Emily brings a unique combination of management, wellness programming, and technology experience to lulafit. She loves executing lulafit’s mission and vision through day-to-day operations while also scaling the company’s impact across the country. With experience in the private and non-profit sectors, Emily values operational efficiency, data-driven decisions, and a focus on outcome over input. She loves creating order and process out of complex situations and inspiring her team to cultivate a solutions-oriented mindset.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?
I grew up right outside Washington D.C. and attended a progressive, international, all-girls high school that has proven to be instrumental in shaping who I became as an adult. It definitely cultivated the feminist in me and may be why I love working with strong female leaders!
I completed my undergraduate studies at Northwestern University—which is what brought me out to Chicago. I loved getting to know the city and knew I would want to return at some point. From there, I went to grad school at American University in D.C. as part of Teach for America.
How did you get your start in the industry?
My first career was in education; I taught middle school and served as an assistant principal. Fitness and wellness were always passions of mine, and I actually started with lulafit as a fitness instructor. After being immersed in the company, its culture, and working with Colleen Werner—lulafit CEO—I realized I had to be part of the organization. I took a leap of faith, changed careers, and accepted my first full-time position with lulafit as Events Manager. Working in both multifamily and commercial real estate settings, I utilized creative wellness programming to build community in each space.
Having a background in events has allowed me to marry the creative and operational side of our services, and see how those come alive in the CRE world. We’ve been working with amazing partners at 155 North Wacker Drive (The John Buck Company) for several years now. In addition to managing the fitness center, we’ve had the opportunity to host monthly events in their beautiful lounge, lobby, and outdoor spaces. We’ve done everything from an interactive gemstone garden pop-up bar—where tenants create their own terrariums—to social mixers like our March Madness themed ‘Elevate Your Tailgate’. We’ve also done more intimate events like wellness lunch-and- learns—bringing in delicious food catered by a restaurant in the building and having our dietitian host a Food for Thought presentation, and on the flip side, engaging hundreds of people by bringing in live music and providing beverages so people take a minute to relax and connect before they head to their office.
By starting in the fitness center and events side of the business, I’ve had the chance to work with all levels of stakeholders, from tenants and property managers to leasing teams and food and beverage partners. In my new role as the VP of Operations, I’m able to consider all of these perspectives as our programming and operations continue to evolve while staying rooted in wellness and hospitality.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
The first person that comes to mind is Maggie McDaris, Executive Vice President at lulafit and a fellow CRE Future Leader. She was my very first manager at the company and really mentored me, teaching me so much about not just holistic wellness and programming, but also the corporate commercial real estate industry, our stakeholders, and navigating those different relationships.
I can’t leave out Colleen, though. Like Maggie, she’s also been recognized as a CRE Future Leader and is somebody I’ve always admired. In fact, she was the primary reason I wanted to work at lulafit in the first place. She’s an amazing leader, and the culture she’s created at the company is unmatched. Also, she’s just incredibly smart, savvy, and forward-thinking—I look up to her in so many ways.
And I may be pushing it, but my go-to support person is Selina Doran, Chief Operating Officer of lulafit, and my manager. She gives such thoughtful feedback while being encouraging and positive, and has really shaped who I am as a people manager.
What does an average day at work look like?
An average day is…crazy! But I think that’s what is most exciting about working in operations—every day is a little bit different. I prioritize one-on-one meetings with our site leaders to ensure each site is achieving its goals and our team feels supported. We’re constantly working on something new and pushing the envelope of what we can do, and I love supporting our team to think creatively about what they can bring to their buildings and tenants.
Another big chunk of my day is devoted to big picture thinking and our scaling strategy. I carefully consider our new stakeholders, new amenity spaces, new offerings, and how to effectively maintain our level of service and “high-touch” hospitality approach as we continue to experience rapid growth. I spend a lot of time talking with property managers and asset managers about new amenity operations coming into their space—making sure we’re aligned on the financial pieces, the programming of the spaces, the staff that we’re bringing in, every detail needed. It is so important that we operate as partners to achieve our common goals.
For example, we recently launched two sites in Boston: 33 Arch Street and One Boston Place, and developed such a great partnership with the ownership group Nuveen and CBRE, who property manages both sites. We listened to their goals, got to know the tenants and culture of each building and made sure our programming was aligned with each unique space. We’ve seen amazing engagement just a few weeks into our partnership and are already talking about the future and how we can prepare for continued growth.
What do you like most about your job?
So many things! Our company is rooted in wellness and genuinely cares about the individual experience and ensuring that people feel good, cared for, and are enjoying coming to work. I love that I get to work at transforming amenity management and infusing our unique touch into those spaces—whether it’s at the front desk, incorporating the level of anticipatory service you’d expect from a fancy five-star hotel, or managing a conference room and elevating meetings through mindfulness meditation, bringing in a great local business to cater, or having participants head to the fitness center to take a stretch break in the middle of a long conference. Even the way we manage our fitness centers reaches so far beyond what you think of as physical fitness—we’re thinking about meditation and recovery spaces, and really making it more of a holistic wellness offering rather than the standard office building gym that’s hidden away and inactivated. People are walking into these spaces and experiencing a whole new workday. I think it’s so exciting to work at a place that’s defining what it means to “come back to work.”
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you have not already?
I am most excited and optimistic about our expansion into more cities. I’m continually energized by learning more about the nuances of those markets—delving into their demographics and culture and seeing how we can take what we’ve built and customize it to best suit new building partners.
I can’t wait to see how many more lives we can enhance through our work. We keep diving into these important relationships—carefully considering the goals our stakeholders and commercial real estate partners have in mind when they’re thinking about these spaces. We don’t just want to attract people back into the office; we want to transform the typical office experience.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
Most of my time outside of work is spent with my family. I have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and we spend a lot of time doing all of those fun—and very active—toddler things. We also have a dog named Carl, who keeps us on our toes. I love tennis and play that as often as possible. Even though I stay extremely busy in my career and family life, I try to carve out a little time for myself every week.