SoulCycle's new CEO explains 'what on earth she was thinking' joining an in-person, studio fitness company during a pandemic

  • SoulCycle’s new CEO took the helm in December, after a tumultuous year for the company
  • SoulCycle was forced to close studios and forgo sales during 2020. It also faced allegations of a toxic workplace.
  • “People have asked me since I joined, ‘What on earth were you thinking?'” new CEO Evelyn Webster said in an interview with CNBC. 
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

SoulCycle’s new CEO, Evelyn Webster, has a big job ahead of her.

The former media exec, who joined in December, is not only tasked with bringing the business back to life — SoulCycle studios had to close during the pandemic — but also addressing reports the company fostered a toxic work culture. 

Read more: SoulCycle’s top instructors had sex with clients, ‘fat-shamed’ coworkers, and used homophobic and racist language, but the company treated them like Hollywood stars anyway, insiders say

“People have asked me since I joined, ‘What on earth were you thinking?’ joining basically a boutique fitness business, and a retail business, in the midst of a pandemic?” Webster said in an interview with CNBC’s Lauren Thomas.

“What I knew, is that we wouldn’t be in the pandemic forever,” she said.

SoulCycle, along with other fitness studios and gyms, was forced to close doors during the pandemic to curb the spread of infection. Some of those businesses filed for bankruptcy in 2020 — but Webster says she’s betting on the “magic of soul” to bring back the company’s glory days of the mid-2010s. 

Like many studio fitness execs, she’s hoping people will flock back to in-person fitness classes soon.

“There will always be a real need to connect with your community,” she said. “And community is SoulCycle’s superpower.”

Ironically, the idea of “community” is exactly what SoulCycle’s at-home fitness rivals, such as Peloton, have championed. Sales of Peloton’s at-home fitness equipment grew exponentially during the pandemic, prompting experts to question whether consumers who spent $2,000 on a Peloton bike would be prepared to spend money on in-studio classes too.

“You either have to assume that people have now made the shift to more allocation to the home or are going to expand their fitness wallets,” Marc Magliacano, a managing partner at L Catterton, a private-equity firm invested in both Peloton and SoulCycle-owned Equinox, previously told Insider. “And arguably it is hard to make that statement in a recession,” he said.

Read more: THE FUTURE OF FITNESS: An inside look at the winners and losers as the industry faces upheaval

SoulCycle now has its own version of the at-home connected fitness bike, but its in-studio classes are still the core of its business concept.

The “magic of soul” is also reliant on SoulCycle addressing issues in its company culture, called out in an explosive investigation by Business Insider’s Katie Warren.  Through interviews with more than 30 instructors, studio staff, and corporate employees, Warren reported on issues of racism, discrimination, and homophobia amongst SoulCycle instructors, which the company reportedly turned a blind eye to.

At the time, SoulCycle said that “when we receive complaints or allegations related to behavior within our community that does not align to our values, we take those very seriously and both investigate and address them.”

Webster told CNBC that she’d “read quite a lot of coverage coming in” and that “there’s probably quite a lot of opportunity and work to be done around the culture of the organization.”

“We frequently talk about how we’re a culture of diversity, inclusion, acceptance, and love,” she said, adding: “Our riders see that and experience that, but we need to see that, so do prospective instructors and prospective colleagues.”


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