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In the male-dominated world of fitness, tough ex-banker Manya Klempner proves that you have to be tough to break it through both in banking and in cross-training. Her career includes roles of Director, Head of Corporate Derivatives, Global Markets Division
Standard Bank, VP, Emerging Markets Division, JP Morgan Moscow, as well as senior roles in Citigroup UK and BNP Paribas. These days, Manya runs all the way to the top as a co-founder of Moose X-Training & MXT Fitness. Finbuzz spoke with banker-turned-fitness guru about what it takes to master sharp turns in career.
Please tell me a bit about your background in finance. Where did you study?
I studied Economics at Duke University as an undergrad and then at Columbia Business School for my MBA.
Were you interested in sports at school?
In high school, I played tennis competitively, but honestly, sports always took a backseat to my studies, especially once I got to university level. I exercised regularly, but I was more interested in keeping fit rather than being an athlete.
Could tell us how it all began? Why did you decide to start fitness business?
It’s actually been a personal journey for me. As an emerging markets derivatives banker, I loved the excitement and adrenaline of the trading floor. But long hours and lots of travel meant I rarely made it to the gym, and honestly, even when work didn’t get in the way there were other excuses. Although I knew I ought to go to the gym, I wanted to go to the gym, I planned to go to the gym, I even carried a “gym bag” to take to the gym, I rarely actually made it to the gym. Even the most accomplished and disciplined among us struggle to incorporate fitness into our lifestyles. So, I got myself a personal trainer (PT). It seemed like a splurge at the time, but it was so worth it! He would meet me on my doorstep 2-3 times a a week. I would work out for 50 minutes, after which he would collect his stuff and leave, and within an hour of coming home, I would be on the couch with a glass of wine in hand. It was easy, convenient, and I didn’t have to waste money on a gym membership I would rarely use… and I no longer schlepped the dreaded gym bag to and from work. I became one of those people who actually worked out regularly. And, I loved that I no longer spent any time or mental energy worrying about how I wasn’t exercising as much as I intended. I was determined to make fitness more realistic for busy women (and men), so I teamed up with my personal trainer, and we cofounded Moose-X Training (themoose.uk.com) in November 2012 with a simple promise: convenience.
Klempner: It had become a soul crushing affair.
What motivated you to change career?
I focused on CEEMEA emerging markets with a concentration on Russia, Kazakhstan, and Central/Eastern Europe. The deals were by far the highlights. When emerging markets were booming, the notional sizes were huge, and the sophistication of the structures was so cool. It was an exciting time to be on a trading floor. Post crisis, the banking environment changed considerably, and as banks took on stricter internal and regulatory controls, it became nearly impossible to do deals anymore. The derivatives business became less about helping clients mitigate risk and all about managing the internal politics. More and more people were empowered to kill deals rather than enable them. The harder it was to do business, the sharper the elbows became. Going to work had been fun; it was now a grind. The industry had totally changed, and for the worse. It had become a soul crushing affair, and it was time to get out.
In banking, I had always had to build and to develop my own client base, so even though I worked at a large company, I was running my own little business, so to speak. I was ready to take that one step further but also to embrace the autonomy, the creativity, and the risk of doing it for myself 100%. There’s so much opportunity out there. I was determined to seize it. I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines anymore. I wanted to get into the thick of it and be a part of that growth and change and innovation.
How easily did you adjust to the new working life?
Well, at first, I really missed the IT guy. I’m joking, but only kind of. Seriously, for obvious reasons there were a lot less resources at my disposal, not to mention no support staff. But, it was well worth it. There were also no memos, no committees, no getting approval, and NO POLITICS. As an entrepreneur, the buck stops with me. I love that! I also have grown used to having autonomy over my schedule. So, I never really ever get a day off, no real holiday; I never turn off fully. But, day to day, I am able to choose how I spend my time. So, these days, I work very long hours, but I’m able to fit in a workout mid-morning usually and some time with my son in the evening… before heading back to the computer.
Did you encounter any problems and if so, how did you overcome them?
