CEO Chuck Runyon on How Self Esteem Brands Made its Largest Acquisition in History While Fighting a Pandemic

Self Esteem Brands (SEB) recently completed its largest acquisition in history despite all the challenges and uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. One year after his first One Take interview, co-founder and CEO Chuck Runyon returns for a “Take Two” to share how and why the acquisition was able to happen. He also discusses how his company helped franchisees since the pandemic began (and looming cost increases once rent abatements or deferrals end); the introduction of a bill to provide financial relief to the gym and fitness industry (the Gyms Act); whether employees will be coming back to work full time at the company’s headquarters; and why the nation needs to focus more on physical and mental health.

SEB is a global collection of health improvement and fitness-related companies including Anytime Fitness, The Bar Method, Base Camp, Wax the City and as of this June, Stronger U, a digital, personalized nutrition-based health coaching services brand. SEB was founded in 2002 and for several consecutive years ranked as the world’s fastest growing franchise. Today it serves millions of people in 40 countries.

Runyon’s interview can be listened to via Spotify or watched here on YouTube. For those wanting to jump to a specific question and answer, see the segment links below:


  • 01:11 Skip intro. What hybrid-work is like for Runyon and his employees.
  • 02:26 Will employees be required to come back to the office and if so, how many days of the week?
  • 03:04 How the pandemic affected customers and franchisees, and how SEB serves them.
  • 05:17 How SEB headquarters employees in the Twin Cities helped Franchisees with hyper-local challenges this past year.
  • 06:59 The three priorities SEB focused on since the pandemic started.
  • 08:23 What can be done to help franchisees cover increased rent costs once abatements or deferrals end? And what is the Gyms Act?
  • 10:21 How does buying another company, Stronger U, fit into all of this?
  • 11:39 How many franchisees did SEB lose during the pandemic?
  • 12:48 How was SEB affected financially due to the pandemic?
  • 14:06 How was SEB able to make its largest acquisition while working through all the operational and financial challenges caused by COVID-19?
  • 14:59 How much of this was possible because of the investors you have backing SEB?
  • 15:52 Why health care needs to be thought of as an essential service.
  • 17:20 What’s the healthiest country, and how do we compare?
  • 18:50 What’s your greatest challenge heading into 2022?
  • 20:02 When will Stronger U products and services be available at Anytime Fitness locations? 20:41 How leaders focused on the wrong side of the issue this past year: sickness rather than healthiness, and why this needs to change.
  • 21:49 Are we in an unhealthiness pandemic, or nearing one?


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About One Take CEO Interviews: In each episode, one CEO shares his or her take on leading through myriad challenges ranging from Covid-19 to attracting and retaining great talent. Each interview is recorded in one take with no edits. The interviews are produced by award-winning journalist Dale Kurschner, who today serves as consultant at Platinum Group, Minnesota’s most experienced firm helping business owners and leaders with extreme challenges ranging from rapid growth and acquisitions, to turnarounds and divestitures.