Melanie Whelan doesn’t like to hear people say it’s hard to stay fit while traveling. As the CEO of SoulCycle, Whelan’s job is to encourage people to spend 45 minutes sweating together during one of the New York-based company’s indoor cycling classes.
Under Whelan’s leadership, SoulCycle has been one of the fitness industry’s fastest-growing companies, setting up around 90 studios across the U.S. and Canada since it launched in 2006. Whelan, a former airline and hotel executive, took over as CEO of SoulCycle in 2015.
She has big plans for the brand, which even includes leaving the company’s bikes behind.
Owned by gym operator Equinox Fitness, SoulCycle recently introduced SoulAnnex, which focuses on cardio, yoga and high-intensity interval training classes. It now has a media arm to produce original videos and audio programming for digital channels, as well as live concerts. The company also launched Soul, an apparel line, designed by an in-house team at Nordstrom.
And after seeing its instructors become social influencers, SoulCycle started a management firm with Equinox and William Morris Endeavor (WME) talent agency to build up the profiles of its fitness talent.
“Our instructors are the heartbeat of our tribe,” Whelan says. “They act as motivational coaches, and the strong bonds they develop with our riders create transformational energy inside our studios.”
Whelan clearly exudes the same kind of energy, and she turns to several hotspots to fuel up in her neighborhood, Tribeca, which she calls “a small suburb within the city.”
A sushi lover, Whelan recommends Sushi of Gari, saying she sticks with the omakase so she never has to make another decision after a long day of work. For pancakes, she prefers Bubby’s, and for cocktails, it’s Smith & Mills or Brandy Library. If the weather’s nice, the fitness guru heads to Hudson River Park.
Her travel tips include staying hydrated, of course, and booking an aisle seat for stretching during the flight. She’s also known for making up her own hotel bed to “win the day.”
“SoulCycle was founded on human connection, and community spirit is at the core of our experience and the brand,” Whelan often says.
It’s a sentiment that comes awfully close to that of a hospitality brand like Conrad.
“Inspired people want to encourage inspiration in others,” Whelan once wrote in the “Harvard Business Review.” “My experience in the hotel industry couldn’t have better prepared me. I’m confident that we’ll keep growing, because people are looking for places to connect with one another and disconnect from technology. They want experiences more than they want stuff.”