Deskside

This CEO Doesn’t Believe In Work-Life Balance

Melanie Whelan of SoulCycle is a mother of two with the best advice on how to quite literally do it *all.*

By: Jodi Taylor
Photography: Weston Wells

SoulCycle CEO, Melanie Whelan, is one of those magical unicorn moms you come across every so often in the work world. On top of being a mother to two young children, she spins five to six times a week (at a different studio every single time), wakes up fifteen minutes before her kids to go through her emails so that she can be totally present with them once they’re up, preps all of their meals on the weekend, donates their old toys to charity, has back to back meetings on almost a daily basis, and travels quite regularly. Oh, but, “the idea of work-life balance is not really something that I believe in,” she tells us. We didn’t know whether to fall out of our chair or applaud her once we heard that. We opted for the latter when later on in the interview she raved about the organization of her company, explaining that, “a company founded by and lead by women is a very organized place.” Whelan has been with SoulCycle since 2011, and after sitting down with her to chat about being both a CEO and a mom, we are certain that a lot of SoulCycle’s success can be attributed to this wonder woman. Now, all you have to do is take notes on how Whelan is both a CEO and a mother 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

 

On how she first got involved with SoulCycle:

“I have been with SoulCycle now for just about five years. I met Julie [Rice] and Elizabeth [Cutler], our co-founders at the first location on 72nd Street back in 2008. I really got involved with the business in 2011—when Equinox acquired a majority interest in SoulCycle—with an aim to partner with Julie and Elizabeth to scale the brand and the business. At the time, I was running the business development for Equinox and after we struck the strategic partnership, I came over in my role as COO. When I joined, we had eight studios in New York—there were 22 of us sitting behind the laundry room in our Tribeca studio. It’s been a fun few years because I can honestly say, we never thought it was going to be this big, this quickly. It’s been a thrill to see how much demand there is for what we do.”

What a typical day looks like for the mother of two:

“If I am not travelling, I’m here in New York. I have two kids, a seven-year-old son [Lachlan], and a five-year-old daughter [Cece]. I typically start each day getting up fifteen minutes before my kids and checking my e-mail, clearing through things so that when I am with my kids, I can be really present—you always need to be two to three steps ahead of everyone around you in order to make things happen. Then I try to ride. Once I come into the office, it’s a variety of things ranging from where we’re opening in two to three years, to how the marketing campaign this month is tracking. Hiring, I spend a lot of my time interviewing candidates as we’re building our team. It’s generally meeting, after meeting, after meeting.”

 

On how organized females keep the company running smoothly:

“I think having a great team is everything—the key to staying organized. Getting people aligned, committed and focused is the way that we are able to keep the company organized. I’ve said from the beginning, a company founded by and lead by women is a very organized place. We have a lot of checklists. We have our ‘Standard Operating Procedures’ for everything from how to clean the crystal behind the instructor podiums in the studio to how to run a check-in to how to give feedback. We try to make a process and a training for everything that we do. There is very organized female leadership at the company.”

Why her Monday is actually Saturday:

“I am very organized and planned. I typically start my week on Saturday or Sunday, getting my kids ready and getting my schedule sorted out. I do an agenda for the coming week on the Friday afternoon before I leave the office and send it to everyone that’s going to touch that agenda for the week, whether it be my nanny, my assistant, my husband, or anyone that is going to be involved with anything have to do with my kids. I do a lot of the work on the weekends prepping food and all the other fun stuff that comes with being a mom, whether it be ordering uniforms, making sure homework is down, getting rid of old toys and giving them to charity because I always feel like we are going through way too many toys in my house.”

 

On why she doesn’t believe in the idea of work-life balance:

“I think there is something such as work-life integration—I am not a CEO and then a mother, I am all of these things in one. I have always viewed my life as a pie, for right or for wrong, and there are different pieces of that. Sometimes the work part of my pie needs more attention and sometimes my kids need more attention. Sometimes something I am working on personally needs more attention. I don’t think, in this day and age, with all our connectivity, we have the luxury of going from work to life. I think it is just one big life and you have to move through it pretty fluidly. It probably sounds easy, but it is the hardest thing to do.”

How she is spending this Mother’s Day:

“My mother is coming to town. I am going to spend the day with her and the next day is my father’s 70th birthday so we’re doing a big Lyons’ (that’s my maiden name) family weekend.”

The best piece of advice her Mother has ever given her:

“She had this expression growing up where she said, “Do your best and leave the rest, angels do know more.” I can hear her repeating it in my head. I had a pillow on my bed that said it as well because she believed in it so fundamentally. I think what she really meant was, you do what you can, you prioritize what is most important, and you’re never going to get to everything, but if you work as hard as your can and you do your best, then you can never fail.”

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