Maggie McDaris serves as vice president of programs and partnerships at LulaFit. Among her duties at the amenities management firm is helping office and residential buildings earn a WELL building certification—the first rating system to focus exclusively on the impacts of the built environment on human health and wellness.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I was born and raised in one of the sprawling suburbs outside of Atlanta. An amazing work experience opportunity to intern in the Southern Living test kitchen (yes, it was as delicious as it sounds) meant I split my collegiate years between Auburn University and Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. After graduating with a degree in nutrition and dietetics, I completed my dietetic internship at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. My desire to advance human health and wellness took me around the world to communities in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and London, England where I lived and worked for hree years before settling in Chicago in 2017.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
I grew up as a competitive soccer player and animal lover, so from an early age I always dreamed about being the next Mia Hamm, and if that didn’t work out becoming a veterinarian. Turns out, it’s a lot harder than you think to be the next soccer prodigy.
In high school I developed a passion for food and nutrition; I credit this to my mentor who was a registered dietitian. Through our relationship, I learned that there was a career path where I could combine my love for science with my deeply ingrained desire to help people. The rest, as they say, is history.
How did you get your start in the industry?
My journey into CRE was pretty unconventional, but in hindsight makes complete sense. My background is in public health and corporate wellness, which means that I’ve seen firsthand the way our physical environments impact our wellbeing, productivity and way of life. I learned very early in my career that often making a healthy choice wasn’t a matter of education or of will power, but of having an environment that supports wellbeing and makes that healthy choice the easy choice. With my role at LulaFit, I was not only given the opportunity to build programs that educate and inspire individuals along their wellness journey, but I have also been able to impact the physical environment of those individuals by way of the CRE space.
Since my introduction to this industry, it has always struck me (and perhaps been a key factor in my and LulaFit’s success) how many similarities there are between the public health and CRE spaces. In both, you need early adopters/innovators to push a message forward, you need internal wellness champions who will act as ambassadors for change, you need community buy-in with an eye toward sustainability and efficacy and you need resource investment (with subsequent proven ROI).
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
I’ve been fortunate to have numerous mentors throughout my life and career, but the person who I credit with being the biggest influence in my life is my mom. She was a successful executive, retiring as the CIO of a Fortune 500 company where she spent nearly 40 years successfully leading a male-dominated industry.
As a former CIO, she has offered invaluable career advice, helped me prep for interviews and talked me through difficult professional situations. My work ethic, perseverance and resilience are all a reflection of her. She’d never admit to it, but she was a trailblazer in every sense of the word and I am thankful I grew up with her example.
Currently, I have turned to Colleen Werner, CEO of LulaFit. She had the foresight to see how my background could impact the commercial real estate landscape.
What does a day in the life of Maggie McDaris look like?
Let me just start out by saying, I am not exactly a morning person. Each morning I wake up slowly, enjoy my coffee and take my dog for a walk. When I start my workday at LulaFit, each day looks different. Some days are full of meetings with our program teams, evaluating the efficacy and engagement of our offerings. Other days, I’m supporting the sales and marketing teams in clarifying our wellness message. Some of my favorite days are spent researching current trends, innovations and wellness technologies to position LulaFit at the cutting edge of the amenity industry.
Most days, however, end the same. The time I waste moving slowly in the morning gets recouped in the evenings as I often do my best work between 4:00-7:00 p.m. Then, I work out, make dinner and finish the evening with an episode or two of Great British Bake Off, which inevitably leads to me asking my husband why we left England and if/when we should move back.
What do you like most about your job?
Simply put, I love that the work I get to do with LulaFit is positively impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals. My role also provides opportunities for professional development. I recently became a WELL AP, which means I get to help architects and building developers integrate wellness into their spaces at the most fundamental level. I believe a person’s wellbeing is not simply a sum of their choices but is a result of their environment. Through the WELL Building Standard, CRE has the opportunity to build environments that create real and lasting impact.
I also love the people I get to work with on a daily basis. My colleagues at LulaFit are a group of hustling, passionate individuals united in a shared vision and fueled by mutual respect. We affectionately call our team the LulaFam, and that’s exactly how it feels, like a family.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
I want to help buildings and corporations continue to redefine what wellbeing means for their teams and tenants. For a long time, the wellness industry has been permeated by diet culture, quick fixes, and a narrow definition of health. At LulaFit, we take a holistic and inclusive approach. Our ethos focuses on five areas of wellbeing: food and nutrition, movement and ergonomics, stress resilience, rest and recovery and social connectedness. Our operations and programs reflect those. We understand that to one person, wellness may mean the ability to sleep more than a few hours at a time, to another, the ability to pick up a grandchild without discomfort, to another, the ability to keep work stressors from impacting family life. I hope to continue to use technology, space and programs to see buildings and organizations adopt a broader definition of wellbeing.
I also hope to become more involved in the evolution of the WELL Building Standard, which is already in its second iteration. I would love to see more features address the programming aspect that exists once the building is occupied, so that buildings receive points for the activities happening within WELL spaces they’ve invested in.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
I love traveling. In fact, my husband and I met overseas! We love exploring new cities, cultures and cuisines together. When I’m not traveling, you’ll find me at home spending time with my dog, Leo, or cheering for my favorite football teams.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
This past Christmas we took an extended trip to Australia and New Zealand and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t serious conversations about not coming home. We were especially fond of the wine and scenery in New Zealand. We also took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Galapagos Islands last Spring and seeing an Albatross in flight was a surreal experience and true bucket list moment.
I have never been to Japan and would love to explore Tokyo and see the cherry blossoms in Kyoto.