We launched into the longest and coldest winter most people can remember. That was a good exercise for us, no pun intended, but it was pretty demoralising at the time. It was a challenging start. We had no option but to focus on delivering an excellent product in an excellent way. It paid off. Growth came slower than we had wanted, but it came stably. I would much rather build a solid client base slowly than a fickle client base quickly. With the former, the clients became annuities, which has allowed us to focus on growth rather than managing churn.
Klempner: I wanted to get into the thick of it and be a part of that growth and change and innovation.
Who inspires you as an entrepreneur?
Believe it or not, my parents. They immigrated to the US from Russia in the late 70s with a toddler, a few dollars in their pocket, an education, and the will to succeed. It wasn’t easy; in fact, it was really hard for a long time. But, succeed they did… all on their own merit. I respect that. They’ve instilled that work ethic in me, and I hope that I can instill that same value in my son.
What’s worse for you, to fail or not give it a try?
Truthfully, I am too much of an overachiever to settle for mediocrity, never mind failure. Failure is just not an option.
What’s your favourite sport? Which sports do you watch?
I used to enjoy college basketball, and sometimes I’ll catch part of a tennis match on TV, particularly something like Wimbledon. Recently, I’ve been watching boxing bouts. But, frankly, in between my current venture, my new boxing venture, and my family commitments, I have very little free time. Aside from keeping fit, sports aren’t much of a priority for me.
And your favourite athlete?
Hmmm… not sure I have one. It’s like I said, I’m just not that into sports.
How do you make decisions which direction your business goes? How important is it to control what’s happening in your business?
The same values that under-grid my personal life guide, my professional life. I believe in honesty, quality, and hard work. Unfortunately, I am a bit of control freak, so it’s difficult for me to delegate. If the buck stops with me, it’s hard to let go.
Which is the most successful aspect of your business?
Client retention operationally. Strategically, boxing has been such a big hit amongst our client base that it is now spawning a much bigger venture that is really, really exciting. Stay tuned…
Which of your workouts is your personal favourite?
That’s easy! Padwork with my favourite boxing trainer!
How many days a week do you work out?
I work out 5 – 6 times a week. I see my boxing trainer 2-3 times a week, and I typically go to a spinning class at Psycle two times a week. I try to fit in two runs a week, too. I used to run a lot more (and a lot further), but I’ve had a foot injury for the past few months, so I’ve really reduced how much I run. Now I try to optimise my running time by doing hill sprints – so, so tough!!
Klempner: Changing careers can seem very liberating.
What else keeps you healthy?
I’ve been gluten free for 20 years, so I tend to eat fairly healthily. That’s not to say, however, that I am a health nut or that I don’t have my vices. I’m not big on denying myself. I’d rather just work out a bit more. I love cheese, and I can’t resist a great bottle of wine.
It’s in my blood, inherent to my very being. I’m an overachiever… always have been, always will be. The end goal has changed over time, but my drive to get there has never faltered.
What are your favorite fitness pieces to wear?
I vacillate between the standard black leggings and something more, well, interesting. My favourite pair of leggings these days is charcoal grey with tropical flowers down the sides. Yes, I admit that despite my best efforts, I’ve been unable to resist the recent athleisure craze, but I figure even overpriced leggings are still cheaper than a new pair of Louboutins (which I rarely have occasion to wear these days).
If happiness could become a currency, which activity will make you rich?
Hearing my little boy giggle. There is nothing sweeter.
Please share one bit of advice for those who considers a career change.
Changing careers can seem very liberating, but for those of us who are accustomed to more traditional career pathways, like banking, so much freedom and opportunity can almost be debilitating, as counter-intuitive as that seems. There is certain comfort in following prescribed steps, even if it is stifling to do so.
I am surprised by how inspired I become. I love that feeling.
In my personal experience, when the shackles were removed, I found myself getting really wound up anyway because that is what was most familiar to me, and I had tunnel vision. Things seemed hard, much harder than they actually were. What I’ve realised in the past couple of years is that when I allow myself to relax and to stop stressing – to be happy, as cliché as that sounds – I am surprised by how inspired I become. I love that feeling.
These days, I see opportunity everywhere, and I want to do so many things. I have one idea after another that I want to explore. I love brainstorming. It’s a really exciting time. Launching the new venture (boutique boxing studio/gym) is really hard work and is all-consuming, but I am happier than I’ve ever been.
Photos: Manya Klempner