A perfect Fit for health-minded companies

Unlike most college graduates searching for their first jobs, Kendra Senn is already closing deals with company executives to create and manage corporate wellness programs.

The 23-year-old entrepreneur is helping employees take charge of their health through her fitness company, The Fit Life.

The timing felt natural. Soon, companies will need to have in place wellness programs for their workers under the Affordable Care Act.

The daughter of Larry Senn, a pioneer in the field of corporate culture who has worked with Fortune 500 companies and university presidents, Senn said she grew up in a family that emphasized being yourself and chasing your dreams.

“I want to help people,” Senn said on an afternoon at her father’s international firm, Senn Delaney, in Huntington Beach.

It was a journey of recognizing her passion for learning about a healthy lifestyle that began in high school.

The Huntington Beach resident said she had weight struggles and trouble sleeping. She tried weight-loss programs Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, and though the meetings initially helped, she would find herself losing ground and having to start over.

After researching wellness tips on her own, Senn said she began making small changes to her diet, like ordering egg whites whenever she and friends ate at a breakfast diner. For exercise, she picked up yoga, kickboxing and hiking and still practices them today.

Once she graduated from high school, she enrolled at USC and started assisting with boot camps at global information services group Experian in Costa Mesa. Senn helped with the company’s weight-loss programs and was impressed when the employees lost a total of 1,000 pounds.

“I fell in love with corporate wellness,” Senn said.

As a student who commuted to USC, Senn gathered research from more than 30 Orange County-based companies and studied economic reports about the growth of the corporate wellness industry. She read about employers’ and employees’ needs.

“I didn’t find one company that was excited about what they were providing,” Senn said. “Programs were either poorly communicated or didn’t exist at all.”

She created her business plan and shared it with professors in the university’s Entrepreneurship Program to receive feedback. Senn said she spoke to Fortune 500 executives to learn what it would take to implement a healthy work culture.

She saw many workplace mistakes, including watching the director of a wellness committee bring food from McDonald’s to a meeting. She also learned that many companies left any type of wellness program in the hands of a benefits manager.

In 2014, she launched The Fit Life. To tailor the program to a company’s culture, Senn said she and her team begin with a diagnostic FitScore Analysis. This involves taking a tour of the facilities and observing the environment, leadership and health habits. The gathered results are then used to guide a 12-month program for the office.

Senn said she does not do anything drastic like throwing out pastries or candies. Instead, she lets the employees know there are alternatives, such as fruit and almonds.

Employees also have access to The Fit Life Online, which tracks behavior change and activity and allows the staff to find recipes, online workouts, quit-smoking steps and a sleep and exercise tracker.

Senn said The Fit Life also creates a dining-out guide customized to a company’s location. Employees are able to identify healthy options and substitutions from the restaurants surrounding the office.

Having observed that most staff members sit during most of their eight-hour shift, Senn said her system sends out two monthly emails that ask employees to stand for 30 seconds or take a quick walk around the office.

To make the program engaging, The Fit Life has tools that employees can use at their desks, in the car or at home to encourage habit changes. The “Walkdot,” for instance, is an object that sits on a desk, one side celebrating being out of the chair and an opposite side reminding the person to get up on the hour. The “breath of fresh air” sticker reminds staff to take a deep breath when stressed or overwhelmed.

Senn said she also wants to cultivate office camaraderie by creating challenges like tracking how much water a person drinks. The winner receives gift cards to natural food stores.

It’s a process, Senn said, that centers on people, not numbers, something that sets her apart from companies that penalize employees who do not participate in workplace wellness programs.

By the end of 2014, The Fit Life was helping up to nearly 3,500 employees and receiving recommendations.

Shannon Kavlich, director of client services at Optivest, a wealth management company in Dana Point, said The Fit Life has helped her company build a support unit where staff members encourage each other to live healthfully.

Tiffani Wollbrinck, director of organizational development at SunEdison, wrote in a testimonial that she still receives emails from employees thanking her for the wellness initiative.

Senn said corporate wellness programs are profitable assets, considering that changes are expected in the Affordable Care Act in 2016 that will require preparation in 2015.

“Our biggest goal is to help the employees and that’s the biggest win,” Senn said. “If they don’t see it as a burden, they’ll be happier to get to work, have more energy and live longer.”