28 Mar, 2017

Interview with Sarah Robb O’Hagan, CEO, Flywheel Sports – Keynote Speaker at Digital Retail Transformation Assembly 2017


In a few weeks’ time, we will be joined by our Keynote Speaker Sarah Robb O’Hagan, CEO, Flywheel Sports, Former President of Equinox Fitness and Gatorade at the Digital Retail Transformation Assembly 2017With a new job at FlyWheel and a book coming out in a week’s time, ‘EXTREMEYOU’, we sat down with Sarah to find out what’s on the cards in the future for her and what her predictions are for the world of boutique fitness and the retail industry.

You are famed for leading the movement “Extreme Living”, which is dedicated to helping individuals, teams and businesses unlock their potential by discovering their own uniquely exploitable traits. Can you tell us a little bit about the movement and how it benefits executives’ careers and personal lives?  

SRO: The biggest benefit of “Extreme Living” is getting more out of your own potential and ultimately delivering on more of your own personal ambitions. Be it as an executive or as someone leading a team or business that’s trying to go to a higher level. The whole idea behind “Extreme Living” is being willing to break yourself down and get uncomfortable, to push yourself to a higher level through growth and learning whist having a lot of fun along the way.

As an internationally recognized business leader and a transformation pioneer, what advice do you have for business leaders today?

SRO: I think I would say particularly for old leaders, the world has changed so significantly in the last 20 years, certainly in the last 5 years, that it’s all about how can you stay in touch with the innovations and capabilities that are available to you. My biggest advice to leaders out there is to make it your obligation to stay in touch with technologies and breakthroughs that give you an opportunity to leapfrog your business. You often see the situation where the older executives’ kind of go “oh well the young kids know how to do that – it’s all good”. It’s not all good. If you can’t understand the fundamentals of how these new technologies enable your business to grow, how can you make the right decisions? I think it’s important to get uncomfortable, to get into these new spaces, and to learn them.

Wearables, fitness, and health trackers have changed the way consumers interact with the healthcare industry igniting a need for digital transformation. When you launched game changer ‘Nike Plus’, in collaboration with Apple, did you foresee the impact this technology would have?  

SRO: That’s a great question. I was obviously one of a very large team launching Nike Plus. I look back now and think that really was the beginning of what we now call “modified self.” One of the greatest things I learned from having lived and worked at Nike, this a company that exemplifies staying ahead of trends because they’re not afraid of learning about new technologies, experimenting, trying, and pushing themselves.

When we launched Nike Plus we had to go person-by-person, convincing runners to use it because no one knew what it was. It was incredibly hard. I think in a lot of companies, particularly bigger companies, we don’t often have the patience to stick with innovation and enable it to find its audience. You have to have the resilience to do that.

I had a similar experience later working at Gatorade when we were launching new product innovations. Same thing, when you bring something new the consumer, they’re like “wait, what is this?” It’s easy to think it’s a failure, to give up or not to stick with it. Innovation in general is about constantly iterating, making it better, and helping it to find its audience. It’s important to do that.

What Nike Plus is now compared to what it was is so different. Back in the day, it was a little chip that you had to buy and put in your shoe. People just didn’t understand why the hell you would do that. Now you look at what’s it become, Fitbit, Strava, and all the other players out there. It’s incredible how the category has been created.

At the Digital Retail Transformation Assembly, we’re discussing the latest technology in retail, from virtual reality to smart mirrors, from artificial intelligence to mobile apps. What technology do you think will impact retail?

SRO: That’s an interesting one as there’s so many! I think for the space [boutique fitness] we work in, any technology that improves the quantifying of fitness performance and enables people to be accountable to their own goals is going to be big. That’s an area where we are also only just at the very beginning.

Take Flywheel, we enable our riders when they’re on the bike to see their power. When they’re taking a ride with an instructor, they can see how hard their resistance is or how they can push it further. The fitness experience has been a game changer for us. Again, we are just at the beginning of what this can be. When I think about the ability to track physiology and biology as you’re working out, which is what the consumer wants, it’s an enormous opportunity to deliver more value.

I do think the other big, general trend is that the retail industry in the last 5-10 years has become data-reach but knowledge-poor. We have so much data coming out of our ears, often as executives, it’s hard to know how to effectively use it. You see that as a business and you see it as a consumer. How often do we just get stalked around the internet with mobile advertising that is just a hassle and not relevant? I think we have a ton of opportunity with technology helping us be much more relevant in the years to come.

Can you tell us a little about how you got started in the Sports Industry? What advice do you have for female graduates looking to get ahead in a historically male-dominated industry?

SRO: Just bring it! Be yourself and don’t have any fear of failure. I think one of the things that research would tell you is that younger women, in particular, feel a lot of pressure to be really perfect and get everything right, for example having the perfect resume. If there is one thing that I have learned from the research for my book is that this is not the route to great success. Everybody who has really made it has made a lot of mistakes and learned from them.

My biggest advice is swing hard. Just know that whether it works out or doesn’t, it’s all going to help you get to a great place.

Why did you decide to join Flywheel Sports as CEO and what excites you about the company’s future?

SRO: What I love about Flywheel is that it’s a 7-year old company, so it’s a real business that’s operating and delivering profit, doing all those great things and it has enormous potential to grow, scale and move into different channels of content.

The thing that really excites me about Flywheel is that it has all the raw materials to be the kind of business that can continue to be a category leader. The whole area of boutique fitness that we operate in is at its very beginning, it’s in its infancy, compared to where I think the consumer is going and therefore where this market can go.


