We had an appointment with Randy Dobson at one of his California Centuryon clubs on an early humid summer day. He was there, ready for his photoshoot before we arrived. My first impression of him is his dynamic charisma and energy. His confidence and the interesting stories about being a pioneer and leader for the fitness and lifestyle industry made our interview pass by quickly.
Talking to Randy during his short break between the photo shoot, he explained to us the reason why he chose Vietnam as the place to open his business. “In 2005, after 13 years in the industry I had worked my way up to being the Vice President for the largest privately held fitness company in the world overseeing operations in Asia. I was at a point in my career where I was either going to stay in the corporate world or venture out and open my own company. I decided that opening my own company was where my passion lie, so I started looking for developing markets where the industry had not fully matured. I wanted to create something unique and different and knew the chances of being able to do that would be in a market that was still developing. I looked at many countries and markets but Vietnam had all the ingredients I was looking for.” Randy paused to remember the moment when he made one of the most important decisions of his life.
In just seven years from opening the first fitness center in Hung Vuong Plaza his company has experienced one success after another. He has successfully built one of the leading fitness and lifestyle brands in South East Asia with over 50 thousand members coming to his clubs to work out. I still wonder why Vietnam was selected among other countries. “Why not?! There are many ingredients for me to build and develop my company. Young literate population, fast growing economy, health conscious and people love to exercise. Vietnam had all the elements I was looking for.” Randy explained. “Besides, there were only small gyms, lacking international standard facilities and equipment. I wanted to build lifestyle and entertainment centers fully equipped and full of energy with dynamic Group X and Yoga classes to encourage people to join.”
The gentleman sitting in front of me now owns 8 lifestyle centers in HCMC, Hanoi and Danang. During the last 7 years, there have been many changes in the fitness industry with the opening of many big and proffesional fitness centers. However, there is no other company that has the success of California Fitness & Yoga. What has made the CFYC chain such a big success? He talked about that with pride: “I love competition because I think it makes everyone better and sharper but quite honestly up until now I don’t think anyone has come to the table with a product or service that competes in our space. There are many clubs trying to get where we are but in our company we are always working on providing new and innovative offerings so the best our competition can do is get where we were but they will never get ahead of where we are going. Our brand promise of Making Life Better is our commitment for our employees and members.”
Randy’s pride is based on the fact that CFYC has a large member base and many employees. His clubs serve more than 10,000 clients a day and over 3.5 million workouts a year. He has more than 1,100 employees nation wide. The management and training of his employees is not alway easy. He said “Our people are the key to our success. “I could not have built the CFYC brand without my people. I try to use a lot of resources on improving the lives of our staff. From psychology training to specific job training. If I were to sum it up I would say train your people so well that any company would want to hire them but make working for you so good that they never want to leave. Simply put, we want to be the best company in Vietnam to work for.”
If people are the key resource for a company to grow, a company culture is the essential factor to encourage everyone to contribute. With the vision of a business leader and years of experience, Randy understands deeply the needs of his people and he strives to meet their needs, to motivate them in working and contributing. In a short seven years, Randy sucessfully built a financially profitable company and a strong company culture with it. “Mizuho Asia Partners, which is a subsidiary of Mizuho Bank, Japan has invested in our company. Ultimately they invested in our company because they believe they will get a great return on their investment, a strong brand and a strong company culture with high standards and values. I feel very honored to be a partner of Mizuho and to be the first company in Vietnam they have ever invested in. “Randy talks about his company with excitement.
A side from building a strong foundation, training his people professionally and building a strong company culture, does he have any other secrets to keep CFYC in the leading position? After surprising me from one story to another about his business experience in the fitness industry and managing people; Randy continues to reveal his secret to being the leader in his field. “ It is quite simple! Technology. If it were not for technology we would still be living in caves and eating raw meat. Technology is what makes humans different from all other species on this planet. Each step along the way has allowed us to live a better quality of life than the generation before us. Cars, air travel, smart phones, computers have all improved our lives.”
