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The speed of the bounceback has been staggering. By the end of July, we’d regained our prepandemic membership levels

Russell Barnes

David Lloyd Leisure has not only regained its pre-pandemic member numbers, it’s also seeking acquisitions, going hard on digital and continuing to upgrade its portfolio. Its CEO talks to Kate Cracknell


aving been COO at David Lloyd Leisure since 2015, Russell Barnes recently stepped into the CEO position, taking over from Glenn Earlam who moved into the role of executive chair. HCM took this opportunity to understand the rationale behind the change, as well as the strategy for the business moving out of lockdown.

What’s reason for the change in roles?

My becoming CEO, and Glenn executive chair, is a logical step: I’ve had most of the business reporting to me for a number of years, so this is an evolution, not a revolution. Strategically, it also supports our ambitions for the business in the short- and long-term. As a company, we have three main priorities. The first is bounceback, because, like all businesses in our sector, we’ve been battered and bruised through the pandemic. Bounceback needs complete and utter clarity of ownership, energy, drive and ultimately success. The second – which I’ll come back to later – is a need to keep progressing the work we’ve already done in digitalising our offering, working out how David Lloyd Leisure (DLL) can best navigate this, considering we’re a traditional brick and mortar business.


Issue 8 2021 ©Cybertrek 2021

Third, coming out of the pandemic, lots of companies find themselves having to let go of assets to keep their core businesses afloat. This provides an opportunity for M&A the likes of which we probably haven’t seen, nor will we likely see again, in our working lifetime. DLL, therefore, has a chance to accelerate its growth – but as with bounceback, this requires effort and clarity of ownership. When you look at all of this, you quickly realise it isn’t realistic that one person might drive the bounceback of the organisation – 122 clubs across Europe and the UK – and also dedicate time and energy to M&A. So, the conversation between Glenn and I was simple: I would concentrate on the bounceback and he would get out and sell the DLL story to those who might wish to sell us their assets.

How did the business fare during the various lockdowns? I imagine every business had a different experience of the pandemic, based on their levels of debt, the shareholding, the amount of rent they were having to cover and the relationship they had with their landlords. We lost 14 per cent of members, which felt incredibly depressing. But as we went through the lockdowns, we became more confident we were managing as well