Crystallizing Objectives

Master’s program teaches skills HR leader uses to manage change
Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Janet Woodfin’s parents dreamed she would become a doctor.

So, Woodfin, graduating this year with a Masters of Professional Studies degree from ILR, pursued a pre-med curriculum as an undergraduate at New York University.

A self-described “geek,” she took a year off after graduation to develop people skills before entering medical school.

That yearlong break came with an unexpected benefit: it gave her time to discover — and fall in love with — the health and fitness sector and embark on a new career.

Woodfin worked at a health and fitness chain for 12 years — as general manager, director of operations and area vice president — before moving into human resources as the club’s national director of training and development.

In 2007, she was named vice president for human resources, training and development at the New York Health & Racquet Club, where she has been ever since.

“Although I’d had great mentors, I lacked classic training in the discipline,” Woodfin says. “I yearned for an academic definition of the practices that had become second nature to me.”

First, she completed the Master Certificate in Human Resources program through eCornell. Then in 2013, she enrolled in the part-time ILR Master of Professional Studies program, based in New York City.

The timing couldn’t have been better. The new CEO of the New York Health & Racquet Club, appointed a year earlier, was transforming the 900- employee company.

“It was uncanny how everything I learned through coursework mirrored our company’s evolution,” she says. “The program helped me navigate through the transition and really anchored me.”

Taking what she learned in Professor Peter Bamberger’s HR Strategy course, she worked with the executive team to change the compensation system for top-level general managers and membership consultants, revamp performance evaluations, and examine compensation bands within the industry to ensure the company was competitive.

From Professor Sam Bacharach, she learned the concept of change leadership, which she found particularly valuable as the company transitioned from a directive leadership style to an inclusive one.

“Professor Gary Fields’ course in labor economics, which taught me to look beyond margins to volume, changed the way I was financially wired,” she says.

Woodfin also credits Matthew Briggs’ statistics course with helping her predict net member growth across the club’s nine Manhattan locations.

“The MPS program has allowed me to define and crystallize objectives within my organization during one of the most dramatic culture and organizational shifts I’ve experienced,” she says.

“Our CEO’s vision and my new toolkit offer a perfect combination to propel our brand forward and transform the industry further, and to have greater impact on communities and on public policy as it relates to health and fitness.”