Randy is a fan of technology, he gets excited when talking about this. Sharing how he makes use of technology: “We use some of the latest technologies to add more value to our clients, creating a good environment for people to exercise and creating a new place for people to come. At CFYC, technology is in every aspect of our company. We use technologies like Survey Monkey and Facebook to get feedback on how our service and training is doing. We use biometric scanning to manage our personal training sessions with clients. Our club environments, from the temperature to the scent are all regulated by some of the latest technologies available. A company that does not make use of all the technologies available today is not going to make it in todays marketplace.”
With 8 centers - 5 in HCMC and 3 in Hanoi, CFYC is the biggest player in Vietnam. In the next 3 years, his company will open 15 to 20 more centers. He shows his ambitious vision and plan: “With nearly 100 million people and one of the world’s fastest growing middles classes there is a huge demand for fitness and lifestyle services in Vietnam. There comes a time when you realize having 200 more clubs is not even going to be enough. I am thankful for being the pioneer and leader in this industry in Vietnam.” Randy pauses and continues his talk: “There are many things we still need to do. However, I believe I will be able to achieve them and continue to be the leader in this industry. As long as we deliver on adding more value than our competitors we will keep our number 1 position. Peter Drucker who was the father of modern business said that business comes down to two things. Innovation and marketing and those are two things we happen to be very good at.”
In order to be a great leader, Randy spends a lot of time personally attending many training course to update his knowledge to improve his company and its development plan. Randy talks about the impact of his training: “I attended many couses by Tony Robbins. I have also participated in business courses at Singularity University. I have learned many new strategies for business and ways to use technology in my business. These have all been useful when applying the use of technology at CYFC.” I am totally impressed with the knowledge Randy possesses. He continues to update his knowledge to stay ahead of the market and social trends.
Without him telling me, I already know he has big plans for his company’s growth in the future. Nevertheless I still ask if there are any other business plans to go along with the strong CFYC brand he has built? “I do not only focus on CYFC! CFYC is very stable and growing and we are expanding with a new luxury chain under the name California Centuryon, the club you and I are in today is one of them. If CFYC is targeting the middle class, Califoria Centuryon will target the wealthy clientele with a more luxury and high end atmosphere which includes many red carpet services. In addition we have also launched a new sportswear brand – California Republik. This will allow us to leverage off our current network of members while adding more value to their fitness experience.” Randy said.
When this month’s issue reaches you, there will be two California Centuryon clubs operating along with CFYC. In the next six months, the total number of clubs will reach 12 and the new sports apparel line California Republik also on the shelves. But that’s not all; Randy tells us he is currently launching a new mobile technology platform which he is developing with some of the best minds in Silicon Valley. This new platform will radically change the way people are able to connect with health and fitness professionals and achieve the quality of life they want.
“I also have a new company being launched here in Vietnam next month with an amazing group of leaders from the entertainment and modeling industry. Our new company will provide image consultancy, talent development and talent management for celebrities, models and business people who want to work internationally. I am really proud of the leadership team we have put together for this new business and I believe they are going to provide a level of professionalism and service in this sector that has never been offered here (Vietnam) before” says Randy about another project. He has met many talented artists and celebrities who could not find a really professional team to work with. This is the reason I have decided to open a talent management company to help young artists find the right representation so they can have opportunities to work overseas. “I have really been blessed in my life to be mentored by some amazing business leaders and now I want to pass that gift to other talented entrepreneurs. It gives me tremendous fulfillment to find passionate people and help them realize their dreams in life.”
Our short break ends, the image production team is ready to continue their photoshoot. Looking at Randy in front of camera doing his MMA poses, I truly admire him. Operating his company, managing new projects, travelling constantly between Vietnam and other countries for business courses, he is still full of energy and enthusiasm. I am hoping to catch up with him another time in Esquire to share his experiences and new lessons with our readers.