Your new book EXTREMEYOU is about to be released [April 4th]. Can you tell our readers a little about what they can expect from the book?

SRO: The book is made up of 23 interviews with people I call “Extremers” who happen to be at the absolute top of their games globally, in their respective fields. Everything from Condoleezza “Condi” Rice our former secretary of state, to Bode Miller a downhill skier, and Mister Cartoon a tattoo artist; it’s very broad spectrum of people from which to explore what it takes to go from having ordinary talents or skills to extraordinary success.

What the book has is a lot of very, very inspiring stories and frankly at many times quite vulnerable stories about some of the hard stuff that people go through on the road to figuring out the best version of themselves. It has a bunch of psychology research backing it up and also very, very practical tips for people to apply it to themselves. It has relevance for people as leaders, and it has relevance for teams and even brands. How can you apply these principles to developing a really strong position in the market? It’s a lot of fun that’s for sure. It’s an entertaining read, but definitely has a lot of substance behind it!


You speak at multiple events, and will be the Keynote Speaker at our upcoming Digital Retail Transformation Assembly in a couple of weeks, what stood out to you about this event and encouraged you to say yes to attending?

SRO: Definitely, the collection of people who are coming. I thought that the different brands and businesses in attendance are really cool. It’s great to see that collection of people together in one place. I looked at it and thought, “that’s kinda cool!”


Sarah Robb O'HaganExecutive, activist, and entrepreneur, Sarah Robb O’Hagan is described by the media as everything from “Superwoman undercover” to the “Queen of the Jocks” to the ultimate example of where a fierce business woman, mother and fitness fanatic combine. Named among Forbes “Most Powerful Women in Sports” and recognized as one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business” Sarah is an internationally recognized re-inventor of brands, but if you ask Sarah, she’ll say she’s in business to help individuals and teams achieve their potential.

Sarah was born in New Zealand – the first country in the world to give women the vote and home to the first man to climb Mt Everest. The pioneering spirit of her country cultivated Sarah’s drive and imagination for “what’s possible” enabling her to found a movement she currently leads called “Extreme Living” – helping individuals, teams and businesses unlock their potential by discovering their own uniquely exploitable traits. Her book EXTREMEYOU will be published by HarperCollins early next year.

Sarah’s career includes leadership roles at some of the world’s most iconic brands – including Virgin, Nike, Gatorade, and Equinox the world’s premier fitness lifestyle company, where as President she led the transformation of the business from bricks and mortar health club to an “always on” fitness lifestyle partner heavily enabled by technology and proprietary content through the creation and launch of the editorial content platform “Furthermore from Equinox”.

Prior to Equinox Sarah served as Global President of Gatorade where she was widely known for transforming the business from a declining sports drink into a sports performance innovation company serving nutrition solutions to athletes of all levels. As described by Fast Company, Sarah inherited a “flaming mess” when she took over the legendary Sports Drink in 2008, but through a courageous transformation that involved flying in the face of a deeply ingrained PepsiCo culture that had watered down the brand’s true positioning, Sarah and her team took the Gatorade brand back to its roots, and then reimagined its future for a new audience of young, digitally savvy athletic teens.

Sarah’s career in the sports industry began at Nike where she was a key member of the team that launched the game-changing innovation called Nike Plus, in collaboration with Apple. This was the world’s first digital-tracking device for runners that created a global social collaboration platform for fitness enthusiasts and in many ways birthed the fast- growing technology movement now known as the “Quantified Self.”

Throughout her career, Sarah has been recognized for her many achievements. Recent honors include being named among Forbes magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Sports” (2015 and 2009), being designated one of the “Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company (2012), and being named to the top 40 Under 40 lists by the Sports Business Journal (2009, 2011, and 2012), Sports Goods Business (2010), and Crain’s Chicago Business (2010). and Ad Age’s “Women to Watch” (2010). In 2014 Sarah was awarded the Sir Peter Blake Trust Award for outstanding leadership.


Digital Retail Transformation Assembly- Sarah Robb O'HaganThe Millennium Alliance is excited to announce that application for our biannual Digital Retail Transformation Assembly is now open. C-Level experts from across the retail industry are coming together April 25-26, 2017 at the Hutton Hotel in Nashville, TN to anticipate the highly complex digital marketing environment that will develop over the next few years.

Leading the conversations this year is our Keynote Speaker Sarah Robb O’Hagan CEO, Flywheel Sports. Named one of Forbes “Most Powerful Women in Sports” and one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business.” As Chief Executive Officer of the fast growing indoor cycling company Flywheel Sports, she is currently leading the transformation of the business through digital content and services.

The Digital Retail Transformation Assembly will bring together North America’s most prominent digital, marketing, technology, and business leaders from the Retail Industry and. The digital landscape is changing, making the roles of the Chief Digital Officer and Chief Marketing Officer more important than ever before. The digital revolution has forever changed the balance of power between individual consumers and brands. CDOs and CMOs are working to take advantage of the explosion of information driving the digital enterprise. Digital leaders know that digital marketing tools, like social media, are key for engaging with customers. Measuring these digital conversations and rapidly adapting to results will help their organizations stay ahead of the competition.

Through a cutting-edge program designed by the industry, for the industry, we will provide a fresh and up-to-date insight to help move your organization to the next level of digital leadership. A series of executive education roundtables, keynote presentations, collaborative think tanks, educational workshops, and networking sessions will offer industry-specific topics and trends to ensure your company sustains its competitive advantage.

For more information about the event and information on attending, please visit the website >

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