHRSA Board that it was time for a leadership change,” Darden said. “Over his 15 years as President and CEO, Joe made many contributions to the overall success of IHRSA. The Board of Directors and IHRSA staff are grateful for his service and commitment to fulfilling the mission of growing, protecting, and promoting the health and fitness industry. As the interim President and CEO, I look forward to continuing the great legacy of success our members and vendors have come to expect.”

A New Course

The IHRSA Board of Directors chose Darden for this role in large part due to his extensive leadership experience in the industry.

“My selection to be the Interim CEO is most certainly a privilege and an honor,” Darden said. “It is also an appointment that comes with great responsibility not only to the organization, but also to the global fitness community. The outpouring of support I continue to receive from so many colleagues—both club operators and suppliers from around the world has been truly moving.”

Under Darden’s leadership, the IHRSA staff, working closely with the Board, will revisit “virtually everything.”

“Much like all of you around the world, whether club operators or industry suppliers, IHRSA’s doing its best not only to survive this crisis, but also to reimagine ourselves for the future,” he said in a recent video. “I want you to know that the IHRSA team starts every day asking this question: What can we do to help our members and customers succeed?”

And the stakes have never been higher.

“Ultimately the fate of our industry rests on our collective shoulders,” he continued. “I know we’re up to the task. This pandemic has laid open the reality of how far we must go to earn a prominent place in the continuum of helping people lead healthier lifestyles. Unfortunately around the world, at a time when the benefits of regular exercise should have been emphasized more than ever, they were dismissed and deemed irrelevant far too often. We simply have to do more if we want to play a significant role in the fight to reverse the trend of obesity, physical inactivity, and unfulfilled well-being.”

To accomplish this, Darden plans to work closely with the IHRSA Board and other leaders in our industry to help chart the course for a re-imagined and successful future.

“The current crisis is beyond anything that IHRSA has endured before,” he said. “Although the ‘great recession’ was a very difficult time financially, it was not also fraught with the pandemic, overriding absence of trust, and perceived lack of performance by so many constituents. The challenge that lies before us will be overcome through an obsession with the customers’ voice, authenticity, transparency, consensus building, and an unwavering commitment to balance the needs of stakeholders when making the hard decisions that await.”

The Next Phase in a Venerable Career

Stepping up to fill the role of IHRSA’s Interim President & CEO was a decision Darden did not take lightly, as he was “in a comfortable and contented ‘place’ in life with the perfect balance of rewarding work and purposeful relaxation.”

His background in fitness industry leadership roles is extensive. He earned his master’s degree in exercise science from Baylor University and began his career as the Activities Director at the First Baptist Church of Waco Life Recreation Center. He later was employed in a variety of positions in different fitness operating models including a regional multi-club group, a large independent athletic facility, and a niche group exercise studio.

Darden went on to work in the corporate wellness arena, serving as the Wellness Director for Texas Instruments and Northern Telecom, two of the most comprehensive employee wellness programs in the country. While at Texas Instruments, he created the “Commitment In Action” (CIA) initiative, which was recognized by the National Employee Recreation & Services Association, as the annual “Best Employee Wellness Incentive Program.”

Following his achievements in corporate wellness, Darden was recruited to serve as Vice President of the renowned Cooper Aerobic Enterprises, working alongside Dr. Kenneth Cooper. During his tenure, he provided leadership for the Fitness Center and In-Residence Wellness Program, and oversaw the opening of the Cooper Spa, and establishment of the Cooper Consulting Division. While on the Cooper campus, he was recognized by IHRSA as “General Manager of the Year.”

In 2003, Darden and his partner took over the failed N. Dallas Athletic Club, renovating and relaunching it as the luxurious Telos Fitness Center. After completing a “Texas-Sized Turnaround” as one article labeled it, Telos was named one of the few independently owned organizations included in the “Top 100 US Health Clubs” according to Club Industry Magazine. Telos was also recognized as N. Dallas “Business of the Year,” awarded the “Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award,” and received a litany of industry accolades.

From 2010 through 2015, Darden served on the IHRSA Board of Directors, as Nominations Committee Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, Chairperson of the Board, and Ex-Officio. Over the years, he has advised hundreds of fitness brands and delivered keynote presentations around the world on leadership, employee engagement, customer experience,strategy, and brand frameworks, among other topics. Darden currently chairs several REX Executive Roundtables that include many of the top club owners/operators in the industry.

“I’ve had the privilege to know Brent for 25 years, and his experience in the fitness industry as an owner, educator, speaker, board member and leader are bar none,” said IHRSA Board Member Brad Wilkins. “The IHRSA Board of Directors are excited to work with Brent and the IHRSA staff to continue its 40-year history of growing, protecting, and promoting the health and fitness industry, and to provide its members with the benefits that will help them be more successful than ever before.”

Darden told the Board he does not intend to serve as IHRSA President & CEO on a permanent basis.

“As soon as we together decide the time is right to begin the search for a permanent CEO, I will be prepared to assist in any way that I can through the transition,” he said.

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