Tracy Anderson is running late, which is no surprise, perhaps, given that she is a busy woman. Her burgeoning wellness empire includes two Manhattan studios, two in the Hamptons, two in Los Angeles, one in Madrid and a personal training team in London. There are also workout DVDs, an online streaming service for clients on the go, a range of protein powders and a just-announced collaboration with Barneys, a line of athletic apparel called Barneys New York X Tracy Anderson.
But as she sits down for a late breakfast at abcV restaurant in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, murmuring apologies, and has been greeted by the chef, who comes out of the kitchen to exchange an air kiss — “He’s a genius,” she purrs, before taking her seat — Anderson’s first topic of conversation is not her growing business.
Instead, it’s me.
“Oh, my God, you’re not ordering coffee,” she exclaims as the waiter takes our order and I explain that I am trying to cut down on caffeine. “Why are you trying to cut down on caffeine?” she asks, adding: “Have you had your cortisol tested?” Yes, I reply, I’ve had it tested and found that it was elevated, which is why I am trying to eliminate caffeine from my diet. “Actually,” she says, “if you drink caffeine the right way, it can help lower your cortisol. I’ll send you an email and tell you everything you need to know.”
This is what it’s like to fall under Anderson’s spell, I think, as she inquires about the more intimate details of my health and my exercise routine — “Honey, running isn’t going to do anything for you” — and I begin to understand how she has built an empire on being the glamorous girlfriend and health guru everyone wants.
Eventually, the conversation turns back to the reason that brought us together: the recent studs-to-ceiling renovation of Tracy Anderson Studio City, the first workout studio she opened in 2006 (with client Gwyneth Paltrow as a partner) and, for a long time, one that felt left behind as she opened locations in glitzier locales.
“Studio City was always the little engine that could,” says Anderson. “It was never fancy, but it always had heart and soul. There’s something very down to earth about it that represented something very cool and not entitled. People went there and worked on themselves and the content and the authenticity of the work. They cared more about that than fancy locker rooms.”
The renovation —a three-month process completed in March — has “brought Studio City up to brand standards,” Anderson says, and now reflects how her method of instruction has evolved since the company began in 2006. Not only is there a newly designed reception area, client consultation office and trainer lounge, but the classroom features a new sound system, a carefully calibrated heat and humidity system, and the latest iteration of Anderson’s trademark spring-loaded Super-G Floor, as well as a new Iso-Kinetic Band System, for which Anderson holds a patent. The pre-renovation studio did not have a locker room or showers. The studio now has a locker room and two showers.
But beyond the cosmetic updates to Studio City, the renovation marks an important milestone for Anderson: it is her first major project as chief executive of her company. The Tracy Anderson company, founded in 2006 with the opening of Studio City, has had a revolving door of permanent and consulting CEOs since 2010. “I’ve had many CEOs, and it’s never worked out,” Anderson says. “So much of my career has felt like people standing over me and exercising their power and their vision for what they want for me and my talent. It made me miserable and lonely. I have this huge audience, but I felt so alone because I wasn’t on the corporate side of things. … When someone takes a risk with your name, it’s scary. It’s not that they have a bad intention necessarily, but CEOs tend to have their own vision and they like to build, build, build. For me, building has to be done very consciously.”
While hiring CEOs to lead the business side of her operation allowed her time to focus on developing exercise content, connecting with customers and being the creative face of her business, it meant that business decisions were sometimes made beyond her control. Things came to a head last year when the term on Studio City’s previous lease was almost up. The company’s most recent CEO had planned to vacate the space and build a new location down the street. “The previous CEO wanted to move, and it felt like ripping the heart and soul out of where we were,” Anderson says. “It was going to be a lot of work to figure out how to make our existing space work for how the brand has evolved. Maybe it was easier to just go to a new building, but it meant more to me and the members and the relationship I have with the landlords that we find a way to stay where we were.”
The Studio City space, after all, is highly sentimental to Anderson. Not only was it her company’s first, but it had come to fruition through the support and guidance of her ex-husband, former NBA pro Eric Anderson, with whom Anderson shares a son. In December, eight years after their divorce, Eric Anderson died unexpectedly from a heart attack in his sleep. The loss of both a personal and professional confidant was a “painful roadblock,” Anderson says. “He was my stability, my rock. There would be no Tracy Anderson Method without Eric.”
Eric’s sudden death led Tracy to a few weeks of deep reflection. “It was just before Christmas last year, and I realized I can’t keep doing things that are other people’s agendas that don’t feel good to me. There was something in me as a wiser woman now, and it hit me: I’m not moving. I just sort of realized, I have to become CEO, and we have to stay.”
So the decision to install herself as CEO and remain in the existing Studio City space was admittedly nostalgic. “Absolutely. Completely. I’m sure I’m going to make a great CEO,” Anderson says with a laugh. “But I do believe that emotions belong in business. You cannot take your emotions and set them aside. We need to incorporate them and manage them and figure out which is best suited to sit at the table, but they need to be there, all of them.”
By the time we wrap up breakfast in Manhattan, the first classes of the day at Tracy Anderson Studio City are getting underway back in California. Anderson blows one last kiss to the chef before putting on her sunglasses and getting up from the table. She has a day of back-to-back meetings all over the city, but before leaving, she adds a final thought: “I think it’s important to know that preserving the Studio City location was very symbolic for me. I grew up in the same house my entire childhood in Indiana. My mom still lives in the same house. Leaving Studio City didn’t feel right to me, so think of this as me staying in my childhood home.”