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Life Time Athletic manager hired 200 in two months

New Year’s fitness resolutions help to create a robust first quarter for the gym business, said Phil Zerante, 29, general manager of the new Life Time Athletic facility in Garden City. To take advantage of that business bump, the $44 million, 180,000-square-foot gym opened its doors two weeks ago.

The gym, which includes a restaurant, pool and separate floor for children’s classes, is the second on Long Island for the 119-location chain operated by Minnesota-based Life Time Fitness Inc. Single memberships at the resort-style gym start at $159 a month, and family memberships are around $300.

Zerante, a lifelong athlete, overcame lupus as a teenager while still playing football and enduring chemotherapy treatments that led to brittle, and broken, bones. “For an autoimmune disease, football is probably not the best sport to choose, but it was what I was so committed and determined to do. It drove me to push hard to stay fit and to stay healthy,” he said.

Growing up in the Chicago area, he began working at 16 as a water slide attendant at Life Time to gain free membership for his workouts. He rose to sales manager, and Garden City is the second gym he has opened as general manager. Still starting his day with a workout, he arrives at 6:30 a.m.

What’s the best way to work your way up the management ranks?

When I first started I was always ambitious, always preparing myself for the next [promotion]. But one of the executives told me, “It’s not about preparing yourself for the next step; it’s about being the best at where you are now.” And so my focus shifted. If I want to grow with the company, I need to be the best in the current position that I’m in. If it’s a general manager, you focus on being the best general manager.

How do you hire 200 people in a hurry?

We have thousands of people apply for positions, and from there my management team does phone screenings, eventually booking one-on-one interviews. From there they would pass candidates on to me for a final interview. And so I met with every single candidate, from Oct. 1 until the end of November — I did 301 one-on-one final interviews for team members. And out of that, we ended up hiring just over 200. For those two months in October and November I would eat, sleep and breathe the casting of our team in Garden City, but it pays off so much when you know that you have the right team and the right people.

What should interviewees avoid?

We’re looking for the best-in-class team members. We expected them to not only be on time and dress professionally, but one of the requirements is that, after the first interview, we asked our team members to learn our company mission. And then in the final interview I’d ask them to recite the mission to me. I’d want to know, did they believe it? What was it about the mission that maybe stood out to them? How did they relate to the mission? And so the easiest way to not pass the final interview was if you didn’t learn the mission.

How can employees set themselves apart?

We look for team members that believe in our mission and are passionate about and personally practice living a healthy way of life, embrace change, are performance-oriented. And then, we’re a culture of retention; we want to keep our members and help them get the most out of their membership, so you need to care.

Do New Year’s resolutions affect membership?

The first quarter of any year — whether it’s from a member acquisition standpoint or just a member usage standpoint — ends up being the busiest quarter of the year for us. And a lot of that is attributed to New Year’s resolutions. But in our summer months, we see a similar spike in interest because we open our outdoor spaces, an outdoor water park, deck with chaise lounges, outdoor cafe, and serve beer and wine like a resort.

NAME: Phil Zerante, general manager, Life Time Athletic in Garden City

WHAT IT DOES: Resort-style gym and fitness center with adult and children’s classes

REVENUE: $1.29 billion for 119 locations chain-wide

EMPLOYEES: 80 full time; 119 part time in Garden City

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